Practical Design

Faced with funding shortfalls and an extensive list of projects to be completed, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) embraced a new philosophy known as practical design. This philosophy emphasized building good projects everywhere rather than just a few perfect projects. For years, MoDOT engineers consulted a single table in a manual for most of a project's design parameters. MoDOT only questioned the values given when they absolutely could not be followed for some project-specific reason. Although this "cookbook" engineering produced top-shelf projects, in terms of maximizing a modest budget across an entire system, it was a recipe for failure. This approach led to structures that were larger or more complex than conditions demanded. The concept of practical design emphasizes that, in many cases, an increase in structure or project size simply is not warranted. Districts and the consulting community were asked to put their design manuals away for one year and rely solely on common sense as long as they adhered to ground rules dealing with safety, communication, and quality. After one year under practical design, projects showed an aggregate savings of 13%. MoDOT has reinvested nearly one quarter of the savings in projects that previously it could not afford. MoDOT also realized a 24% reduction in fatal crashes between 2005 and 2008, which MoDOT officials attribute to the safety element of practical design. After a year of using the new approach, designers assembled for a brainstorming session about their experiences with practical design. The results were more flexible policies that were incorporated into a revised manual. In place of "recipes" for roads, the new manual includes ranges of solutions that depend on the context of projects. Successful establishment of the practical design program was no accident. Leadership was the most important implementation factor, since organizational change of this kind must be a top-down undertaking.


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  • Accession Number: 01150800
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS, ATRI
  • Created Date: Feb 9 2010 8:20AM