'We are from the government and we are here to help'

By Scott Grenerth,

Whether it is a simple eye-roll or outright fear in your heart, those words always seem to immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of the speaker.

Unfortunately that common reaction is frequently based on real-world experiences where “help” turned out to be less than, well, helpful. Fortunately there are exceptions and this is about one of those exceptions.

“The Federal Highway Administration provides stewardship over the construction, maintenance and preservation of the nation’s highways, bridges and tunnels. FHWA also conducts research and provides technical assistance to state and local agencies in an effort to improve safety, mobility, and livability, and to encourage innovation.” That introduction to the FHWA very well sums up the agency which is part of the DOT. Recently, OOIDA has been involved with a few of their efforts to meet their stated mission.

In February, we were able to attend an informal roundtable discussion in Kansas City where FHWA gathered feedback on alternative interchanges. While they are working to “encourage innovation” they are also evaluating how well that innovation works, and doing a very thorough job of it. Fire-rescue, police, highway incident responders and the trucking industry were all invited to provide for input on roundabouts, diverging diamonds and other alternative intersections.

More recently FHWA hosted the Urban Freight Roundtable in D.C. where an even wider variety of interests began discussions on how to move freight efficiently into and out of urban areas while also continuing to pursue innovative ideas and better incorporate the increases in pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

This event allowed city planners to share successes while also allowing those of us representing the trucking industry to point out instances where not every alternative may be appropriate. Before the end of the day we had identified areas where the greatest focus needed to be as the FHWA works to develop plans for urban freight corridors.

The meeting was also a chance to talk with FHWA staff that work on different initiatives and provide feedback directly to them. As a result, the likelihood that you will encounter a new roundabout in a poor location, or a poorly designed one will hopefully diminish. Meanwhile, street and intersection designs that already promote smooth and safe traffic flow should continue to show up around the country.

I’m glad to tell you that sometimes there are instances when our government can truly be helpful. The FHWA is an example of that with their genuine outreach and desire to try innovative approaches. LL