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Transportation Engineering is the application of technological and scientific principles to

the planning, functional design, operation and management of facilities for any mode
(land, air and sea) necessary for the transportation of people and goods.

Traffic Engineering is a subset of transportation engineering dealing with the planning,

geometric design and traffic operations of roads/streets/highways, their networks,
terminals and so on.


These notes are for an introductory course in transportation engineering and they were
assembled for the benefit of WSU CE322 students. They deal with land transportation
and the vehicle/road system in particular.


How important is transportation? Money-wise it comprises roughly 20% of the GNP, it

amounts to 13% of personal consumption. Guess what is the largest infrastructure
investment in this country? The system of roadways and bridges. It involves 40,000 miles
of interstate, 1.2 million miles of major highways and 3.9 million miles of
state/county/city roads.

This is a system most of us take for granted. Imagine what the size of a city would be
without a road network. The main limiting factor would be feeding the population!
Indeed, fresh produce would have to be carried in. This is the reason medieval cities
could not grow in size beyond the 500,000 mark. Not surprisingly the industrial
revolution brought city size expansion which in turn brought demand for an expanded
road system which allowed a further city expansion and so on. Still even today in order to
accommodate residential expansion (e.g. a new subdivision) study of its impact on the
existing roadway system must be made.

The only foreseeable reversal to the general trend of increasing transportation demand in
the future is the wide-spread use of telecommunications as an alternative to commuting
for activities such as working, shopping and so on. Examples:

• Electronic/mail order shopping

• Access data/facilities remotely by computer so commuting to work is not necessary
• Two-way television ("Super-Highway" of future)

Another important issue is that transportation engineering is a multi-disciplinary area
where problems are much broader than the ones typically encountered in civil engineering
design (e.g., limit stresses in the beam or soil to prevent failure). Problems in transport
involve aspects of economics, human behavior, environment and so forth, in addition to
the typical design aspect. It draws from a variety of disciplines including, social sciences,
economics, math and statistics, engineering materials, soil mechanics and so on. Their
interaction is shown in the following figure:

Figure 1-1: Interdisciplinary Nature of Transportation Engineering, (Khisty 1991).

There is a considerable debate among transportation engineering educators about the

content of this single core transportation course undergraduate civil engineers take. There
has been a consensus that it should deal only with the road/vehicle mode and that it
should include primarily "soft" transportation while introducing aspects of "hard"
transport which deals with pavement design. Hence, the topics treated in these notes are:

• Land-use
• Vehicle and Human Characteristics
• Highway geometric design
• Traffic flow theory
• Highway Capacity
• Economics
• Transportation planning
• Introduction to pavement design

They are all in reference to the roadway/vehicle system. The focus of this Furthermore,
Transportation Engineering encompasses the movement of people and goods by all three
physical modes, namely car/truck, train, airplane and boat. This course deals only with the
car/truck mode


Public opinion and perception play an important role in the decision making. Typically,
various design alternatives of a transport facility are subject to public scrutiny through a
system of public hearings. Public opinion weighs heavily upon the alternative selected.
This is rational because it is public money that is spent for building the transport
infrastructure. Furthermore, public sensitivity changes with the prevalent issues of the
time. Examine, for example the post-war trend of interstate highway building with today's
swift in emphasis to public transit. Current thinking dictates that transportation facilities
must place emphasis on the movement of people instead of vehicles. The reasons can
be illustrated by studying the following figure which exemplifies the physical system
requirements for moving 15,000 people/hr. It becomes apparent that for a large city, the
transit solution is desired. Large US cities that lack large capacity systems demonstrate
the result of poor planning, (e.g., LA).

Figure 1-2: Physical requirements for moving 15,000 people/hr, (Vuchic, 1981).


The example problem described above, (i.e., moving 15,000 people/hr) is typical to the
problems we will be addressing throughout this course. Other examples follow to offer an
idea about the applicability of the material offered in this course:

• A new subdivision is to be built in a medium size city. Can the existing roadway
network carry the additional traffic which will be generated?

• Based on what criteria commuters select a transportation mode, (bus versus private
car) for the commute to work.

• How do people select a road path to go from A to B.

• Can the traffic volumes on the 2-lane part of US195 between Pullman and Spokane
justify an expansion to 4-lanes throughout the length of the highway?

• What is the maximum number of vehicles that can be accommodated on a given

stretch of road under prevailing traffic conditions and what is their speed?

• What should be the geometric characteristics of a roadway (horizontal and vertical

alignment) to satisfy safe driving conditions to the multitude of vehicles which will be
using it?

• What should be the thickness of the pavement layers to accommodate a given number
of axle load repetitions over the design life of a pavement?