April 3rd, 2012

NJORD ON RESEARCH

Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

The role of transportation researchers is to be continually “scouring the river looking for those valuable gems of truth that will enable us to be even better.”

“Our business is dynamic and it’s changing all the time,” according to UDOT Director John Njord. In the constantly shifting world of transportation, it’s important for leaders to understand the leading edge. To set the stage for progress, Njord prefers taking a step forward to the “bleeding edge.” In a recent interview Njord explained the bleeding edge, how UDOT has benefited from research and what the future holds for transportation.

Conservatism dominates the world of civil engineering; transportation delivery has not changed radically over the last fifty years. Leading safely will produce a good transportation system, but “the bleeding edge is where you’re cutting new territory,” explained Njord. He believes that leaders need to be willing to say “ok, nobody has done this, we don’t know if it will be successful, but we’re going to try it anyway.”

To reach the bleeding edge, executives need to create an environment where failure is not punished. Njord hopes researchers and others at UDOT feel comfortable enough to “step out on the edge” while weighing risks against benefits and doing as much as possible to ensure success.

Recent success

Research has helped UDOT’s efforts to improve system mobility and reduce construction related delay. When many intersections along the Bangerter Highway in Salt Lake County were facing operational challenges, UDOT engineers “launched out to Juarez, Mexico” to investigate Continuous Flow Intersections. UDOT has since built many CFIs. With design changes that make operation better suited to Utah locations “they are tremendously efficient,” explains Njord.

The Sam White Bridge replacement was the longest bridge to be moved into place in the Western Hemisphere. UDOT has rolled more new bridges into place than all other states combined.

Bridge moves allow road users to collectively realize savings in the millions of dollars by avoiding construction related delay. Nearly a decade ago, Njord and others from UDOT traveled to Florida to learn about accelerated bridge construction.

Today, UDOT has rolled more new bridges into place than all other states combined, he explains. “The time savings we’ve been able to generate for people who travel on the highways is worth finding new ways to work; we’re on that bleeding edge,” said Njord.

Great expectations

Njord looks forward to seeing new research generate products that will make the transportation system safer and more reliable. SHRP 2, a Transportation Research Board effort, is focusing on developing ways to improve safety at intersections, rehabilitate highways and bridges without disrupting traffic, minimize unpredictable traffic congestion and expand highway capacity while also considering the natural and built environments.

As chair of the USDOT Executive Committee for the Connected Vehicle Program, Njord sees a day when “your children and grand children will be able to purchase a car that will never crash.” Connected vehicle technology will make use of smart roads integrated with other systems to anticipate and eliminate collisions. “That’s pretty awesome, said Njord. “ We don’t see the whole picture today but we will.”

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