Chapter 3. Survey Results of Roadway Factors and Services
In this chapter, empirical results of the analysis of rural road users and decision makers responses are presented. This chapter is divided into three sections. In the first section, a brief description of respondents road use characteristics, i.e., number of miles traveled, are presented. The second section summarizes responses on roadway features including physical and operational roadway features, as well as maintenance. Finally, the third section summarizes the type of tax rural road users would most support to raise road improvement funds.
The questionnaires mailed to each road user group contained questions about physical roadway conditions, road maintenance, and road funding. All respondents were asked about the number of miles they travel in one day and the surface type on roads leading to the nearest community.
On average, decision makers in Montana travel 56 miles a day, while the rural road users travel 74 miles. The average miles for users is high primarily because school bus drivers reported the route miles they travel during the day. North Dakota decision makers reported they travel an average of 40 miles each day and road users reported an average of 58 miles per day. As in Montana, school bus drivers were one of the groups surveyed in North Dakota and they travel a high number of route miles each day. In South Dakota, decision makers reported an average of 46 miles traveled per day while the rural road users reported 126 miles. The user groups in South Dakota are delivery services and mail carriers, so once again route miles are used, which are quite high. However, these users cover much of the rural system and can provide a cursory view.
Physical road characteristics are important to every driver and passenger. Since a large number of crashes involve vehicles that are run off the roadway, a great deal of care should be given to the design of the physical road environment. Road users and decision makers from each of the three states were asked about their perceptions of road width, ditch steepness, and condition of the rural road shoulders they most frequently travel. The elements are evaluated for all roads and this report divides the responses by type of road the user most frequently uses (paved or unpaved).
Road width certainly is an important element, particularly with the wide range of rural road users traversing these roads. Some of the diverse users include agricultural producers with large equipment, school bus drivers moving children and mail carriers and delivery drivers providing service to the rural areas. The road widths must be adequate to carry these users in a safe manner. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota use similar standards for their rural roads. The majority of their rural roads carry less than 750 vehicles per day, with the exception of roads near towns and cities. The paved rural roads tend to have widths of a minimum of 32 feet, but the average road is between 34 and 36 feet. Unpaved rural roads with gravel are approximately 24 feet wide but may vary.1
Ditch steepness is important for drainage purposes. Further, for safety reasons it is desirable to design slopes that are not too steep. The Texas Department of Transportation found that crash test data reveals that steeper slopes (up to 1 Vertical to 3 Horizontal written as 1V:3H) are negotiable by drivers; however, recovery of vehicular control on these steeper slopes is less likely.2 The tri-states that we surveyed generally have slopes of 1V:4H.
Road shoulders may be minimal on rural roads; however, there generally is a flatter area beside the road prior to the ditch break. Although it may be grass, it often serves as the shoulder. Individuals may sometimes perceive road shoulders to be narrower than they actually are. Rural roads with higher levels of traffic -- those with 2,000 to 3,000 cars per day -- tend to have more apparent road shoulders, approximately 2 to 3 feet wide.
Regarding the physical roadway elements included in the survey, we found that decision makers perceived the physical roadway conditions to be better than the rural road users perceived them for each of the states. The level of significance was tested by a chi-square test on the difference between the mean value for the physical roadway elements as rated by road users and decision makers. The results of the survey and the chi-square test are presented below.
Montana Physical Roadway Elements
When considering the rating of roadway elements for overall roads (Figure 1), there is no significant difference between the road users and the decision makers in Montana at the 0.05 level for perceptions of road width, ditch steepness, or road shoulder. However, road shoulder did show significant difference at the 0.20 level with a chi-square value of 0.1547. The decision makers perceived the poor ratings of road shoulders correctly, as more than 40 percent of road users rated road shoulder poorly. Most of the rural roads in Montana do not have road shoulders. The road users may see this as a problem if they need to pull over to the side of the road for emergency purposes. Ditch steepness received nearly identical ratings from the decision makers and road users, so we could conclude the decision makers are quite in tune with the road users' perceptions.
When looking at the roadway elements by road type, paved (Figure 2) and unpaved (Figure 3), we find little difference in the perceptions. Once again decision makers view the roadway elements slightly more positively but with no level of significance.
The high level of "poor" ratings was unexpected; however, decision makers do realize there are problems. The majority of rural roads were not built to include road shoulders and it is costly to make this change. The lack of funding is a large problem for counties, so as funds become available decision makers most likely will address the problems they can in order of priority.
North Dakota decision makers and road users do not have the same perceptions of roadway elements when looking at overall roads. There is statistical significance between the ratings of each of the three roadway elements considered: road width, ditch steepness, and road shoulders (Figure 4). Road width is significant at the .10 level with the decision makers rating the road width better than the road users.
Similarly, decision makers rated ditch steepness and road shoulder significantly 0.05 level better than the road users rated them (Figure 4). Road shoulders were rated poor by about 30 percent of road users, where only 12 percent of decision makers perceived a poor rating of road shoulders. Looking more closely at paved and unpaved roads provides an indication of which roads are more problematic. There is no statistical significance with any of the road elements between the decision makers and the road users for paved roads (Figure 5). However, there is statistical significance on the ratings of roadway elements on the unpaved roads (Figure 6). The decision makers consistently rated roadway elements significantly better than the users rated them. Unfortunately, unpaved roads may not be receiving the attention needed.
There are significant differences in the perceptions between road users and decision makers for physical roadway elements on South Dakota rural roads. There is some significant difference on paved and unpaved roads. There is significant difference at the 0.05 level in the perceptions of road width. Nearly 63 percent of the decision makers viewed the road width as good whereas about 43 percent of the road users viewed road width as good, but more road users viewed the road width as poor (Figure 7.)
There was no significant difference in the perceptions of ditch steepness, but there was significance for the road shoulder element at the 0.05 level. More than 30 percent of the road users rated road shoulders as "poor"; 15 percent of decision makers perceived road shoulders as "poor." The paved and unpaved breakdown may shed more light on where the problems are located. The decision makers consistently rated each of the roadway elements better than the road users (Figure 8 and Figure 9). Road shoulders received the poorest ratings from the road users. It appears that paved and unpaved road shoulders are not in the conditions that road users would like.
For all three states, decision makers consistently rated the physical roadway elements better than did the road users. Decision makers rated the physical roadway elements more favorably than road users, with the exception of ditch steepness, which the road users rated higher. The element that had the most frequent statistical significant difference was road shoulder in each of the three states.
Several questions were asked to determine users' and decision makers' perceptions toward operational conditions. Operational conditions included signs and road elements that affect the speed vehicles can travel on the road network. Traffic signs are imperative to control the movement of vehicles and to reduce the hazard of traffic operation. For these next two sections, we've combined all roads for lack of statistical significance and ease of presentation.
There is an operational aspect to the roads that affects drivers in a number of ways, i.e., signs that warn of road conditions ahead, railroad tracks, or curves in the road. Roughness of roads and loose gravel from recent blading are some of the factors that limit speed on unpaved roads. Some of these factors also may tend to increase wear and tear on personal vehicles. The survey instrument captured the perceived differences between decision makers and users for these three operational road conditions in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. All respondents, both decisions makers and road users, were asked to respond "yes" or "no" to specific questions: are there adequate signs along the road to warn of hazards, do elements affect the road speed drivers could travel, and do conditions of the roads cause additional wear and tear on vehicles. "Yes" responses to the three questions on road operating conditions are illustrated in Figure 10.
The first concern addressed is whether there is adequate signage along the roads to warn motorists of upcoming hazards. Decision makers (DM) gave slightly higher positive responses than users (Users) for each state. The results from Montana and South Dakota had no statistical significance by the chi test. Only North Dakota's results were statistically significant at the 0.05 level. Almost 100 percent of decision makers in North Dakota thought there were adequate signs along the roads in their state.
Elements on paved and unpaved roads affect road speeds. On paved roads, they may include cracks in pavement, pot holes where pieces of the road surface are missing, and wildlife. On unpaved roads, they may include loose gravel, washboard conditions, weather, and wildlife. Users gave higher "good" responses than decision makers, indicating that decision makers thought there were fewer elements on the road affecting speed than did users (Figure 10). Again, only in North Dakota was the difference statistically significant by the chi test at the 0.05 level.
he last operational concern addressed in this survey was the effect roads have on the wear and tear of vehicles. Here the responses were mixed. In Montana and North Dakota a higher percentage of road user respondents than of decision makers thought there was excessive wear and tear to their vehicles due to road condition. However, in South Dakota the decision makers thought wear and tear was greater than the user groups that responded. The user groups in South Dakota were delivery people and mail carriers; perhaps they did not all own the vehicles they spent most of their time driving. Results in Montana and South Dakota were too close to be statistically significant.
Road users identified improvements they would like to see on the road network. Some responses were categorized as operational improvements. The suggested operational improvements identified by respondents from the three states are:
The last three suggestions were not addressed on the survey instrument. However, the users viewed them as important enough to mention them frequently; therefore, they should not be overlooked.
In conclusion, the decision makers' responses were more favorable about the roads' operational conditions than were road users' responses. The specific percent of response for the three categories measured were different in each state. The differences were statistically significant only in North Dakota. Users from all three states had some additional concerns they would like to see addressed. The overall results for operational road conditions in this survey suggest that decision makers perceive the roads more favorably than road users.
The condition of the roads we drive every day to work, shopping, conducting business. or to visit family and friends is affected by the maintenance of roads and bridges. Across the tri-sate area, thousands of miles of roads and bridges have to be maintained on a daily to monthly basis. In this survey, we are measuring the difference between how decision makers and users perceive the accomplishment of these tasks. In this section, we will consider perceptions on all roads and then break them into perceptions for paved and unpaved roads. In general, we found that decision makers gave more favorable responses to the three maintenance categories than the users did, both overall and individually, on paved and unpaved roads.
Decision makers scored maintenance higher in each category than did users for all roads, as illustrated in Figure 11. The difference between the mean response of decision makers and users for snow removal and road maintenance was statistically significant, while for bridge maintenance the difference was not statically significant by the chi test to the level of 0.05. Decision makers rated snow removal extremely high. Montana has an aggressive program for winter snow and ice removal. Montana is working hard to balance a good maintenance program with an affordable price tag.3
Road maintenance was graded the hardest by users, with 80 percent of respondents rating it "poor" or "fair" while only 20 percent thought it was "good." The difference between decision makers and road users on road maintenance was statistically significant.
Decision makers rated maintenance higher in all three categories than did users. Only road maintenance was statistically significant (Figure 12). Maintenance on paved roads is not required as regularly as on unpaved roads, but when needed it is more expensive. Users' response may indicate a significant desire for additional road maintenance.
More than 50 percent of the decision makers and users gave bridge maintenance a "good" response. The difference in the response between paved and unpaved roads was small. This is somewhat surprising because the national bridge inventory reveals that Montana has 5,341 bridges on file; 659 are structurally deficient and 572 are functionally obsolete.4 This indicates that there are serious problems with 22.7 percent of the bridges in Montana.
For unpaved roads, decision makers gave a high rating to snow removal, with just more than 84 percent rating it as "good" (Figure 13). No decision makers gave snow removal a "poor" response. Again, decision makers rated all categories higher than did users. Users' view of road maintenance on unpaved roads was well below average with statistical significance. Ten percent of the users rated road maintenance "good"; 47 percent rated it "poor." Decision makers did not give a single response of "poor" for road maintenance.
In conclusion, Montana decisions makers are highly satisfied with snow removal, less satisfied with road maintenance and least satisfied with bridge maintenance. Bridge maintenance received the least amount of "good" responses; however, it was more than 50 percent "good." Users are the most unhappy with road maintenance, especially on unpaved roads, and are most impressed with bridge maintenance on paved roads.
The North Dakota response to the survey was good and comparison results all were statistically significant by the chi tests. The results show decision makers gave a high "good" response to the tested road maintenance items (Figure 14). One reason may be that decision makers know the cost of road maintenance. For example, the North Dakota highway distribution fund received $128,100,000 in fiscal year 1999. The NDDOT receives 63 percent, counties receive 23 percent and cities receive 14 percent of the funds.5 Brian Bremmer (1995) of Utah states that yearly per mile maintenance costs of gravel roads is $3,864.00 -- 200 percent of the maintenance costs of paved roads. Construction of gravel roads is about 40 percent the cost of paved roads, amounting to an average of $2,457 per mile.6 North Dakota decision makers from all roads gave the highest "good" response to road maintenance. Users gave their highest percent "good" responses to snow removal, and bridge maintenance was a close second. Road maintenance received the highest percent of "poor" responses from North Dakota users.
On paved roads, decision makers gave 80 percent or more "good" responses to all three categories: snow removal, road maintenance, and bridge maintenance (Figure 15). All three categories were statistically significant. Bridge maintenance received the lowest percent of "good" responses from decision makers. According to the National Bridge Inventory, North Dakota has 4,780 bridges on file, with 872 structurally deficient and 276 bridges functionally obsolete.7 These statistics show that 24 percent of all North Dakota bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Bridge maintenance received the lowest percent of "poor" votes from decision makers and users combined (Figure 16).
Most of the "fair" and "poor" rating by decision makers in all categories stayed under 20 percent with the exception of bridge maintenance on unpaved roads, which received 29 percent "fair" responses from decision makers (Figure 16). The users graded road maintenance 37 percent "poor" on paved roads (noted above Figure 15) and 65 percent "poor" on unpaved roads (noted Figure 16).
Statistical significance exists in the differences between decision makers and users in all three categories on unpaved roads in North Dakota. The decision makers gave a 100 percent "good" to road maintenance on unpaved roads (Figure 16, note n=19). The users scored it with the highest percent "poor" of 65 percent. There is significant maintenance on unpaved roads as compared to paved roads. Gravel or unpaved roads have many factors, such as loose gravel, wash boards, narrow shoulders, steep or no ditches, sharp curves, some roads built many years ago, and infrequent grading.
Note: DM = Decision Makers; User = Combined Road User Groups; Snow = snow removal; Road = road maintenance; Bridge = bridge maintenance; * Statistical significance to 0.05 level.
In conclusion, North Dakota decision makers gave a higher percentage "good" response to the three measured road maintenance items. There appears to be a distinct difference in perceptions between decision makers and users. The fact that North Dakota counties spend 23 percent of the 128.1 million on road construction and maintenance may influence these perceptions. Decision makers gave a close to 100 percent "good" response to road maintenance on both paved roads and unpaved roads.
South Dakota follows the pattern of Montana and North Dakota in that the decision makers graded all services better than did the users (Figure 17). Snow removal received 89 percent "good" response from decision makers and only 46 percent from users. This difference had strong statistical significance. The SDDOT typically budgets about $5.2 million for winter snow and ice removal each fiscal year.8 The "good" ratings for snow removal and road maintenance for decision makers was twice that of the users. Road maintenance received 69.2 percent "good" response from decision makers. This contrasts with road users, who gave road maintenance the lowest "good" response at only 32.5 percent.
Approximately 70 to 90 percent of the South Dakota decision makers gave a "good" rating to all three maintenance categories on paved roads measured by this survey (Figure 18). The user range for the same categories was from 32 percent to 61 percent of "good" responses with the highest "good" response for snow removal. The "good" responses were closest between decision makers and road users in the bridge maintenance category. This is a little surprising when considering the status of the state's bridges. The National Bridge Inventory states that South Dakota has 6,042 bridges on file: 1,426 are structurally deficient and 371 are functionally obsolete.9 That means 29.7 percent of the bridges have structural problems.
Almost 80 percent of decision makers in South Dakota gave a "good" response for snow removal on unpaved roads, Figure 18. For unpaved roads, snow removal and road maintenance had statistical difference by the chi test.
The makeup of respondents was a little different in South Dakota as there were more decision makers responding to the survey than road users. One may assume that the South Dakota decision makers are aware that, during the fiscal year of 2002, the SDDOT had a $424 million budget. Twenty-four percent of the budget was for operations; the remaining 76 percent was for maintenance and road and airport construction contracts. Approximately $25 million was for local governments to use on roads and bridges.10 South Dakota received about an average percentage of "fair" responses in all three categories.
The conclusive results for South Dakota, as with other states, were that the total percentage of "good" responses in each category were higher for paved roads than unpaved roads. The decision makers in all cases gave higher responses than users; snow removal and road maintenance were statistically significant. Decision makers and users gave the poorest response for road maintenance; less than 40 percent of users gave road maintenance a "good"response on unpaved roads.
Respondents were given opportunities to add their own comments to road maintenance. Road users identified improvements they would like to see on the road network. Some of the responses were categorized as maintenance improvements. The suggested maintenance improvements identified by respondents from the three states were:
Snow removal was the most frequent response in the comments section; however, road maintenance, especially on unpaved roads, received the highest percent of "poor" responses. The last four suggestions above all refer to general road maintenance, which received very poor ratings from users in all three states surveyed. Blading, filling pot holes, mowing grass, and better overall maintenance all improve the riding comfort and safety of the country roads.
In conclusion, there were differences in response from the decision makers and users in each of the three states of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In the preceding nine figures there were measured statistical differences in 20 of the 29 measured categories. The response rates showed differences of a wide range, i.e., unpaved roads in North Dakota, where 100 percent of decision makers gave a "good" and only 35 percent of users gave a "good" response. The closest response was bridge maintenance in Montana on unpaved roads, where both decision makers and users returned 55.6 percent "good." In all other measured categories the decision makers gave higher "good" response to road maintenance categories than did users. In South Dakota where decision makers who responded outnumbered the users, the response rates remained the same. The conclusion is that decision makers perceive road maintenance at a higher quality level than do road users. Many references point to finances as a limiting factor to amount of road maintenance decision makers are able to achieve in any given year.
An emergency response is a required response to some type of accident or mishap. The time required for help to arrive in a rural area is a function of two variables: speed and distance. A number of road factors can affect these two variables, i.e., paved verses unpaved roads, loose gravel, sharp curves, etc. We asked survey respondents if they received adequate emergency response in their area. More than 85 percent of all survey respondents in the tri-state area thought their local emergency services were adequate.
Users on paved roads in Montana were the only user group to indicate a higher number of responses believing they received adequate emergency response did than decision makers. In Montana, on paved roads, 86.7 percent of the decision makers and 91.4 percent of the users indicated that emergency services were adequate. On unpaved roads it was reversed; and 88.9 percent of the decision makers and 85.5 percent of the users thought emergency services were adequate (Figure 20).
In North Dakota, on paved roads, 98.3 percent of the decision makers and 89.5 percent of the users indicated that emergency services were adequate. The difference between decision makers and users on paved roads in North had statistical significance. The differences between decision makers (91.7 percent) and users (89.8 percent) on unpaved roads did not have statistical significance.
In South Dakota, on paved roads, 95.1 percent of the decision makers and 88.9 percent of the users indicated that emergency services were adequate. On unpaved roads the difference was even closer at 86.11 for decision makers and 86.13 for the users. There was no statistical significance for emergency response between decision makers and users on either road type in South Dakota.
In conclusion, respondents in all three states thought they had adequate emergency services. In all categories, decision makers had a higher "yes" frequency response than users, except on paved roads in Montana.
An efficient way to catch problems early, when they are less expensive to fix, is for all road users to report problems as quickly as they are identified. Both decision makers and users share this responsibility. This survey investigated the differences between decision makers and users in their reporting of road problems. The narrowest margin of difference was between Montana decision makers and users with no statistical difference (Figure 21). Montana had a higher reporting frequency from users than decision makers in reporting problems on paved roads. Two user groups were surveyed in Montana -- school bus drivers and rural road users. The survey results showed that 72.5 percent of the users on paved roads and 83 percent of users on unpaved roads reported road problems.
In North Dakota, there was statistical significance between decision makers and users who reported problems along the roads. The survey response revealed that decision makers report problems more often than users report problems. Decision makers and users on unpaved roads in North Dakota report problems they encounter more frequently those on paved roads. There are two possible reasons for this. First, unpaved roads are mostly county roads and there is a greater chance the user knows the decision makers who need to hear about the road problem. Second, the reporting of problems tends to reflect the feeling of responsibility, meaning decision makers take responsibility for the problem when they see it and react accordingly or report to the proper authority. In North Dakota, 63 percent of school bus drivers, 45 percent of the agriculture producers, and only 10 percent of the commuters said they reported problems encountered on the roads to appropriate officials. These results were users on both paved and unpaved roads. The chart shows the combined results from users on paved (72.5percent) and unpaved roads (83.0 percent).
South Dakota showed little difference in frequency of reporting problems between paved roads and unpaved roads for decision makers and users (Figure 21). Decision makers showed a higher frequency of reporting problems than users on paved (91.5 percent) and unpaved roads (91.4 percent). South Dakota had two user groups, the mail carriers and delivery service drivers. The chart shows the average of these two groups on paved and unpaved roads. On paved roads 53.3 percent of the users reported problems and on unpaved roads 54.2 percent reported road problems.
The conclusion is that decision makers are doing a better job than users in reporting road problems. The results could be influenced by the fact that decision makers have been given authority by someone or a group to be in charge of the road systems. Nevertheless, in the tri-state area probably all users have an implied responsibility to report problems, especially if they feel strongly about the problem or want it quickly resolved.
The last section on the survey dealt with funding options for road maintenance, operational condition, and physical roadway elements. Many options exist for governments to collect funds for road expense. Currently, the cost is shared by the state and federal governments and funds are collected through a number of programs such as gas taxes, wheel taxes, and licensing fees. A question was asked on this survey to gain additional insight into decision makers and users acceptance of specific funding mechanisms such as fuel tax, sales tax , or property tax as options to assist counties, and states with funding their share of the road expenses. The following section reports on how the decision makers and users viewed adding to the existing tax load for road funding. The response from each state is evaluated separately for clarity.
State and county governments continually are searching for additional funding to cover the costs of services to the general public. Montana currently uses property tax, fuel tax, vehicle registration, and mill levy to fund road maintenance.11 From the three taxing options provided in the survey, Montana decision makers favored sales tax over fuel tax by 32 percent and users by 23 percent (Figure 22). Montana has high gas and fuel taxes; they are tenth in the nation in gas tax at $.462 per gallon and the seventh highest in fuel tax in the nation at $.537 per gallon.12 Montana has no sales tax. This tax structure may explain the response from the Montana survey respondents. Montana's second choice was fuel tax, and property tax was last choice. Sales tax is a mechanism to spread the tax burden over the entire population and the entire population, does benefit from the road infrastructure. Other taxes like wheel taxes, fuel taxes, and license fees are more directed to road users. Respondents could select "other" types of tax and specify what they recommended. Some of the suggestions under "other" from Montana decision makers were tax on harvested timber, tolls, and local tax options and from users tax on 4x4 trucks, increased fines for vehicle offenses, and higher commercial tax.
North Dakota's present road funding comes from property tax, fuel tax, vehicle registration and mill levy.13 North Dakota decision makers favored the fuel tax over sales tax by 35 percent, while users favored sales tax over fuel tax (Figure 23). The chi tests showed statistical significance between users and decision makers only for the fuel tax. The decision maker and user response for sales tax was about equal. North Dakota has the lowest fuel tax rate in the tri-state area, currently a $0.394 per gallon tax on gasoline and $0.454 per gallon tax on diesel fuel.14 North Dakota assesses a 5 percent sales tax, the highest in the tri-state area.
North Dakota clearly rejected increasing property taxes to fund road improvements. North Dakota users showed some interest in researching other alternatives, they suggested federal tax, income tax, tobacco/alcohol, luxury tax and bulk oil.
Currently, South Dakota collects revenue for transportation purposes from property tax and mill levy.15 The South Dakota decision makers favored fuel taxes as a funding source for road improvements. Fuel taxes are a more accepted user-based method to support road improvements. South Dakota currently assesses a $0.424 per gallon tax on gasoline and a $0.484 per gallon tax on diesel fuel and assesses a 4 percent sales tax.16 Users favored sales tax by a narrow margin too close for statistical significance. Property tax had the least amount of support. Some decision makers were interested in looking at "other" sources. Wheel tax, income tax, license fees, and vehicle registration were the majority of the "other" write-in responses from decision makers. The users "other" write-in suggestions were income tax, county wheel tax, and fines.
In conclusion, this survey question was used to gain some insight on the acceptability of various taxes from decision makers and users in the tri-state area. The results showed a sales tax was favored in Montana; North and South Dakota favored fuel taxes. North and South Dakota showed more interest in investigating some other alternatives. It is never popular when governments decide to increase taxation. If the benefits are clearly communicated to the population that an improved road infrastructure will be the results of the increased taxes, a greater buy-in is possible. The following is a summary of some of the suggestions given by respondents to aid in funding of the road infrastructure:
The challenge for state, county, and township governments to develop equitable tax strategies is difficult and controversial.