Saving Lives by Reducing Rural Roadway Departures

#EveryDayCounts #Safety #RuralRoadways#DataDrivenSystemicAnalysis #FHWA #Innovation #Local

By: Ginger Kloska, , Process Improvement Intern

April 8, 2020

Pie chart displaying 34% of traffic fatalities are caused by rural roadway departures. 49% of fatalities are in urban areas and 17% of fatalities are in rural otherRural roadway departures (RwD) account for approximately one-third of all traffic fatalities. (Retrieved from

As one of our core values, safety has always been one of the top priorities for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). While state highways and busy roads seem to get all the attention, no roadway goes unnoticed. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that rural roadways account for approximately 70 percent of public road mileage. To ensure safety on these networks, CDOT has opted into the FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program. One of the initiatives of this program is to reduce rural roadway departures.

Saving Lives Before the Crash Happens

One major part of this initiative includes installing safety countermeasures. The primary goal of these countermeasures is to stop crashes before they begin and to decrease crash impacts when they happen. Some of these countermeasures include rumble strips, friction treatments, and median barriers. CDOT places these countermeasures throughout the roadway system based on data analysis.

Rumble stripsExample of a rumble strip taken 3/27/2013 by Ashley Mohr

David Swenka, Safety Analyst for all regions across the state and the EDC champion of this initiative here at CDOT, states that CDOT is “always evaluating projects for countermeasures from each region. The process is [each region] submits a project and we evaluate it to see what meets the program criteria and evaluate its economic effectiveness, best-cost ratio, and we approve that project for funding and they build the project. Then sometime later, we come back and really get a sense of whether those countermeasures really worked.” David and his team use data-driven systemic analysis to find out what areas of the road have the highest probability of a crash occurring.

One area that the Reducing Rural Roadway Departure initiative has focused on is I-25 between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. After completing an analysis of the roadway, David’s team found out that this area was prone to crashes through roadway departures and had a high volume of traffic on a regular basis. The potential for future crashes would only grow with more and more people traveling on this road. The team did some cost-analysis and determined that the best countermeasure to install was a cable barrier. Through their analysis, research, and planning, CDOT was able to install and reset median cable barriers on new geometric alignments to address median crossover crashes. Some of the other safety improvements include adding additional space for pullovers for patrol and emergency vehicles and drainage improvements to reduce the chances of flooding. The new countermeasures installed will save lives today and for years to come.

The Reducing Rural Roadway Departure project is continuously reviewing the area to make sure their countermeasures are working properly and to see if the crash data improves based on their work. Steve Harelson, CDOT’s Chief Engineer and sponsor of the initiative, explains that “Safety is a never ending battle. We’re not done until there are no fatalities and it has to be on the back of everyone’s minds. One mistake can change lives forever. We need to increase the awareness of roadway hazards. This project makes people more aware of the safety precautions and also allows us to install and create new infrastructure.”

What's Next?

Median BarriersI-25 Median Barriers taken 7/27/2018 by SRM

This EDC initiative also allows CDOT to re-evaluate and implement safety recommendations on projects. As a result, CDOT is now installing more systemic run off road (ROR) safety devices all across the state, creating more detailed analyses of the ROR needs, and incorporating statewide safety needs in the planning process. Charles Meyer, State Traffic and Safety Engineer and also the other champion for this project, states that CDOT is now designing to higher standards or revising their design standards to include preventative ROR features in the fundamental design. A large part of this is educating planners and engineers on ROR design features, strategies, and countermeasures.

The journey for safe roadways doesn’t stop with simply installing countermeasures. David Swenka states there is “a new program called the safety circuit writer, where we hire a consultant to visit counties to provide services and advise them to how they could apply for funds or how they could analyze data or provide them crash data, so that they develop their own strategic safety plan and strategies to mitigate crashes that are occuring on their roadways.” While the program is still being innovated for efficiency, it is a great resource for city and county officials to know that they are not alone in their fight for roadway safety.

As the initial engagement efforts for Your Transportation Plan has concluded, CDOT will reach out to the public for feedback during the public review and comment period for the plan. The planning team will proactively involve the public using a variety of strategies as they did this past summer. CDOT staff will provide the same opportunities for those who aren't comfortable or don't have access to the web and technology as those who do. Aaron explains, “It's important for us to make sure that those with limited English proficiency and with income constraints can participate equally in the same capacity, to ensure everyone has a voice in transportation decision-making.” This commitment to inclusion, customer service, and respect is just one aspect that helps CDOT continue to achieve its goal of becoming the best department of transportation in the country.