Utility Poles: Appendix 3
Pennsylvania's Program to Reduce Utility Pole Crashes
PENNDOT has set an ambitious safety goal in alignment with the national (USDOT) highway safety goal of 1.0 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by the year 2008. Crashes involving hit fixed objects are the most common fatal crash type in Pennsylvania, and of these fatal fixed object crashes, hit utility poles historically rank near the top. In fact, Pennsylvania has more fatalities in utility pole crashes than any other state. When considering the total number of reportable crashes and injuries obtained during a crash with a fixed object, utility pole crashes are the most common type of fixed object crash in Pennsylvania. In order to meet the aggressive fatality reduction goal, PENNDOT will need to reduce the frequency and severity of hit fixed object crashes, and in particular, crashes involving utility poles will need to be reduced.
PENNDOT has always proactively addressed the utility pole crash problem by providing their frontline workers, such as the highway safety engineers and designers, with the background data, the safety initiatives, the tools, the policies, and the guidance needed to enhance the safety of the roadside environment. The state is divided into eleven engineering Districts, each of which are responsible for the maintenance, design, operation, and construction of the state owned roadways and bridges within their geographical areas. The Districts are also responsible for the implementation of any safety improvement initiatives.
The Districts are provided with an annual list of ranked utility pole crash clusters within their geographical area. A cluster is defined as three or more hit utility pole crashes within a half mile segment of roadway. From this cluster list, the Districts are expected to evaluate and analyze the situation at each cluster location to formulate an improvement plan to cost effectively reduce the number of hit utility pole crashes. The plan is typically created and safety improvements are implemented using the pole crash "decision tree" shown on the following page.
In fact, all of the utility pole high crash (cluster) locations in Pennsylvania occur on only four percent of the state highway system. This high concentration of crashes in a short amount of roadway length implies that a plan to reduce the utility pole crashes at these locations can have a major impact statewide on the initiative to reduce the frequency and severity of these crashes.
The safety improvements shown in the utility pole crash cluster decision tree are listed below.
The safety improvements shown on the top of the list and on the decision tree are the most desirable alternatives and are very effective at reducing utility pole crashes. These alternatives happen to be the most expensive and the most difficult to implement, while the last safety improvements shown on the list and on the decision tree are less desirable and are the least effective alternatives at reducing utility pole crashes. The safety improvements at the bottom of the list are usually the least expensive and easiest to implement.
Utility Pole Safety Cost Sharing Initiative and the Fixed Object Free Area (FOFA)
In an effort to tackle the serious problem of utility pole crashes, and to overcome the financial, organizational, and political hurdles involved with implementing some of the desirable safety improvements such as utility line burial and pole relocation, PENNDOT has teamed up with the utility companies in Pennsylvania to enhance the roadside safety at the most dangerous locations. As part of this initiative, PENNDOT and the utility companies would jointly consider several alternatives to treat high crash locations. Depending on the site conditions at each proposed improvement location, the costs for improving the roadside safety would be shared between PENNDOT and the utility companies. Both parties (PENNDOT and the utility companies) must reach consensus on a set of recommendations that are cost effective and will substantially reduce the potential for future utility pole crashes.
If relocation of the utility poles or utility line burial is the agreed upon option, then a Fixed Object Free Area (FOFA) would then be established as part of this joint initiative with the utility companies. A FOFA is defined as the total roadside area, both laterally and longitudinally from the highway, which will be free of above ground utility/service poles and other utility appurtenances, trees, or other above ground fixed objects. The FOFA locations would be designated on highway plans and maintained by PENNDOT District staff to ensure that no utility pole permits are granted in the future in the restricted areas. The FOFA would also be designated and recorded on right-of-way plans to allow the roadside to be free from any utility poles/appurtenances, trees, and any other fixed objects that may be a roadside safety hazard.
Before this utility pole safety cost sharing initiative can be implemented, the FOFA concept must be incorporated into PENNDOT's design manuals. Currently, PENNDOT is attempting to address the liability and compatibility issues involved with incorporating such a drastic policy change into its standard business practice. Additionally, a new governor was elected in Pennsylvania as this initiative was being developed, and as a result, the executive leadership and political climate at PENNDOT has changed. Like all other states, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is experiencing a shortage of revenue; one of the major goals of the new administration is to reduce all costs by five percent. Because scarce state funds would be used to implement the roadside safety improvements under this cost sharing initiative with utility companies, the financial and political support of the new PENNDOT administration has to be garnered. These major issues need to be dealt with before this utility pole safety initiative is piloted. However, an opportunity to utilize new and increased safety funds has presented itself with the introduction of the proposed Federal highway funding reauthorization legislation known as SAFETEA. If this legislation is enacted, safety funds for the utility pole safety cost sharing initiative could become available.