Transportation safety begins with the upkeep and improvement of all roadways, from crowded major freeways to local roads that give access to residential areas. While the size of freeways may imply that their care is of greater importance, the variety in speed limits, population and location of local roadways can make them uniquely difficult to maintain. In fact, improving local and tribal roadways is often a pressing issue for local government and public transportation professionals, who may struggle to balance a tight budget with improving the safety of the community.
State and local governments spent an astonishing $181 billion on highways and roadways in 2017, according to The Urban Institute, making this upkeep the sixth largest source of general spending for local and state governments. Deciding how and when to improve these roadways can appear a daunting task then, with the safety of the community also top of mind given the danger that rural roadways can specifically present.
While local, and specifically rural, roadways are less traveled than state highways, their high speeds, low lighting and sharp turns can pose a serious threat, with them having a higher rate of crashes involving fatalities or serious injuries. The number of fatalities on rural roadways is 2.4 times higher than in urban areas, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
To offer guidance to local agencies and officials combatting these problems, the FHWA recently started a program called the Mentoring, Assistance, Training, and Communication Help Program, more commonly referred to as the MATCH program. The program pairs people or agencies facing transportation issues on the local or tribal level, referred to as Mentees, with volunteers who can offer knowledge and guidance on the topic, referred to as Mentors.
Mentees are often local agencies struggling with a unique transportation dilemma in their community, while Mentors are volunteers with a minimum of five years of transportation safety experience and are often actively employed or retired from a public transportation agency. The MATCH program will place Mentees with Mentors who have dealt with similar transportation problems or who they think have the expertise on a topic relevant to the Mentee’s dilemma.
A common Mentee dilemma may be a transportation safety issue such as decreasing the number of roadway departures in their community, in which case their Mentor may recommend they install curve warning systems or speed awareness solutions.
The assistance provided through the MATCH program comes in a variety of forms, such as phone or video calls, email exchanges and occasionally site visits as well. Mentees may request to have their help received in a specific form or leave that decision up to the Mentor they are assigned.
The MATCH program is an innovative approach to remedying transportation safety by pairing those in need with those equipped to offer guidance. When significant funds, as well as the safety of the community, is at risk, any assistance is abundantly helpful.