Monthly Archives: October 2011

HIGHWAY SAFETY BLOG

A new blog uses many voices to tell Utah road users how to stay safe.

For some serious fun, take a motorcycle safety class. Rachel Leiker did so and wrote about her experience for the Highway Safety Office Blog.

The Utah Department of Public Safety, Highway Safety Office has a new blog that uses a variety of authors to promote safety. Experts when it comes to safety on the road, blog authors are personally involved in a number of important efforts. “Our office’s program managers are passionate about their programs and it shows in their writing,” says Derek Miller, Highway Safety Program Specialist and one of the authors.

The Office of Highway Safety has 13 programs aimed at all types of road users – cyclists, motorists and passengers. The programs emphasize knowing the rules of the road and making the best choices, like wearing approved protective gear when riding a motorcycle.

Many posts are also backed up by studies or statistics with punch. A Click It or Ticket post by Kristy Kay cites how high visibility enforcement of safety belt laws helps save lives: “…the Click It or Ticket mobilization is credited with helping to increase the state’s belt usage rate from 67.4 percent in 2000 to an observed rate of 89.0 percent in 2010. Belt use saves thousands of lives each year across America and seatbelts have saved an estimated 1,355 lives in Utah since 2000.” That direct message is a great example why everyone needs to buckle up!

Even though the topics are serious, authors convey messages in an entertaining way. Author Helen Knipe’s post  explains how being a cyclist helps her drive with respect, and observe the rules of the road: “When I see cyclists in the road, I see myself  (except they’re usually riding faster than I do…) I have no problem waiting to pass a cyclist, giving cyclists extra room, exercising greater caution whenever they’re around – because that’s exactly what I would want drivers to do around me when I’m on my bike.”

Many of the posts have great images and videos that speak volumes. High school student Jake Barube won an iPod touch for his visually appealing motorcycle safety video using stop motion animation.

Jake’s on-camera narrative also uses humor. He urges motorcycle riders to wear approved protective gear “unless you enjoy the taste of asphalt.” His parting sentiment, “The safer you are the more fun you’ll have” are words any parent would want their teen to understand.

Guest posts give some good safety narratives too. Rachel Leiker attended a motorcycle safety training class. In her post she says, “This is seriously one of the most fun ways to spend a weekend, and the skills you learn don’t hurt either.”

Bookmark the site and check back often!

TWEETING ABOUT TRAFFIC

How UDOT Uses Social Media, a guest post by Andrew Johnson, former UDOT employee.

Chances are you’ve been caught in a traffic jam, wishing you knew about it ahead of time. The Utah Department of Transportation is consistently making strides to keep Utah drivers informed before they get behind the wheel, and a large part of UDOT’s efforts is through the use of social media. (NEVER Tweet and drive!)

UDOT’s innovative approach to keeping commuters up to speed includes regular updates through their Twitter feed. This gives drivers access to real-time information about road closures, accidents, construction projects and abnormal delays, and also provides the public with direct access to UDOT employees.

Here’s an example of a recent conversation on Twitter:

Tweets keep motorists informed — CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In this example, someone Tweeted UDOT with information about a possible malfunctioning traffic signal. UDOT responded to the Tweet, and included the signal technicians at the Traffic Operations Center to relay that information. At that point, the technicians dialed into the signal, and were able to diagnose a potential problem. Since Twitter is a public forum, and anyone who is following @UtahDOT can see the conversation, other people may join the dialog and contribute information. I noticed the Tweets, and was able to contribute my two cents.

UDOT Traffic is another fantastic resource available with the click of a mouse or the swipe of your smart phone. UDOT Traffic includes a network of closed-circuit television cameras, electronic variable message signs, coordinated traffic signals, traffic sensors, ramp meters and weather stations. Together, this network delivers real-time information directly to employees at the Traffic Operations Center and to the UDOT Traffic website. Employees can take the information received at the TOC, relay that information on Twitter and Facebook, and thousands of people instantly receive that information and can plan their routes accordingly.

Travel times help road users to decide to continue as planned or to take an alternate route.

As you travel along Utah’s freeways, you may notice large black signs spanning across the lanes overhead. These are called Variable Message Signs, or VMS, and are extremely effective in communicating important information to public. Located at key points across the state, these signs are controlled by operators at the UDOT Traffic Operations Center, and can be activated with custom messages as needed. The messages on these signs are governed by UDOT policies, and format, length and wording is dictated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) by the Federal Highway Administration.

These signs provide drivers with clear, concise messages about freeway conditions, and drivers can then decide if they want to continue on the same route or choose an alternate route. VMS boards can also be coordinated with other State agencies like the Department of Public Safety to run messages about safety belt laws, and other public safety campaigns. You may also see messages about air quality alerts through the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Despite the integration of social media into their arsenal, not all of UDOT’s efforts into reducing delays for drivers are strictly reactionary. In fact, a large number of construction projects around the State are a response to future demands, and UDOT wants to make sure Utah’s transportation network is efficient for years to come.

Information and pictures provided by 24saltlake.com.

DOTS USE SOCIAL MEDIA

UDOT and state agencies across the U.S. are using Social Media in innovative ways.

With the rise in use of social media, it makes sense that government agencies are taking advantage of relatively new online communication tools like Facebook and Twitter. A recent post on this blog describes how UDOT uses social media, and the agency is not alone among transportation organizations across the nation. State government social media users are finding a variety of ways to use Social Media and free online and smart phone apps to provide quick, effective ways to communicate with citizens.

Advantages to government agencies abound when it comes to Social Media use. The primary advantage is that Social Media lets transportation agencies hear the concerns of citizens and engage in a real time two-way conversation.  Applications like Facebook and Twitter let real two-way communication with people in the places where people are already congregating and sharing ideas.

Social media can also help DOTs:

  • Expand communication reach more people and other audiences.
  • Address misconceptions
  • Be cost effective with communication efforts
  • Increase the speed of public input
  • Target specific audiences or neighborhoods about a project or issue

Here are some innovative ways UDOT and agencies from other states are using social media to interact with the public:

While the in-person meeting was taking place, project representatives answered questions posed by online attendees via laptop.

UDOT used a free online application to hold an online public meeting simultaneously with an in-person meeting. The application has a chat feature and also integrates easily with cameras and microphones. Meeting organizers invited attendees to sign up for the online meeting ahead of time. While the in-person meeting was taking place, project representatives answered questions posed by online attendees via laptop. Periodically, representatives gave an overview of the purpose of the meeting and urged public feedback. Using the online application helped organizers to expand the reach of the public meeting to citizens who could not attend in person.

Washington State Department of Transportation has had good success using Twitter and blog posts together during weather emergencies. Twitter is a good tool to report and answer questions about closed roads or the status of storms or other weather events. Tweets can direct users to the WSDOT Blog for more information.

The California DMV used Social Media to optimize customer service communication channels.  The agency has grown its online presence by posting useful information, such as how to choose a good car seat, on Facebook. Twitter has been helpful for answering questions from citizens. The California DMV even launched a smart phone app earlier this year to reduce the frustration people experience while waiting in line. The free app shows DMV locations and wait-times. Other features of the app let users schedule a time to take a written test, and even see the testing material and take a practice test.

Sources:

 

A RETRO DDI

A Diverging Diamond Interchange and Auxiliary Lane project will improve mobility and safety at the Bangerter Highway, SR-201 intersection.

The DDI intersection made its Utah debut in American Fork with the  Pioneer Crossing project. Now, UDOT is using the innovative design to improve traffic flow at Bangerter Highway and SR-201.

In addition to the DDI, the project will also add a traffic lane between Bangerter Highway and I-215, dual right-turn lanes onto the SR-201 eastbound on-ramp, dual northbound left-turn lanes on Bangerter highway at 1820 South and dual eastbound left-turn lanes at 2100 South Frontage Road to northbound Bangerter Highway. Together, the new intersection and lanes will reduce delay through the intersection and along the intersecting corridors in the area.

Reducing delay

DDIs reduce delay by eliminating left turn signal phases. In typical diamond intersections, through-traffic waits for left turning traffic accessing on and off-ramps. Without a left-turn phase, through traffic can proceed without waiting for left turning vehicles.

A DDI also eliminates the need for signals at the on and off-ramps. Vehicles using the ramps have free right and left turns and simply wait for a gap in traffic.

Since traffic patterns vary depending on location, traffic analysis must always be done to make sure a DDI is the best choice.  Studies show that the DDI is a good fit for this location.

A cost effective choice

In addition to supporting better mobility and safety, the DDI is also a good cost saving project at this location. Because the existing bridge has adequate space, UDOT is rehabilitating the bridge deck and adding striping and signals for the conversion.

The DDI project is part of UDOT’s Bangerter Highway 2.0 , an expansive upgrade that includes improvements from the Salt Lake City Airport to 13400 South. The effort will reduce travel delay on Bangerter Highway by incorporating the latest innovations in transportation mobility.

Ultimately, the project will achieve all four of UDOT’s  strategic goals known as the “Final Four”: Take Care of What We Have, Make the System Work Better, Improve Safety and Increase Capacity.

 

COUNTING CYCLISTS

Salt Lake City recently participated in a national effort to document the use of bicycle facilities on city streets.

"From the most casual recreational rider to the daily commuter there is a large population that rides," says Andrew Coffey, who coordinated a volunteer effort to count cyclists in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City has collected some data that will be available for engineers planning improvements to city streets and intersections. The Institute of Transportation Engineers  Pedestrian and Bicycle Council and Alta Planning co-sponsor the yearly  National Bike/Ped Documentation Project to provide local and national data showing how transportation facilities are used by cyclists.

According to the project website, “without accurate and consistent demand and usage figures, it is difficult to measure the positive benefits of investments in these modes…This nationwide effort provides consistent model of data collection and ongoing data for use by planners, governments, and bicycle and pedestrian professionals.”

Evelyn Tuddenham, UDOT’s Bicycle/Pedestrian coordinator says UDOT will conduct similar counts in the future. “Until you do the research, you really don’t know” if, when or how facilities are being used.

Andrew Coffey, Political Science Major at the University of Utah, coordinated the effort for Salt Lake City. He usually spends time studying international conflict and domestic politics. His internship with the Hinckley Institute of Politics offered something completely different – a chance to count cyclists.

Andrew Coffey U of U intern, counting cyclists on North Temple.

Coffey coordinated a bike count, modeled after accepted ITE methods for documenting vehicle usage, starting on August 23. “I was immediately handed the bicycle count project that day,” says Coffey. Coffey worked with Becka Roolf, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Salt Lake City Transportation Division.

The all volunteer effort took place during four days in August on selected intersections. Coffey solicited from and got great support from the cycling community. Results of the count will be released soon at an event held to thank volunteers for helping.

Coffey enjoyed his project. “Cycling can truly be an alternative method of commuting within the Salt Lake Valley, he says. “Even if you don’t ride your bike as your primary method of transportation, it is good to see that Salt Lake City strives to provide great facilities for bicycle riding.”

As he watched traffic and cyclists, he was troubled by the lack of helmet use among cyclists. He also noticed that like motorists, cyclists don’t always know the rules of the road. One thing that surprised him – there are a lot of, and many kinds of cyclists. “From the most casual recreational rider to the daily commuter there is a large population that rides.”

SOLAR SHIFT

A Shift to Solar Powered Supplies and Greener Road Construction

Guest Post: Provided by Andrew Johnson, former employee of the UDOT Traffic Operation Center. (Images and information provided by Trans-Supply).

Environmental and economic sustainability is an issue that will continue to come up as new roads are constructed and repaired.

Solar powered equipment is becomming more common

Road construction is no small endeavor, and a new two-lane asphalt road with an aggregate base can require around 25,000 tons of crushed stone and costing millions of dollars per mile. It isn’t cheap, and it’s not easy, but even some simple changes can make a big difference.

Some of the recent “green” alternatives, from hot in-place recycling and adding old rubber tires as road filler to making the switch to solar powered barricade lights, are changing the way we look at road construction and maintenance. Some things, like switching out the lights, may seem like a small change, but there is a real opportunity there to save money and improve productivity.

Brandon Anderson, the owner of Trans-Supply.com, recently mentioned this increased interest in solar powered supplies and the trend away from battery-powered caution lights. “I have noticed a change in sales from battery powered barricade lights to their solar powered counterparts,” he said. “I believe this is due to solar technology becoming more affordable and making it a viable, economic alternative to traditional battery models. The sales for our barricade lights are almost exclusively solar, and that’s a win-win situation because it’s both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.”

Simply Solar

Solar-powered LED caution and barricade lights are becoming more common in road construction areas because they can – very reliably – draw attention in low visibility areas and warn drivers of dangerous conditions or obstructions without incurring the same costs. LED lights are durable, can last years longer than traditional lighting, and offer better distinction at long distances. They require less power to illuminate, reduce the costs of continually replacing batteries, have no filament that can burn out, and provide superior visibility even in poor conditions.

These solar devices are created by first determining how much energy the device will need to achieve autonomy (i.e. how much energy it will need to store to run without the aid of the sun), and then make sure it has a large enough battery to hold the necessary charge. Most regular batteries will need to be replaced once every three months (give or take). These batteries, on the other hand, require little to no maintenance and can power the efficient LED lights for years.

Solar powered road lights have been around for some time, and the same technology is being implemented more and more on everything from street signs and traffic lights to barricades and road studs. A good arsenal of traffic control devices will be an extremely effective tool that will increase safety and allow for better work production.

When lights rely on solar power instead of a tradition battery any barricades which have sat in storage for weeks, or even months, can be put into immediate use without having to check each device to make sure the battery hasn’t fully discharged. The same applies to renting these barricades or signs to others. It won’t matter how much they are or aren’t used, they can simply be moved to their new location where they will continue to provide reliable service.

In the past, the costs around solar technology have, unfortunately been economically prohibitive, but those costs are being driven down every day by new manufacturing techniques and other developments with the technology. It may seem like a small thing to switch from battery powered lights to solar powered, but even the little things will quickly add up when it comes to saving money and improving efficiency. And when road construction is already such a large and expensive endeavor, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity.

Reuse and Recycle

NAPA (National Asphalt Payment Association) estimates that 18 billion tons of asphalt is already in place. The good news is that, with all new technology we have for recycling and repaving on location, we already have a great resource for our future roads. By reusing what we already have, there is a great opportunity to save money while building quality roads.

Asphalt is America’s most recycled product. More than 100 million tons of asphalt pavements are reclaimed every year, and the vast majority of it (more than 95%) is recycled or reused. By combining the reclaimed asphalt with materials from other industries – like used tires or roofing shingles – the entire road can be resurfaced without the same costs and effort behind using virgin materials.

The question of economic and environmental sustainability won’t just go away. If we overuse our resources, there will come a time when we will not be able to maintain our current levels of construction. At the same time, if we cannot sustain an economically viable business model, we will end up with the same results. These new green alternatives have become extremely effective, reliable, and efficient, and with careful management, we can maintain quality roads and minimize the impact on the environment.

Sources:

http://www.geology.enr.state.nc.us/NAE%20aggregates%20Internet%20NRC%20with%20USGS%20sheet/Aggregate%20overview%20new.htm

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/tires/RAC/

http://www.hotmix.org/images/stories/sustainability_report_2009.pdf

CLIMBING BLACK RIDGE

A recently completed freeway project in Washington County has provided important travel and safety improvements for road users who drive the mountainous region.

Between the Black Ridge Mountains north of St. George to the Iron County line, I-15 is characterized by steep climbs and wildlife crossing the freeway. The important commerce and recreation corridor carries UDOT Region Four’s highest traffic volume with 25,000 vehicles a day, including 5,000 trucks, moving in both directions. A project to build new climbing lanes and install extensive wildlife fencing reached substantial completion in late September and UDOT has already received some positive feedback on the improvements.

Utah State Troopers noticed better traffic mobility right away, and called to tell UDOT Station Supervisor Todd Abbott. “They think it’s far out.” Abbot has been in touch with Point of Entry workers too, who indicate that local and interstate freight carriers are happy about the new lane too.

Black Ridge -- with only two lanes, road users experienced delay during peak travel times.

All road users are inconvenienced by travel delay, which also has an associated cost. But the extra lane offers the most noticeable benefit to passenger vehicles – “what an improvement, to get up the mountain from St. George to Cedar and not get behind two semis,” says UDOT Project Manager Scott Goodwin. Before the project, traffic on the two lane-north bound side of I-15 could be sluggish during peak travel times.

Goodwin managed Region Four’s first Design Build with the Black Ridge project. Anticipating the new lane would be built on the outside of the freeway, Goodwin was surprised when the contractor proposed building the entire project in the median. “It required more help from geo-tech – Jim Higbee was very involved,” says Goodwin. “It turned out to be a really nice project,” with the added lane and 12 feet of maintenance area between the mountain and new barrier. ATMS conduit and cable was installed through the project and south of the project, in an area improved two years ago.

UDOT works with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to identify appropriate improvements that work for wildlife.  Bruce Bonebreak, UDWR Habitat Manager appreciates the efforts to make interchanges, box culverts and other freeway areas more wildlife friendly. “This deer herd has suffered a lot in recent years from highway mortality when they try to access the winter ranges,” says Bonebreak. UDOT “has done a very commendable job” of working with UDWR.

Wildlife fencing was installed along both sides of I-15 from the lower part of the Black Ridge to the overpass west of Kanarraville, providing protection for over 12 miles of freeway. “This area has long been plagued with high numbers of collisions between vehicles and deer, particularly during the late fall to early spring period,” according to Randall Taylor, UDOT Resident Engineer. “At freeway speeds collisions are serious. Car parts and the carnage of deer carcasses along I-15 resulted in pleas for help from local residents.”

I-15 adjoins 2500 acres of land owned by the Indian Peaks and Cedar Bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, and the Tribe also has an interest in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. Tribal efforts include improving plant life on the east side of the freeway to provide food for animals so hopefully, fewer try to cross. “If we can improve habitat on the east side of the freeway, it will not only save deer and elk, but also people,” says Gaylord Robb with the tribal office. Robb has secured a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will provide additional fencing with an upcoming UDOT project.

The Black Ridge to Iron County project is the most in an ongoing effort to improve safety and traffic mobility on I-15 from the Arizona State line through Utah. Project Manager Scott Goodwin talks about taking on UDOT Region Four’s first Design Build with this project in a previous post.

ENGINEERING SPECIALTIES AT UDOT

Materials engineer John Butterfield discusses concrete pavement with workers on the I-15 Corridor Expansion Project.

UDOT Engineers from many different areas of expertise work together at improve our transportation system.

Most engineers at UDOT are civil engineers. Civil engineering is a designation for professionals who design, build and maintain structures in the natural and built environment.

Some common activities of all engineers include preparing reports and cost estimates, writing specifications and collaborating with engineers of other specialties. Within civil engineering, there are many specialties. At UDOT, most engineers fall into these categories:

Construction: Build and maintain roads and associated structures. Manage a team of engineers and technicians to inspect the work of contractors, monitor progress and pay bills.

Design: Design new roads or improvements to existing roads. Road features can include barrier types, curb, gutter, sidewalk, striping and sign layout, Coordinate with other design engineers for bridges, drainage systems, etc.

Geo-technical: Analyze and evaluate the natural environment to provide systems that support built structures associated with the transportation system. Design footings and foundations for bridges, design landslide mitigation, determine processes to prevent or mitigate settlement of roadway embankment or structures such as mechanically stabilized walls, retaining walls, bridges etc.

Hydraulics: Determine bridge length and geometry over rivers by analyzing the stream flows and taking into account potential events like storms; design roadway drainage systems.

Materials: Analyze and test materials, mainly concrete and asphalt used to build road surfaces, and determine the strength properties and insure to insure durability.

Project: Manage project budget, schedule and scope from design through construction.

Structural: Design, modify and maintain roadway structures such as bridges, box culverts and retaining walls. Perform inspections of bridges and propose projects to improve stability or to fix structures to meet new demands, such as increased traffic.

Traffic:  Analyze traffic movement using computer simulations to see how freeways and intersections function under different conditions such as changing traffic volume, road width or signal time. Determine the timing of new signals and make changes and improvements to existing signal timing to improve safety or mobility.

SALT

Recent cold weather is a reminder that snow is on the way. One way UDOT prepares for winter weather is by stocking road salt at maintenance facilities around the state.

Redmond, Incorporated operates this salt mine in Central Utah. The salt is a remnant of an ancient sea. A variety of products, including road salt are produced from the mined salt.

Road salt deliveries have occurred in some of the high mountain areas and soon all UDOT Maintenance Station storage facilities, in areas where snow is expected, will have plenty of salt on hand.  UDOT uses 215,000 tons of salt per year —  two-thirds solar salt, one-third rock salt.

“As essential to life as water – ubiquitous – so precious anciently that Roman Legionaries were paid their wages with sal, which is Latin for Salt,” says UDOT Maintenance Methods Engineer Lynn Burnham. “Hence the English word salary.” Bernhard earns his salary planning maintenance methods that keep UDOT roads safe and clear.

Wet salt will re-crystallize with a hard crust that’s difficult to break up, so most salt is stored in covered salt sheds that keep salt dry during stormy weather. Salt is stored at 80 maintenance facilities and 26 other storage areas around the state. There is no central stockpile.

Salt is purchased on contracts set up at UDOT headquarters, and station supervisors order the amounts and type needed for the roads in their area. Most stations place their orders in September and have their salt sheds full by mid October.

UDOT buys reddish-brown rock salt from an underground mine in Central Utah and white evaporated or solar salt from the Great Salt Lake. Both types work well, but salt types have different properties so station supervisors order what works best in each specific climate.

“Utah has an advantage over other snow-belt states,” says Bernhard. “Our salt sources are literally in our own backyard, so we do not have to order a full year’s supply at one time.” Other states anticipate the amount of salt needed and order a year’s worth at one time. If accurate estimates are not made, salt may run out, and leave workers in the lurch.

A truck is loaded with salt from the Great Salt Lake

 

“We could place an order one day and expecting delivery by the next afternoon,” says Bernhard, who adds that UDOT supervisors keep very close watch on inventory so one-day delivery is not needed. “Our goal is to end the snow season with no salt left in our stockpiles.”