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Open Roads (Practical Design)

INDOT has embarked on a process that promises to fundamentally change the way it develops, designs, and delivers its construction projects statewide.

In other states, the process is known as Practical Design or Practical Solutions.  Indiana’s program is called Open Roads. INDOT’s Open Roads program addresses the challenge of delivering needed infrastructure in an era of increasingly limited financial resources and changing consumer demand and mobility patterns. Open Roads strives to build the right project, at the right time, to deliver the right results.

Open Roads utilizes a practical design philosophy to appropriately allocate limited resources to maximize system-wide improvements. This approach targets investment decisions to the roadway system as a whole, rather than seeking to accomplish individual project perfection in a single location. The Open Roads process will benefit Indiana’s transportation infrastructure by tailoring construction projects and building methods to deliver specific results. INDOT expects to see reduced costs throughout the project development process.

Practical design relies on a strong purpose-and-need project statement, and a clear process for approving and documenting the rationale for important decisions. It requires good engineering judgment to assess the severity of adverse consequences, evaluate design tradeoffs, and mitigate risks as much as possible.

The new process also involves the concept of “designing up.” With this approach, the existing condition of the facility is considered the baseline condition, the starting point from which INDOT will design up to the finished product.

A large number of INDOT divisions will be influenced by the practical design process. All participants in the project delivery process will be impacted by practical design -- from initial planning and programming to design, construction and maintenance.

INDOT’s Open Roads program involves adherence to several key principles that include:

Sound Engineering Judgment

Designers should first rely on the application of sound engineering judgment when considering design alternatives and solutions. Design decisions should be driven by common sense, context awareness and sensitivity, and innovation. Over-reliance upon traditional design standards and approaches has a tendency to predetermine the outcome without adequate consideration for alternative, more practical solutions.

“Design Up” Philosophy

Designers should employ a “design up” philosophy to project design. Rather than starting with the “desirable” condition and often being forced to remove items to meet scope and budget, the designer should consider the existing condition of the facility as the baseline condition, and “design up” from that point to meet the project’s purpose and need.

More often than not, the end result is a facility that is safe, practical, and less costly than anticipated. Any investment beyond the purpose and need of the project (i.e., point of diminishing return) is an inefficient use of resources that would yield a higher return if invested elsewhere. Great care should be taken to carefully evaluate and identify the point of diminishing return for each project.

Get the Scope Right

The purpose and need statement within the Engineer’s Report (i.e., “Project Scope”) serves as the basis for system-wide improvements and individual project development.

Every project should have a well-defined and documented purpose-and-need statement that specifies the problem to be solved and future goals of the corridor/system to be achieved by the proposed project. Any features that do not directly support the purpose-and-need statement should be re-evaluated, redesigned, or eliminated.

Practical design reduces the tendency for “scope creep” by designing to, without exceeding, the purpose and need for the project. This approach maximizes the value and contribution of individual projects to the overall transportation system, and preserves financial resources for investment elsewhere.

Safer, System Focus

Designers are encouraged to shift the design focus away from attempting to achieve individual project perfection and toward solutions that optimize the condition and performance of the corridor. System safety is paramount and must not be sacrificed.

Targeted investments in specific locations can have a compounding positive impact upon the overall corridor, more so than a large investment in a single location. All projects must be as safe, or safer, than the existing condition. Careful consideration should be given to alternative strategies and creative approaches to mitigating safety concerns.

Additional Practical Design Information

INDOT Commissioner Karl B. Browning issued a March 2014 memorandum to agency Deputy District Commissioners expounding upon the practical design philosophy and the creation of district Practical Design Integration Plans.

INDOT’s practical design initiative has been endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration. The effort has also been the focus of a February 2014 INDOT employee newsletter article, which outlined the scope, impact, and goals of the program.

Related Links

Practical design has been used successfully by other transportation departments throughout the United States. The most prominent of these are Missouri, Idaho, and Kentucky. Each department has their own set of guidelines, but the overall concept remains the same.

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