California Department of Transportation

Welcome to District 5 - Context Sensitive Solutions

Central California Coast  
An important concept in highway design is that every project is unique. The setting and character of the area, the values of the community, the needs of the highway users, and the challenges and opportunities are unique factors that designers must consider with each highway project. Whether the design to be developed is for a modest safety improvement or 10 miles of new location rural freeway, there are no patented solutions. For each potential project, designers are faced with the task of balancing the need for the highway improvement with the need to safely integrate the design into the surrounding natural and human environments.

In order to do this, designers need flexibility. There are a number of options available to State and local highway agency officials to aid in achieving a balanced road design and to resolve design issues. These include the following:

  • Use the flexibility within the standards adopted for each State.
  • Recognize that design exceptions may be optional where environmental consequences are great.
  • Be prepared to reevaluate decisions made in the planning phase.
  • Lower the design speed when appropriate.
  • Maintain the road's existing horizontal and vertical geometry and cross section and undertake only resurfacing, restoration, and rehabilitation (3R) improvements.
  • Consider developing alternative standards for each State, especially for scenic roads.
  • Recognize the safety and operational impact of various design features and modifications.

When faced with extreme social, economic, or environmental consequences, it is sometimes necessary for designers to look beyond the "givens" of a highway project and consider other options. The design exception process is one such alternative. In other cases, it may be possible to reevaluate planning decisions or rethink the appropriate design.

FHWA's Flexibility in Highway Design (FHWA Pub. No. FHWA-PD-97-062, Introduction)
Last updated: August 10, 2007