Monthly Archives: March 2012


Lee Theobald, Business Analyst Supervisor in Systems Planning and Programming is UDOT’s 2011 Leader of the Year.

UDOT Leader of the Year Lee Theobald spoke to employees gathered to honor the nominees. He gave his co-workers all of the credit --"They make me look good," he said.

Eight UDOT leaders and their guests gathered for lunch, great conversation and to be honored for their service by UDOT Director John Njord and UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras. “We do have some very talented people that work here here at the department of transportation — men and women that are leading this organization into new realms,” said Njord.

Kudos to all who were nominated for UDOT Leader of the Year:

Troy Esterholdt – Region One
Lee Nitchman – Region Two
Kurtis Park – Region Three
Ray Bentley – Region Four
Ron Butler – Operations
Stacy Frandsen – Project Development
Tim Rodriguez – Administration / Risk Management
Lee Theobold – Systems Planning and Programming

UDOT Leader of the Year, Lee Theobald: A highly respected leader and mentor, Theobald is famous at UDOT for his expertise, infectious and upbeat personality and his let’s-get-it-done attitude. Theobald’s leadership has helped transform his team into a model of efficiency and accuracy that has earned praise from UDOT leaders, team members and the Federal Highway Administration.

“Over the last thirty three years, Lee as worked his way up through the Planning ranks by being a leader who is dedicated to his work, staff, UDOT and is an inspiration to all those who know him,” according to nominator Stan Burns, UDOT Engineer for Asset Management who nominated Theobald. “Lee knows how to lead, manage and mentor multiple successful teams simultaneously.”

After a recent reorganization, Theobald took on new duties and staff and became responsible for collecting traffic statistics and road data, the Linear Referencing System and the uber important Highways Performance Monitoring System which is tied to more than half of UDOT’s Federal Funding. Theobald faced the challenge by inspiring employees and leading with vision. Within a few months, the disparate groups were transformed into a cohesive, collaborative team.

And, FHWA noticed, according to Burns. “Folks at the federal government said that HPMS report was some of the best they had seen from any state.”

Perhaps the best indicators of Theobald’s leadership ability are the statements made by those he leads. Here are a few statements made team members:

“Lee Theobald is one of those people who make it easy to come to work. Because of his even and pragmatic approach towards the execution of his responsibilities, Lee makes the challenges of work less burdensome, the problems less dramatic, and the successes more rewarding. Lee’s appreciation for his co-workers breeds cooperation, respect, and pride among his teams. Lee is one of those wonderful people that make a difference.” — Toni Butterfield

“Lee has given me the opportunity to use my skills and talent to do the job. He also provides me with plenty of assistance when the need arises. Also he is a very good boss and is there to help you keep focus on the job at hand.” — Doug Malone

“I have worked with Lee for seventeen years now. He is a leader that leads by example. He has always been the easiest going guy. He is always the one to go to for the answer to most questions. He is always willing to help and finds the best way to make the job less stressful. When I need advice he is the one I go to. He is one of those people that everyone has only good things to say about him. Lee will listen to your wants and needs and if he can help or make it happen he usually does. He is a leader that leads by example. Everyone that knows Lee knows that they can trust him and be confident in the answers and advise he gives.” — Pete Bigelow


Pavement markings are a critical safety element on Utah roads and UDOT Central Maintenance is continually looking for ways to improve the way markings perform.

Retroreflective glass beads in pavement markings show up at night when headlights illuminate the pavement.

Pavement markings are divided into three categories:

  • Roadway striping, including lane and shoulder markings
  • Messages that provide information such as school zones
  • Islands or islands and parking lots

Most of UDOT’s efforts and costs are aimed at maintaining over 58 thousand centerline miles of lane markings. UDOT’s goal is to paint all lane markings ever year. Long distances and other maintenance duties make that effort a challenge. Region maintenance employees establish a visual quality level goal on each route, and then evaluate markings using an A through F grade against the goal. The worst markings are painted first.

Years of UDOT research has shown that recessing paint slightly below the pavement helps markings last three to five times longer because markings are less vulnerable to snow plows. UDOT Region Two Pavement Maintenance Coordinator Dan Betts has pioneered a method of cutting into the pavement slightly to recess the area slightly below the pavement surface.


Betts and UDOT Maintenance Planning Engineer Ken Berg are trying different types of retroreflective glass beads added to the paint to find the best solution for improving visibility of markings at night and in the rain. The markings are made up of two elements – paint that acts as a binder and glass beads that are applied to the paint while wet. A variety of glass beads are available, all with slightly different properties. Berg and Betts are evaluating several types of beads to see which ones work best at night and in the rain.

“We are constantly looking for new products and technologies that are both cost effective and provide long term durability,” writes Berg in a new Pavement Marking White Paper on the topic. “We are asking pavement marking suppliers to apply a product of their choice and guarantee that it will perform for a 5 year period. Our intent is to eliminate yearly public impact from striping operations by providing the best pavement markings we can with minimal disruption to traffic.”


UDOT will participate in an earthquake preparedness drill and an extended exercise that will simulate what could happen to the transportation system during a real earthquake.

“We are one of the critical infrastructure owners,” says Chris Siavrakas, Emergency Management Coordinator at UDOT. Transportation, along with other critical systems, including energy, water and health care, is part of an interdependent system, and the aftermath of an earthquake, UDOT employees will be responsible to make sure the transportation system is safe.

UDOT bridges are designed and constructed to AASHTO national design standards which account for hazard events such as earthquakes.  Many of the bridges on I-15 through the Wasatch Front have been rebuilt in the last 15 years. While UDOT does not anticipate extensive damage to the transportation system, some damage will occur. And, uncertainty exists when it comes to events, such as crashes or power outages and how those events will affect the transportation system.

During the Shake Out, a SimCell participants will call UDOT and other agencies and report realistic incidents.

To test readiness for dealing with such events, UDOT will participate in a scripted simulation. The calls will be generated by a “SimCell,” a group of Shake Out participants based at a state government building who will call UDOT and other agencies and report realistic incidents. An Emergency Operations Center set up for the Shake Out at UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center will take calls all day.

After an actual earthquake, calls will be coming in from a variety of sources – motorists, UDOT Maintenance employees, other agencies or businesses – and having a test that simulates that process will be useful. During the exercise, EOC participants will collect and evaluate data and “roll it into a report,” says Siavrakas.

UDOT will partner with the United States Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program to obtain realistic data. The USGS has software called ShakeCast that is available for use by critical infrastructure owners. The software can generate estimated damage data for structures like buildings and bridges. In an actual seismic event, ShakeCast can be used to send notification “within minutes of an earthquake indicating the level of shaking and the likelihood of impact” to facilities chosen by the user according to the USGS website.

The exercise will help the EOC “test our procedure of collecting artificial but plausible bridge damage data,” says Siavrakas.


UDOT is participating in the Shake Out, an earthquake preparedness event planned for April 17, 2012.

Over 700 thousand people in Utah have signed on to drop, cover and hold on during a one minute drill that’s part of the Shake Out. Utah is an active seismic region – that information is commonly known. What residents may not know is how to properly seek protection during the time an earthquake is occurring.

The designated time for the earthquake drill is 10:15 a.m. for the state of Utah. All Utah residents are being encouraged by organizers to participate in a drop, cover and hold on drill. Some organizations, UDOT included, will participate in extended earthquake preparedness exercises.

Drop, cover and hold on

Taking cover under a sturdy table or desk is the best strategy in an earthquake.

The primary threat from earthquakes is the intense shaking that can cause structures like office buildings and schools to partially or fully collapse. When that shaking occurs, the safest place to be is under a heavy object like a desk or table. Rescuers who respond to earthquakes find victims in “survivable voids” created when people duck under a sturdy object.

Participating in the drill “builds muscle memory” explains Chris Siavrakas, UDOT’s Emergency Management Coordinator. “Panic is not knowing what to do,” so doing the drill even once makes it more likely that a person will quickly drop, take cover and hold on when the earth really starts to shake.

Another part of the Shake Out drill is situational awareness that can occur before drill. Siavrakas hopes employees will ask themselves “what hazards are around me?” UDOT employees work all over the state in office buildings, on work sites, and many spend many hours each day driving for work. Each employee should think about various work locations and visualize what could happen during an earthquake, and then plan the safest place to drop, cover and hold on.


At-grade crossings give trains and cars a place to meet up – and not in a good way. Vic Saunders, Public Involvement Manager at UDOT Region One is actively promoting rail safety by giving presentations at area schools.

Kent Brown, Vic Saunders Kent Jorgenson, Ahmad Jaber Andrew Glad, Philip Lavorgna and Walt Webster received awards from Operation Lifesaver. See the post below for more information about award recipients.

Saunders is a certified presenter for Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety organization that was formed in Idaho. After a successful short term public awareness campaign, state officials found that fatalities fell in Idaho by 43 percent. Other states adopted the program – Utah was third – and now the organization operates across the country. Saunders is one of several presenters from UDOT and other organizations, including the Utah Transit Authority.

Whether walking or driving, it’s imperative to maintain good situational awareness at train crossings. Young people can be prone to walk or drive distractedly by paying attention to friends, texting or listening to music. Saunders has spent hundreds of hours in drivers ed classes talking about why paying attention is so critical.

“You are forty percent more likely to die on a highway at a railroad crossing that at any other place,” says Saunders. He was recently honored as a Safety Partner of the Year by Operation Lifesaver for giving presentations. Last year, Saunders gave sixty-two presentations that reached nearly three thousand people, “most of them 16 year old kids getting ready to go out and drive.”

The videos for the presentations are shockingly straight forward and show images and video of actual crashes. Saunders believes that “it gets their attention” to see the real images. “They all think it’s going to be somebody else.”

Congratulations to Saunders and other award winners!

Persons in photo from left to right:

Kent Brown – Utah Central Railway, 2nd Runner-up Safety Partner Presenter of the Year, gave 24 presentations to 1,031 people

Vic Saunders – Utah Department of Transportation, 1st Runner-up Safety Partner Presenter of the Year, gave 62 presentations to 2,662 people

Kent Jorgenson – Utah Transit Authority, Safety Partner of the Year, gave 98 presentations to 3,255 people

Ahmad Jaber – Utah Department of Transportation, State Coordinator’s Award of Excellence, The state coordinator’s award of excellence is given to an individual or an organization that has demonstrated excellence in participating in or supporting the Operation Lifesaver program through activity, in-kind support, and/or financial contributions.

  • Managed the Operation Lifesaver Utah program since 1976 (year started in Utah) to 1996.
  • Provided a full-time person as the first state coordinator, who was Lillian Witkowski
  • Provides personnel to give Operation Lifesaver presentations to the public
  • Contributes financially to the Operation Lifesaver Utah program on an annual basis

Andrew Glad, Volunteer Presenter of the Year, gave 106 presentations to 3,408 people

Philip Lavorgna, 1st Runner-up Volunteer Presenter of the Year, gave 78 presentations to 2,195 people

Walt Webster, 2nd Runner-up Volunteer Presenter of the Year, gave 70 presentations to 2,363 people


Placing instruments that measure strong motion can help departments of transportation design and build bridges that can withstand an earthquake.

A researcher places downhole instrumentation for monitoring seismic activity. Placing and maintaining monitoring equipment is expensive, so researchers working with UDOT have identified the best and most cost effective sites for other potential locations.

It’s important that bridges on interstates withstand a potential earth quake – experts agree that Utah “is a seismically active region”  with the potential of experiencing a major earth quake some day. The primary threat from earthquakes is the intense shaking that can cause structures, including bridges, to collapse. UDOT has taken that eventual future event into account in and has built structurally sound bridges and retrofitted existing bridges. Standards for bridge design and construction are based on past research using data collected from actual earthquakes.

Research can help provide more information about how to design and build bridges that can withstand earthquakes. UDOT has one seismic station in the I-15 spaghetti bowl. The protected equipment is monitored to make sure it continues to be in working order. Placing and maintaining equipment is expensive, so finding the best and most cost effective sites for other potential locations is important.

UDOT has identified a process for determining the appropriate location of other stations, if funding is identified,  in a report just issued by the Research Division. Research Project Manager David Stevens explains that having a method to select the best sites is important “so that the information is useful, not redundant.”

Researchers place instruments on bridges– including accelerometers and other equipment – designed to collect data on how quake motion can affect bridges. A new UDOT Research Division report identifies criteria to consider when placing equipment:

  • Proximity – Bridges to be instrumented should be chosen based on close proximity to an identified fault line. However, placing the equipment near another instrumented bridge near the same fault line could mean the two sites collect essentially the same information, so the data could be redundant and not useful.
  • Importance – Three factors help identify how critical the bridge is to the transportation system. ADT measures are easy to come by and a good indicator of public dependence on the bridge. The number of viable alternative routes and the current value the bridge also point to the relative importance of the bridge.
  • Structural form – For initial data collection, a simple structure is best “to lay a foundation of strong motion behavior knowledge” and then progress to collecting data from more complex bridges. Researchers describe a simple bridge as one with no skew, one span, two girders and no curvature.
  • Local soil – Seismic events affect soil types differently, so bridges chosen for instrumentation should be distributed among different soil types.
  • Age Older bridges that are due to be replaced are obviously not good candidates for instrumentation.

Continuing research in Utah and other states can help contribute to the body of knowledge about how bridges react during a major seismic event. For more about UDOT’s Strong Motion Instrumentation Plan, including details about a decision-making process and also types of equipment that could be used, read the report.

The UDOT Research Division currently oversees and maintains downhole instrumentation and equipment near the I-80 to SR-201 flyover bridge.  UDOT Structures Division and UDOT Research Division “work together to keep it ready for recording strong motion, as well as to explore near-term research uses for the instrumentation,” according to Stevens.


UDOT University is a collective effort to bring all training offered at the department under one organizational umbrella.

A trainer tests pre-ride skills at the Trans Tech Academy, part of the Transportation Education Program. Courses offered through the TEP can be found through the UDOT U website.

Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, over 400 courses are offered.

The public face of UDOT U is a website, but the organization represents all of UDOT, with over forty people working together to create an inventory of existing training and also expand opportunities. Richard Murdock, UDOT University Administrative Vice President, says organizers are not looking to take over training functions from agency divisions, just create a clearinghouse of opportunity so employees can look across disciplines to find what they need. UDOT U Provost Richard Manser says the effort will make training at UDOT more systematic, organized and easier to find.

UDOT U is organized and operated similar to a regular university with five colleges, 32 schools, a course catalog, registration and a calendar. Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, with over 400 potential courses, enough is offered there to take a good look. Topic wise, “we cover just about anything the dept does,” says Murdock. UDOT is one of only 5 departments of transportation in the United States organizing training in a similar way.

A good example

Training has long been a main focus at UDOT; many divisions have developed comprehensive training programs, much offered on-the-job, to meet specific needs. For example, UDOT’s Transportation Education Program is an excellent and nationally known program and Murdock hopes the TEP can be used as a template for other UDOT U training opportunities.

The TEP prepares Transportation Technicians to perform maintenance and construction tasks – many move back and forth between maintenance and construction by driving a snow plow in the winter and working in a construction spring through fall.  Skills needed for the job include operating front loaders and road sweepers, repairing safety features like guardrail and road delineation markers and gathering and testing construction materials.

The TEP makes use of a wide variety of community based and in-house training opportunities. For example, the Salt Lake Community College teaches Math and in house experts teach how to collect materials for inspection and testing.  The TEP has prepared hundreds of workers to perform the core duties, allowing UDOT to use people-power effectively and efficiently throughout the year.

UDOT U’s future

More courses will be added to UDOT U soon; by July 1 2012, each of the colleges will add 32 new courses. Eight presentations from the last UDOT Annual Conference are also online now, and next year, more sessions will be offered.

Another goal according to Manser is to “have a ladder or a flow chart for every position title at UDOT.” Defining a training “pathway” for each position will promote the development of competency and help employees maintain expertise.

Online access to records is in the works. Murdock and others are working with the Utah Department of Human Resources Management to piggyback on their record keeping system. That way, students can check records online to produce proof of required training or supervisors can see what training employees have taken.

Murdock is looking forward to improving UDOT U by expanding training opportunities and website functionality. He wants all employees and others who work with UDOT to be aware of UDOT U, visit the site and see what is offered there. Manser says with improvements, the system will be easier to use, and more people will access it. “The system is going to grow and get better.”


In the right location, Variable Speed Limit signs can narrow speed differential and reduce crashes.

Wyoming has had success with placing a VSL signs on a 45 mile section of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie. The signs are connected to an Intelligent Transportation System that feeds speed and weather data to Wyoming’s Transportation Management Center in Cheyenne. Other locations have used VSL signs, including Washington State’s Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, and have seen improved safety as well.

VSL signs allow engineers to monitor the traffic on the road, determine a speed that’s safer for conditions, and then change the posted speed on electronic signs. Engineers at UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center are preparing to evaluate I-80 through Parley’s Canyon as a location that may be appropriate for the signs.

Speed and fiber

Although all locations are different and need to be evaluated individually, like I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie, many of the crashes that do occur in Parley’s are due to high speeds and weather, explains engineer Scott Jones who will manage the operation of the VSL system for UDOT.

Lowering the posted speed limit has reduced the speed differential on I-80 in Wyoming. (Click to enlarge)

Conditions through the canyon can change quickly due to winter weather, and sometimes “in winter conditions, some people are not slowing down,” says Blaine Leonard, ITS Program Manager at UDOT.  When some motorists slow down and others maintain high speeds, that differential “creates very unsafe conditions,” says Leonard.

WYDOT’s experience with the VSL sign system has shown that lowering the posted speed limit reduces the speed differential. Engineer Ken Schultz with WYDOT also reports that the department is seeing fewer crashes, fewer closures, and improved travel time reliability. Plans to expand the system to other locations in Wyoming are in the works.

Since VSL signs are part of an Intelligent Transportation System, “we need good fiber to connect to the signs and operate them efficiently,” says Leonard. Fiber optic cable buried along the freeway would allow the system to tie in with UDOT’s ITS system already in place.

UDOT is very early in the process of looking at placing the VSL signs, but indications are that the system may help improve safety through the canyon.


A guest post by Daniel B. Kuhn, UDOT Railroad & Freight Planner

One of the most impressive sights in the diverse world of freight transportation in Utah is that of a lengthy Union Pacific Railroad double-stack container train speeding along at 60 MPH or more. These trains have been a common sight on select Utah railroad lines since the mid-1980s when transcontinental double-stack operations began. Known as intermodal trains in railroad parlance, these special trains carry domestic and international cargo containers two high on specialized rail cars that reduce weight and fuel consumption by being articulated into sets ranging from three to five cars in length.

Providing good highways to move the truck freight is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

Intermodal freight transportation combines the best of highway and rail service, combining trucking’s speed and flexibility with railroading’s fuel efficiencies and economies of scale when moving mass quantities of containers. Trucking will continue to dominate freight movement across North America inasmuch as most freight moves short distances or requires speedy delivery which railroads cannot match. However, while Utah’s primary freight network highways are in superb condition, the freight highway routes in many states are not. This combined with the fact that trucking is usually more expensive than intermodal is diverting a growing amount of freight to the railroads.

One key advantage railroads have with intermodal freight service is their ability to run longer trains with the same number of crewmembers. Here in Utah UP intermodal trains have grown from 80 to 100 cars in length to as much as 200 cars. The use of environmentally-sensitive, high-efficiency diesel-electric locomotives placed at strategic locations within a given train, and operated via computer-aided radio control from the lead locomotive, has made these huge trains possible. This practice, known as Distributed Power Units (DPU) is also used on other types of freight trains running in Utah.

Most of the freight carried by Union Pacific’s intermodal trains is passing through Utah en route to and from west coast seaports and Midwestern and eastern cities, Salt Lake City is also home to one of Union Pacific’s largest intermodal freight terminals. The Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal (SLCIT) is located on the west side of the city along 5600 West (State Route 172) between the S.R. 201 freeway and Interstate 80. SLCIT’s location gives trucks serving that facility quick access to the primary freight network highways that link the Wasatch Front with the rest of the Mountain West region.

Utah is already the crossroads for long-distance trucking in western America, having the highest truck traffic percentage (23% of total traffic on Utah highways is large trucks) of all 50 states. Providing good highways to move the truck freight heading to and coming from Union Pacific intermodal trains at SLCIT is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

UP intermodal trains serve SLCIT every day en route to and from the Midwest and southern California, with the facility averaging around 500 containers and truck trailers, the later known as Piggyback when carried by train, being handled each day. On average from 900 to 1200 trucks arrive and depart SLCIT on a daily basis, with weekends being the busiest times. Utah’s highways are critical links in SLCIT’s ability to serve as the regional hub for intermodal rail and truck freight service. Containers and piggyback trailers are trucked as far distant as Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from SLCIT.

Northern Utah sits at the crossroads of two major UP intermodal routes, with trains bound for northern California and the Port of Oakland passing through Ogden and crossing the famous Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake, while southern California trains serve SLCIT and then head southwest via Milford and Las Vegas to the Los Angeles Basin. East of Ogden, the trains of both routes use the historic Overland Route mainline across Wyoming and Nebraska, which was part of America’s first transcontinental railroad. Double-stack trains do not use UP’s former Rio Grande mainline over Soldier Summit en route to Helper and Denver as the tall container stacks will not fit through the many tunnels along that route.

According to the Association of American Railroads, the major Class 1 rail carriers in the U.S. and Canada carried 13.7 million trailer and container loads in 2010. While this amount sounds large, truck freight on our highway system was between four and five times that amount. However, rail intermodal is expected to grow at a rate of around six percent each year through 2022 according to the American Trucking Association. Depending upon future economic conditions, the sight of those long and colorful double-stack trains will continue to be an increasing part of the Utah transportation scene, further reinforcing Utah’s status as the freight and logistics Crossroads of the West…


Variable Speed Limit Signs have helped reduce crashes on a 45 mile section of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie in Wyoming.

I-80 in Wyoming -- wind and snow can cause low visibility and slick roads.

Photo courtesy Tom Kelly Photography. See the link below for more images.

Driving on the stretch of roadway can be treacherous when wind and snow combine to make for slick roads and poor visibility. “That’s our biggest challenge,” says Ken Schultz, WYDOT State Maintenance Engineer. To help motorists deal with road weather and improve safety, the Wyoming Department of Transportation studied the area and then placed speed VSL signs that can be changed according to conditions.

This WYDOT Traffic Camera photo shows I-80 between Laramie and Rawlins.

The signs, along with RWIS stations and speed detectors are connected to an intelligent transportation system that feeds data on speed and weather to Wyoming’s Transportation Management Center in Cheyenne. Online cameras let engineers and motorists see the conditions. Before speed is adjusted, engineers monitor traffic and weather to establish a pace speed more in line with conditions, and also consult WYDOT maintenance workers and highway patrol troopers in the area.

The protocol for reducing speed that uses weather, speed and experiential data has worked well,   says Schultz. “Everybody is really tuned in to it.” Speed sensors show that drivers are responding to the lowered speed on the VSL signs. Since the signs have been placed, fewer crashes have occurred. Schultz also believes that a switch to better de-icing chemicals have also played a role at improving safety.

While winter weather makes winter driving challenging, speed differential also contributes to unsafe conditions. When some vehicles are driving slowly and some are driving very fast, crashes are more likely to occur.

According to NCHRP Report 505, “studies show that regardless of the average speed on the highway, the more a vehicle deviates from the average speed, the greater its chances of becoming involved in a crash.”

Schultz believes the VSL signs, along with warning signs  and online cameras, have provided better information that “does help folks to make decisions about their travel,” including driving slower or even delaying travel until conditions improve.

UDOT is preparing to evaluate I-80 through Parley’s Canyon as a location that may be appropriate for VSL signs. Although all locations are different and need to be evaluated individually, like I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie, many of the crashes that do occur in Parley’s are due to weather and speed differential.  

For more:

  • Read an article by Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune
  • See more photographs of I-80