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Communicating Impact: Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization, Massachusetts

Date:
March 09, 2015
Topics:
News

This article by Doug Plachinski, Berkshire RPC Senior Transportation Planner, is a section in the 2014 NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) serves a small metropolitan area and surrounding rural communities in western Massachusetts in several planning areas, including transportation planning as a small MPO. Rural and smaller area metropolitan transportation planners have always tried to make meaningful insights from the available data they can access. Two areas at BRPC that are specifically addressed include pavement conditions and crashes.

There are numerous ways to evaluate pavement conditions just as there are many different types and compositions of those pavements. In rural areas without complicated arterial systems the BRPC region has observed four general categories of pavement conditions, regardless of the type of composition:

  • New or Perfect Condition, no action required
  • Good Condition, routine inexpensive maintenance like crack filling or joint sealing
  • Fair Condition, non-structural surface repairs like milling and/or resurfacing
  • Poor Condition, requiring base repairs and drainage improvements

Explaining pavement conditions relative to the expense needed to maintain them is more digestible to a broader audience than using a roughness index or even a 100 point condition index. This is particularly true in the BRPC region, comparing roads over a 900-square-mile area of mountains with less than $20 million dollars of annual repair funding.

Crash reduction through capital investment is also difficult for the smaller region because of the have lower vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a higher rate of pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle crashes than the state average, and high project costs with low annual safety funding allocations. BRPC relies on data from the Commonwealth to identify frequent crash areas and analyze local police crash reports to develop crash mitigating countermeasures. Crashes in the Berkshires are typically not caused by substandard roadway geometrics and usually involve distracted or impaired drivers. Crash reduction targets can only be met in region by changing driver behavior; however, BRPC staff continue to monitor and analyze regional crash trends. Projects funded in the regional TIP receive a higher priority if they are in a high crash area. Also important in solving crash problems and locations is a multidisciplinary approach to resolving data driven and perceived problems, with involvement from police, fire, emergency medical services, local public works departments, neighbors, business owners, and elected officials working together to identify and resolve safety problems.

As federal rulemaking implementing performance measurement is finalized, it is likely that small MPOs and rural areas, with limited staffing and resources, will be faced with the challenge coordinating with state-established targets within their Unified Planning Work Programs, Transportation Improvement Programs, and Metropolitan Transportation Plans. Direct, broad conversation without jargon and unneeded complexities will help to meaningfully engage small MPO stakeholders in the spirit of performance-based transportation planning.

Takeaway:

Communicate the information that really matters to decisionmakers.

Takeaway:

Prioritize projects that implement the strategic goals of the region, such as safety projects in high crash areas.

For more information, visit www.berkshireplanning.org.

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