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Practical Design at WSDOT

What is practical design?

Practical design is an approach to making project decisions that focus on the need for the project and looks for lowest cost solutions. It encourages flexibility, innovation and multimodal solutions by increasing the focus on project purpose and need throughout all phases of project development (planning, program management, environmental analysis, design, construction and operation). It engages local stakeholders at the earliest stages of defining scope to ensure their input is included at the right stage of project design.

Why use practical design?

WSDOT continues to find ways to become more efficient, effective and sustainable. Using practical design principles supports WSDOT’s strategic goals to implement programs that save money, improve conditions for travelers and communities, and integrate all modes of transportation. It also meets the goals of Governor Inslee’s Results Washington initiative.

How does practical design differ from how we’ve done things in the past?

Practical design emphasizes selecting the most cost-effective solution, regardless of ownership or transportation mode. It also considers incremental solutions to address uncertainties in long-range planning assumptions, such as evolving vehicle technologies and changing travel demands.
There is stronger emphasis on project scoping and collaborative planning resulting in implementation agreements that streamline design decision making. Practical design provides policy direction to ensure projects meet specific objectives and discourages adding in non-priority work “while we’re there.” It also encourages designers to use the Highway Safety Manual analytical tools to quantify alternative design approaches to achieve substantive versus nominal safety improvements.

What does practical design not do?

Practical design does not cut costs on the state system at the expense of the community or the environment. It also is not an excuse, in itself, for making design deviations – there must be a thorough analysis of potential transportation solutions to validate design deviations. And, practical design is not limited to the design phase of a project – it can be applied to any of the project development stages noted above in “what is practical design?” Most importantly, practical design solutions do not cut corners on safety.

How will WSDOT implement practical design?

WSDOT is reviewing its funded projects to determine if there are opportunities to apply practical design principles. In addition, the agency will convene an executive oversight group to help ensure that practical design opportunities are identified and implemented throughout the agency.
We anticipate that the practical design approach to developing projects will be integrated into staff development and training as part of Secretary Peterson’s proposed agency reforms. WSDOT is also developing new practical planning guidelines for design and engineering staff.

How are Least Cost Planning and Practical Design linked?

Learn more in Moving Washington Forward: Practical Solutions (pdf 257 KB), a brief publication that describes this relationship. 

Who can I contact for more information?


  • Practical design policy: Nancy Boyd, Engineering Policy Director, 360-905-1545
  • Community planning: Elizabeth Robbins, Community Transportation Planning Manager, 360-705-7371
  • Project design: Pasco Bakotich, State Design Engineer, 360-705-7231
  • Corridor planning: Judy Lorenzo, Transportation Planning Office Manager, 360-705-7274