Utility Poles: Appendix 2
Florida's Above Ground Fixed Object Safety Program
This Appendix explains the basics of the Florida Department of Transportation's (FDOT) "Above Ground Fixed Object Safety Program", including a brief description of the background and history associated with this program. This summary was prepared by Kenneth Weldon, State Utility Engineer, Florida Department of Transportation.
The FDOT spent approximately six years from 1991 through 1996 working with the Utility Industry to develop a mutually acceptable pole relocation program. This strategy proved to be unfruitful. Except for concluding there wasn't going to be any agreement and recognizing there were two basic issues that had to be addressed before genuine progress could be made, both parties felt six years had been wasted. By the end, most of the original parties had quit participating and those few remaining were at each other's throats figuratively.
What were the two issues holding the parties apart? There was a lack of equity in the program and it did not demonstrate sincerity. For example, the Utilities could not follow the logic of relocating poles because the benefits were not demonstrated. The pole owner argued if the poles weren't hit, the errant vehicle would hit something else with the same result. The Utilities perceived the FDOT as being insincere because it had facilities that violated the same principles and was not making an effort to abide by the same rules. Later analysis also showed a pole relocation program did not have the capability to provide the desired level of safety or mutual benefits.
A re-evaluation of the original objectives and defining the problem over the next two years (1997 to 1999) yielded an acceptable plan that provides benefits to both parties. It was no longer a "Pole Safety Program" but an "Above Ground Fixed Object Safety Program (The Program)." Through the judicious and equitable application of existing nationally accepted criteria, the Utility Industry and the FDOT have gained benefits and enjoyed success. This success is attributed to the joint development of a plan of action and training designed for all types of users such as the Utility, Construction, Design, and Maintenance employees. The FDOT improved safety by changing approach and not compromising criteria. The Utility now allocates funds in a cost effective manner, does work where and when justified, and participates in the decision process.
The primary goal of the FDOT and Utilities is to improve safety in a cost effective manner. This implies using the following basic provisions: A) Utility relocation / adjustment would not be required unless benefits can be substantiated by an engineering evaluation, B) a mutually agreed to set of conditions (scenarios) must be defined to establish a working comfort level, and finally, C) cost benefit factors must be agreed to. The engineering evaluation of accident predictability and cost was tied to the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide and the FHWA Technical Advisory T75702 because it was well founded and documented.
The Program accommodates a wide range of scenarios for Utility and FDOT work. The FDOT may have a roadway construction or safety project, or a Utility may have to perform work separate from or incidental to FDOT construction.
The Program includes detailed questions (guidance checklist) and requirements that must be met and addressed to justify the actions of either the FDOT or the Utility. This insures equity and consistency of application. To provide the comfort level desired by the Utility Industry, the Program was incorporated into a legal Rule Process.
A unique and detailed set of conditions (tests) must be met before FDOT's Designer or Maintenance person can "officially" request a Utility to relocate, remove pole facilities, or make other arrangements. This includes consideration of how the FDOT might remedy the problem without involving the Utility, and determining if the FDOT is contributory to the problem under consideration.
In contrast, the Utility has a unique and detailed set of conditions (tests) that must be met for pre-established scenarios, before submitting a permit request. Formal "Exceptions" are allowed when justified by a detailed engineering evaluation. There are "Exception" guidelines that list conditions or scenarios for which the FDOT may allow exceptions, and under what conditions they will not be looked at favorably. It includes guidance on establishing the most cost effective location rather than routinely allowing installations that barely meet minimum criteria. The desire is to determine the best and safest solution for a unique set of existing conditions while considering the ultimate future roadway facility needs.
In order to prevent unnecessary pole relocation if benefits could not be substantiated, the FDOT needed to analyze its accident data. Pole crash data is merely a subset of run off the road crash data and includes a certain degree of randomness that is not reflected in pole crashes. In short, if the motorist hadn't hit a pole, they might have come into contact with some other facility nearby, whether in the R/W or not. Also to be considered is along any roadway facility, some areas may prove to be more hazardous than others, due to operational or environmental characteristics.
The Control Zone concept is a new approach and requires salesmanship to overcome an entrenched culture. It really is nothing more than a statistically based decision to apply new construction clear zone and horizontal clearance criteria to existing infrastructure (RRR) in areas where it can be shown there is a greater frequency of run off the road crashes, and particularly as it may apply to pole crashes. When the FDOT has a roadway improvement project, an evaluation of all (Utility and FDOT) above ground fixed objects (existing and proposed) is evaluated against the Control Zone Concept to determine if they have to move or are allowed to stay. Any new FDOT or Utility installation of above ground fixed objects not associated with a programmed FDOT roadway Project is also evaluated the same way.
It is hard for a Utility to come to grips with having to comply with new construction criteria on existing infrastructure. This is true even though application of the Control Zone concept allows utilities the flexibility to remain in place based on mutually and predetermined conditions if there is no crash evidence supporting a requested relocation. In addition, adoption of the Control Zone concept through a Rule means many cities and counties will be applying it.
This Program considers utility impacts. To be more precise, it considers social impacts and costs. The intent is that local governments will apply this concept and thereby expand the safety potential. The result is an aggregate reduction in crashes and less overall fatalities, injuries, and property damage.
Utility costs (relocation, O&M) can be reduced because money is spent where it is most needed. For example consider a suburban project of three miles in length with 10 intersections with pole spans of 250 feet. Without applying Control Zone criteria, about 100 poles would be relocated. By using the new Control Zone concept, about 40 poles would be relocated. If a single pole relocation costs $2500, the cost difference is 60 x $2500 = $150,000 (money that could be used in other high risk area improvements).
The Control Zone concept for reducing above ground fixed objects translates into less fatalities, injuries, cost, liability, maintenance, and impacts to everyone!
Exhibit A - Geometric Control Zones