Traffic volumes change over time in response to changes in economic activity, individual travel patterns and preferences, and travelers’ social/recreational activities. In addition, traffic volumes are affected by any significant modification of a highway network, which includes items such as new road construction or operational changes on existing roads (use or retiming of traffic signals). Analysts therefore must develop methodological approaches for forecasting changes in traffic volumes. For new road construction, traffic forecasts are needed to determine an appropriate pavement design (number of equivalent axle loads, as discussed in Chapter 4) and geometric design (number of lanes, shoulder widths, and so on) that will provide an acceptable level of service. For operational improvements, traffic forecasts are needed to estimate the effectiveness of alternate improvement options.
In forecasting vehicle traffic, two interrelated elements must be considered: the overall regional traffic growth/decline and possible traffic diversion. Overall traffic growth/decline is clearly an important concern, because projects such as highway construction and operational improvements will be undertaken in a dynamic environment with continual change in economic activity and individual traveler activities and preferences. In the design of highway projects, engineers must seek to provide a sufficient highway level of service and an acceptable pavement ride quality for future traffic volumes.
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