Montana rest area usage : data acquisition and usage estimation
Kirkemo, Zachary Scott
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Rest areas perform a critical role in the highway network. They provide passenger vehicle occupants and heavy vehicle operators with an opportunity to use a restroom, walk around, stop for a meal, sleep for a period of time, or even pause to use a cellular phone. For decision-making related to rest area usage, many states, including Montana, consult the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) "A Guide for the Development of Rest Areas on Major Arterials and Freeways" (AASHTO, 2001). This reference provides guidance related to rest area design, including water and sewer system capacity, as well as parking lot size and layout. The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is currently reviewing the applicability of the figures provided in this document for various rest area design aspects, because they are based on national averages that may not represent usage patterns in a rural state like Montana. The objectives of this research were threefold: to 1) obtain rest area usage data that could support various aspects of rest area planning, design, and operations in the future; 2) process, manipulate, and compile data in a format that can be used by MDT in general activities and by the researchers for analysis in subsequent project activities, and 3) develop rest area usage guidelines, including recommended procedures that could be used in predicting rest area usage in the state of Montana. In completing objective 1), four separate types of data were collected during the course of this project: traffic data, dwell time data, water usage data, and patron/door count data. However, this project is most concerned with the traffic data and the associated percent usage. Analysis of descriptive statistics indicated that the mean usage at rest areas in the high volume interstate category was approximately 10 percent of mainline traffic. The average percent mainline traffic entering for the low volume interstate category was approximately 8.7 percent. This value was 10.96 percent for the high volume arterial category and 13.39 percent for low volume arterials.