Taking a Low Cost/High Impact Approach to Transportation Solutions

Brett Schock | PE, AICP, RSP2i
Senior Project Manager | Transpo Group

Transportation projects, both in the planning and the design stage, especially those with a focus on addressing safety concerns, can be frustrating to the public, agency staff, and elected officials if implementation drags on beyond expectations. When funding resources, design times and permitting
processes put the brakes on a project’s progress, critical upgrades aren’t made, safety risks persist, and planning horizons are missed. Rethinking the approach to projects, from the planning stages all the way to implementation, to focus on the end user and having an immediate impact can open up a whole new method of project delivery. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of a good transportation solution!

Low cost/high impact improvements are a planning and design approach that seeks to maximize the utility of existing assets, use easy-to-install sometimes off the shelf products and solutions, and be flexible in addressing problems. Creative application of striping, signage, solar powered LED enhancements, street lighting on existing poles, precast or plastic curbing products, and vertical markers can have an immediate and drastic positive impact on your transportation environment. While not always the prettiest or the most resilient of improvements, low cost/high impact projects can advance planned improvements and help to make plans for safety, connectivity, operations, and reliability for all transportation modes a reality within a more reasonable timeframe than would otherwise be possible with more traditional hardscape, curbed, concrete and asphalt type solutions. With lower resource requirements, low cost/high impact treatments can be viewed as pilot projects or temporary steps to address transportation problems while funding is identified through capital improvement budgets or grant funding for a more “traditional” project.

A change in approach requires buy-in from many stakeholders, and communication is key when deciding on a low cost/high impact project delivery method. Expectations of elected officials and citizens need to be addressed to ensure understanding of the project’s goals and approach. Agency planning and engineering staff or consultants need to be encouraged to be creative and flexible with non-traditional solutions, while maintaining focus on the project goals and delivery timelines. Operations and maintenance personnel need to be consulted about maintaining unfamiliar or less-than-desirable products, and the goal focus of the approach needs to be stressed.

Several agencies around Washington are already using low cost/high impact concepts to quickly deliver planned improvements for neighborhood traffic calming, crosswalk improvements, and pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. These types of projects, especially when planned through a Local Road Safety Plan, allow an agency to systemically deploy a greater number of improvements than would otherwise be possible. As capital improvement budgets and agency planning and project management resources get stretched thin, consider creative low cost projects as a way to deliver transportation improvements that wouldn’t be possible with a traditional approach.