Government agencies are well known for developing plans. But a plan is only as impactful as its implementation. At the Iowa Department of Transportation, our award-winning planning teams work diligently to analyze data, review public input, and create plans that come to life to keep people and goods moving safely and efficiently through our state.
The Iowa DOT’s long-range transportation plan, Iowa in Motion 2045, addresses federal requirements and serves as a transportation investment guide. Getting the most out of every tax dollar and providing a safe, reliable transportation system well into the future are critical elements for economic development and job creation throughout the state.
The plan, updated every five years, takes into account all transportation modes and has a strong emphasis on stewardship. The prior state transportation plan, adopted in 2012, focused on policy issues and not on specific, actionable items. The goal with the most recent plan was to provide specific strategies and improvement needs that can be implemented and revisited over time.
The plan includes the following.
Changing from a policy document to a plan containing actionable items means it will be easier to recognize real, tangible changes because of the work that is being done on the plan. Let’s take a look at three specific applications related to how we do business that support the implementation of the plan and how they impact the way people and goods move around and through our state.
Project prioritization and scoping tool
It's a fact of life that there are more needs on the transportation system than funds to address them. To get the most out of every dollar, we need to devote resources to the projects that are deemed the most critical to maintaining the transportation system as a whole.
Because we’re working with the entire transportation system, many Iowa DOT offices, outside agencies, and consultants are involved in the planning process. To bring all the data from these resources into one place, a new project prioritization and scoping tool has been developed.
Brad Hofer from the Office of Location and Environment is leading this effort. He said, “We are always adding to and improving the data that we collect. This project prioritization and scoping tool is a way to bring all the data together and analyze it in a variety of meaningful ways. Whether that is measuring how effectively traffic moves within a proposed project area or an evaluation of a bridge based on condition, age, and deck area, this tool allows us to take a more holistic look and use a systematic, data-driven method to decide which projects should take priority.”
The long-range plan identified needs on the Primary Highway System across several categories, including capacity, mobility and safety, freight, pavement and bridge condition, and operations. These needs have been incorporated into the scoping tool, so project sponsors know if their study area has been singled out for one or more of these categories and can consider the plan’s analysis in defining their project. This also helps ensure projects that move forward are consistent with the long-range plan.
Super 2 highway design
A second practical application to come out of the long-range plan involves design ideas to keep people moving using a “Super 2” highway. The premise for a “Super 2” highway is fairly straightforward. It is a two-lane highway with improvements to help improve mobility and safety. Design elements can include added lanes for passing, climbing or turning; wider paved shoulders; limited access; and other roadway design improvements.
Elijah Gansen from the Office of Design, is working on the implementation of the next generation of “Super 2” highways. He said, “The ‘Super 2’ concept is not new, but we are working to update the design to be more cost-effective. In the past, the requirements were pretty rigid, which made this design option more expensive and less attractive to designers.”
What a ‘Super 2’ highway provides is an added passing lane at certain intervals on a rural two-lane roadway. This design option allows faster moving vehicles to pass slower moving vehicles and farm equipment without passing into oncoming traffic, improving both safety and mobility. It is more cost-effective than building a four-lane highway but provides many of the benefits.
The long-range plan identified five key statewide corridors for implementation: US 18, 30, 34, 63, and 71. “We’re working now to analyze areas where ‘Super 2’ elements could be applied,” said Gansen. “This would typically be on roadways that have relatively high traffic volumes and/or a history of head-on crashes.”
Complete Streets policy
A lot of us love our cars, but we don’t spend 100 percent of our travel time inside a vehicle. Biking and walking are forms of transportation that must be included in any holistic plan, as they are modes of transportation in their own right, and often the start and end of vehicular trips.
Bicycle and pedestrian considerations have been part of highway planning for many years. Iowa in Motion 2045 included strategies to complete a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian long-range plan and adopt a complete streets policy for all Iowa DOT projects, with both efforts being recently completed. The most critical concept related to these efforts is the idea of mainstreaming safe bicycling and pedestrian accommodations. That means that as part of our multimodal mission and our regular business practices, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations will be considered with all transportation projects that involve new or improved facilities. Historically, bicycle and/or pedestrian accommodations were only considered when a need was demonstrated or when promoted by external stakeholders. This plan aligns our policy with federal regulations that require bicycle and pedestrian accommodations be considered in every project that involves a new or improved facility.
“That doesn’t mean there will be trails or other bicycle or pedestrian elements incorporated into every project,” said Milly Ortiz from the Office of Systems Planning. “What it means is that before a recommendation is made, the need for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations will be systematically and consistently reviewed.”
Collaboration is the key to a plan that works
Using a mountain of data and analysis, Iowa in Motion 2045 shines a light to guide future transportation investments. This plan was made possible because of the input of many individuals and groups of people from both within and outside of the Iowa DOT.
But we’re not done. While the next update to the long-range plan won’t be completed until 2022, development of it will start soon. In the meantime, the analysis and strategies outlined in the current plan will continue to be used and refined to provide the best possible overall transportation system.