Strategic Crash Mitigation – A Low-Cost Approach

A few weeks ago, I was traveling out of state to meet my newborn niece for the first time. My wife and I encountered many rural roadways that needed some TLC along the way. To my wife’s amusement, my engineer’s brain could not stop noticing all the deficiencies of the roadways. Abrupt curves with no signing, poor pavement markings, and pavement damaged by Amish wagons followed us to our destination. Unsurprisingly, many rural routes like these have extensive crash histories. Also, unsurprisingly, roadway improvements cost a lot of money that rural counties do not have. However, did you know that there are inexpensive ways to reduce crashes on rural roadways? Did you also know that Sain partners with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) in such an initiative?

TDOT’s Local Road Safety Initiative (LRSI) projects aim to provide cost-effective measures targeting rural routes with high severe crash factors. According to TDOT’s 2020 Strategic Highway Safety Plan, nearly 40% of all crashes in Tennessee occur on rural roads, even though they account for 33% of vehicle miles traveled (VMTs). Data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security shows that 51% of fatal and serious injury crashes involving impaired drivers occurred on rural roads. Additionally, many of these crashes occur due to lane departures, dark conditions, and objects in the clear zone. The need to provide low-cost crash-reducing measures on our rural roadways is high. 

One of the most important safety improvements to address horizontal alignment crashes is signing improvements. Signing can be used to provide advance warning for the following conditions and many more:

  • Stopping conditions
  • Approaching intersections
  • Sharp curve warning
  • Chevrons
  • Trucks entering highway
  • Object marker warning
  • Advisory speeds

All warning signs are placed under Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) specifications to ensure uniformity. Figure 2C-2 from the MUTCD provides an example of how a sharp curve can be signed to improve safety:

Warning Sign Placement Graphic
Source: Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (for Streets and Highways) 2009 Edition

Additional safety measures implemented in an LRSI may include the following if warranted:

  • Centerline and edgeline striping
  • Stoplines at intersections
  • Snowplowable pavement markers
  • Guardrail replacement and delineation
  • Delineating obstacles in the clear zone
  • Sign post delineation enhancement

The per mile cost of an LRSI project will vary based on scope and budget. A recent LRSI project I completed had a per mile cost of $25,000. Ultimately these measures are far less expensive and more feasible than a geometric redesign of a low-volume roadway. This low cost is certainly worth the enhanced safety for drivers. There are even warning signs for horse-drawn wagons!