State departments of transportation (DOTs) direct most of the transportation spending in the United States but they’re often focused on building highways and are ill-equipped to address the far more diverse mix of challenges they’re tasked with solving today. In a month-long series we just wrapped up, we examined how we got here, what state DOTs need to change, and how one state is putting its intentions into practice.
State DOTs have a major role to play in reversing the nation’s epidemic of pedestrian deaths. But that can be hard to do when most DOTs are still set up to build roads that prioritize high-speed car travel, even if that jeopardizes the safety of some of the people using those roads. Tennessee DOT is working to change that through a comprehensive approach to Complete Streets.
State DOTs often use guidance and a project selection process that leads to overbuilt projects that don’t fit their context and are ill tailored to the needs of the community. To build better projects that fit in the areas they serve, state DOTs need to acknowledge land use and context and update their project selection process to focus on outcomes.
State DOTs founded to build highways are now in charge of building and operating a much broader array of transportation infrastructure and services than ever before. But to build more cost-effective projects that meet modern mobility challenges and broader economic and environmental goals, state agencies will have to reassess the assumptions that so often drive them in the wrong directions.
Although state DOTs were largely created to build highways, they are now responsible for moving people and goods safely and efficiently across multiple modes—bike, walk, bus, trains, ferries, and cars. But to do a better job of meeting all these diverse needs and provide a multimodal transportation system that supports economic growth and livable communities, changes to their policies, internal processes, and agency culture are required.
Smart Growth America and the Governors’ Institute on Community Design worked with state departments of transportation to question and assess their underlying assumptions that lead many states to over built, expensive highway solutions for every transportation problem. The following memos are the outcome of that work, which delve into seven common areas of reform that we identified.
The most productive state departments of transportation are those that have come to grips with the fact that moving cars fast all the time is hard to square with most of their other stated priorities, whether improved safety, more mobility, or reduced costs.
Over the last two years, Smart Growth America has been working to help a small group of state departments of transportation question and assess the underlying assumptions that lead many states toward giant highway solutions for every transportation problem.
DOTs across the country are looking for innovative and flexible ways to meet users’ needs in ways that cost less to build and maintain. Accelerating Practical Solutions is an opportunity for six state DOTs to win a one-day workshop with our expert transportation staff.