The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed a regulation that it says will give state departments of transportation more flexibility in setting design standards for resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on existing Interstate highways and other key arteries.

The proposal, published in the Federal Register on Nov. 24, would incorporate updated design standards—principally those issued in recent years by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)—and drop older versions of the benchmarks.

FHWA says in its proposal: “These proposed design standards provide a range of acceptable values for highway features, allowing for flexibility that best suits the desires of the community while satisfying the purpose for the project and needs of its users.”

The proposal wouldn’t apply to maintenance resurfacing, FHWA notes.

FHWA has set a tight deadline of Dec. 24 for receiving comments on its proposal.

After reviewing the filings, the agency will make any changes in the proposal it feels are warranted. A final rule then would be issued and take effect on a date to be specified.

FHWA Administrator Nicole R. Nason said in a statement that the agency "proposes to provide regulatory relief to states to address the immediate repair needs of our nation's roadways without compromising safety and efficiency."

At present, state DOTs planning RRR projects must meet the current, older benchmarks for new construction unless the agency approves a design exception.

The new regulation would allow states to follow the updated AASHTO and other standards without the need for an FHWA exception.

It would apply to resurfacing and other rehab project on the National Highway System. The NHS includes the Interstates plus major federally funded arterials, such as routes whose names start with “U.S.”  As of 2014, the NHS included 226,767 miles.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is reviewing the new proposal and plans to file comments on it, an ARTBA spokesman says.

Patricia Bush, AASHTO program manager for engineering, said in a Dec. 2 email, "This appears to be a standard update to the design standards for the NHS, and generally we are supportive."

Bush added, "We are engaging on specifics with our member departments and will submit comments to the docket accordingly."

Jay Hansen, the National Asphalt Pavement Association's executive vice president for advocacy, said via email on Nov. 25, that in FHWA's proposal, the agency appeared to be "cleaning up" some parts of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Story updated on Dec. 2 with comments from AASHTO and an update from NAPA.