Update from the Public Lands Team - Fall 2014

FALL 2014 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the Public

Lands Team

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ADA40 Conference Participants

Conference attendees discuss priority research topics during the business meeting of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands. (Source: Volpe)

Volpe and partners share knowledge at public lands transportation conference

In September, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands hosted its “Conference on Transportation and Federal Lands: Enhancing Access, Mobility, Sustainability, and Connections” at the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, DC.  This gathering provided an opportunity for Volpe Public Lands Team staff, transportation staff from Federal Land Management Agencies, and other professionals working on public lands transportation to meet and share their research, challenges, and ideas.

Volpe staff presented at or moderated the following sessions:

  • Lessons from the National Park Service Long-Range Transportation Plan
  • ITS and Advanced Technologies
  • Multimodal Planning and Agency Cooperation
  • Enhancing Access to National Parks for Changing Demographics
  • Innovative Planning Methods and Performance Measures

Conference presentations are available on the TRB’s web site. The committee is also working to encourage new research in the field. At the TRB Annual Meeting, to be held in Washington, DC, in January 2015, the research subcommittee is expected to conduct a “war room” exercise during which participants will write one or more Research Needs Statements (using the TRB RNS database), in an effort to both coordinate existing and jump-start new research activity in the field.

Contact: Eric Plosky

Protecting resources at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Historic entrance to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

An historic entrance to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge which will become the site of a new non-motorized trail into to the refuge. (Source: Volpe)

Volpe recently completed a comprehensive alternative transportation plan for the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Lawton, Oklahoma. The refuge, one of the busiest units managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, receives approximately 1.5 million visitors a year. Refuge staff asked Volpe to explore transportation solutions that would help encourage visitor movement from overcrowded, sensitive sites near and within the Charons Garden Wilderness Area to new and planned recreational opportunities on the eastern side of the refuge.

The comprehensive alternative transportation plan is the culmination of five years of work at the refuge. Volpe first participated in a  site visit in the spring of 2009, after which refuge staff asked Volpe to produce a more detailed transportation study in 2010. The 2014 plan builds on the recommendations of the 2010 transportation study and includes:

  • a study of baseline traffic and parking conditions;
  • recommendations and a staff resource guide for potential on- and off-road recreational trails  and non-motorized facilities;
  • an evaluation of possible transit connections, including a potential partnership with the Lawton Area Transit System; and
  • recommendations for new wayfinding signage and improved visitor information.

Concurrent with development of this plan, the refuge received funds for construction of a non-motorized trail to Fort Sill, a U.S. Army base neighboring the refuge. The refuge is also implementing an intelligent transportation system to manage its seven busiest parking lots. With remaining project funds, Volpe is supporting refuge implementation and further exploration of trail, transit, and wayfinding and visitor information recommendations.

 Project Contact: David Daddio

Partnering between public lands agencies and local and state government

As traditional public lands-specific funding sources decline, and new funding sources are increasingly targeted to local partners, such as state and local governments, partnerships are become increasingly critical to the success of public lands agencies.

At the same time, the transportation planning goals of public lands agencies are becoming broader and require a more comprehensive planning perspective. For instance, many public lands units are increasingly focused on connecting to under-represented populations, supporting economic development in gateway communities, and improving public health – all goals which require more frequent and meaningful engagement with local partners.

Volpe produced a series of white papers to support the National Park Service (NPS) Transportation Branch in communicating the increasing importance of partnerships to others within NPS and to help build understanding of state, regional, and local transportation planning processes and funding sources, including federal-aid programs. Completed white papers include:

The goals of the white papers are to help NPS unit and regional staff speak the same language as their state and local peers and to highlight the potential benefits (financial and otherwise) of collaboration with state and local agencies. Volpe continues to work with NPS to build awareness of partnership opportunities and to support units and regions in their efforts to collaborate and engage with partners.

Project Contact: Alex Linthicum

USACE conducts pilot study to validate vehicle counters and visitation estimates

USACE vehicle counter field test

Volpe staff conducts field testing at Allatoona Lake, Cartersville, GA, April 2014. (Source: Volpe)

Visitor estimates are an important part of the transportation planning process for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). During the summer of 2014, Volpe conducted a pilot study to improve the methods by which the agency calculates its annual visitation figures. The Corps deploys a variety of vehicle counter technologies – among them magnetic loops, pneumatic tubes, and infrared meters – each with their own unique calibration requirements and other quirks. Accuracy often depends on speed and density of traffic, roadway configurations, and environmental conditions.

Volpe performed field testing at Corps sites in seven regions across the U.S. During site visits, Volpe staff engaged with local USACE staff and witnessed several different types of vehicle counters in action.

Among the initial findings is that functionality does not imply accuracy. Counters must be checked frequently to confirm that they are operational and must also undergo testing to ensure settings are properly calibrated. In addition, the Volpe found little-to-no correlation between the age of a meter and its accuracy. Often, it was the older meters that provided the most accurate results. In one visit, a deluge of rain during testing at Blue Marsh Lake in Pennsylvania proved fortuitous, as it demonstrated the need for rain hoods on infrared meters to protect the lens from water and dirt.

Volpe will incorporate the lessons learned into an updated version of the USACE Vehicle Counter Best Practices Guide, scheduled for completion in Spring 2015.

Project Contact: Michael Kay

NPS National Capital Region prioritizes investment needs

The NPS National Capital Region Federal Lands Transportation Committee meeting in April 2014

The National Capital Region Federal Lands Transportation Program Committee met in April 2014 to develop a four year program of roadway and bridge projects for the region’s 26 parks. (Source: Volpe)

Developing processes to prioritize projects for transportation funding is an important challenge for public lands agencies. To address this, the National Park Service (NPS) National Capital Region (NCR) asked Volpe to help it develop a transparent and data-driven process to distribute roadway and bridge funding among its 26 park units. The region, which covers parks in the District of Columbia and in parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, worked with Volpe to develop regional transportation priorities and design a prioritization tool to support a new NCR committee charged with programming funding for fiscal years 2015-18.

Volpe began by researching effective practices employed by metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, and other NPS regions. Considering national NPS policy, Volpe worked with region and park staff to develop regional transportation priorities:

  • ensure financial sustainability;
  • promote health and safety;
  • protect and enhance natural and cultural resources; and
  • improve mobility and access.

Under each of these priorities, Volpe assessed the availability of existing NPS, Federal Highway Administration, and local data.

Based on insights from this regional outreach, and analysis of existing data, the team worked with the NCR Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP) Coordinator to develop a tool based on NCR’s regional transportation priorities that scored roadway and bridge projects using quantitative and qualitative criteria.

To help implement the new process, Volpe staff assisted the NCR FLTP Coordinator with outreach to parks and provided on-site assistance during the FLTP Committee meeting in April 2014. Using the tool, the committee developed a four-year, $64 million program of projects for the region’s roadway and bridge investments. Volpe and NCR are now scoping a similar effort to help identify and prioritize investments in alternative transportation, including trails, transit vehicles, and intelligent transportation systems.

Project Contacts: David Daddio and Logan Nash

Managing congestion and over-crowding at Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake recreation site

The U.S. Forest Service’s Hanging Lake recreation site (Source: Volpe)

The Hanging Lake recreation site in White River National Forest is one of the most popular destinations in the National Forest System.  The site, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, offers beautiful views of waterfalls, hanging plants, and a natural lake. It draws about 130,000 visitors per year, with the majority of visitors in the summer.   However, the site’s popularity has also created problems, such as parking lot congestion, trail overcrowding, public safety concerns, and resource degradation.

In response, Volpe is helping the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) develop strategies to reduce these problems. Volpe first facilitated a stakeholder meeting in October 2013 to identify critical issues and project goals.  Volpe then developed a conceptual set of short-, medium-, and long-term management strategies to meet those goals. These strategies are:

  • Short term: Restripe parking lot, enhance visitor information, and manage parking lot capacity through coordination between USFS, CDOT, Colorado State Patrol, and Glenwood Springs City Council and Tourism Promotion Board.
  • Medium term: Conduct a visitor trail capacity study and examine a potential trailhead permit system that would enable USFS to manage parking lot and trail capacity more sustainably.
  • Long term: Consider implementing a shuttle system to alleviate vehicle and parking congestion and increase visitor safety.

Volpe facilitated a public meeting in September 2014 to gather feedback on these conceptual solutions and will work with USFS and CDOT to refine their short-, medium-, and long-term management strategies.

 Project Contact: Ben Rasmussen and Lauren Deaderick

Welcome to our newsletter!

The Public Lands Team shares Updates twice a year to highlight recent activities and news.

In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Transportation Policy and Planning, our team helps federal land management agencies resolve complex transportation challenges at both the program and project levels.

Our work draws on expertise in a variety of fields, including policy and program development, multimodal systems planning, alternative fuels and vehicle selection, environmental compliance, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

You can read more about our team here.

About the Volpe Center

The Volpe Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Volpe partners with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development, assist in the deployment of transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making.

Contact the Public Lands Team

For questions, general information, or to speak with us about getting started on a new project, please contact Eric Plosky at (617) 494 - 2785 or volpepubliclands@dot.gov.

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