A four-year project to collect data on all UDOT-owned culverts shows that most are being well cared for by maintenance workers.
Since 2009, Jessica Andrews has been involved in the process of collecting baseline data on over 25 thousand cross-cut culverts that direct water under roadways. Andrews’ involvement started when she joined the project as college engineering summer intern. After one year, she led the program under direction of Lynn Bernhard, UDOT Maintenance Methods Engineer. The project is nearing completion.
The goal of the project is to view and record data on all culverts, then to develop a central database that can be used by anyone at UDOT. Culverts are critical to roadway health. “The water has to go somewhere,” explains Andrews. If a culvert fails, water can excavate soil from under the roadway, leaving the pavement with no support.
The program deployed summer interns all over the state to collect data. Interns visited each culvert location and recorded details including the GPS location, route, nearest milepost, condition, estimated amount of sediment in the culvert, fill above and sometimes pavement condition in the case of a damaged culvert. Interns took about five photos of each culvert showing the inlet, outlet, barrel and pavement above.
Each culvert was given a rating between 0 and 9, with 0 through 2 representing poor culverts. Only ten to 15 percent of culverts state-wide were rated poor and in need of attention soon. The overall good condition of culverts shows that maintenance workers are doing a great job of maintaining culverts in their areas.
During the four year effort, many improvements were made to the collection process. Better GPS equipment helped pinpoint exact locations. The interns recorded all information by hand the first year. Later, a handheld data recorder with an app tailored to UDOT’s needs made data collection more accurate. Finding the location of culverts was made easier when the project truck was equipped with a Distance Measuring Instrument.
Expect the unexpected
Interns encountered some surprises along the way. “We saw a lot of animals, both dead and alive,” says Andrews. Snakes, badgers and the glowing eyes of unidentified animals show up in project photos. Some culverts were very interesting to view, such as giant culverts blasted out of red rock in southern Utah and wood culverts under I-80 in the desert west of Salt Lake City.
With only one-hundred miles of roadway to go, Andrews says the collection effort will be complete by the time the summer interns go back to school. The database is already serving as an important big picture view of culvert health and a decision making tool at UDOT.
Region Four Area Supervisor Patrick McGann has used the database to prioritize culvert rehabilitation. “The culvert database project that Jessica is working on is very helpful because it gives an estimated height of fill over culverts,” says McGann. “This is good to know because rusted, deteriorating culverts that are deeply buried move to the top of the priority list because if a deep pipe fails, it is more expensive to excavate and replace than a failed culvert that does not have as much cover over it.”
Andrews shares credit for the projects with others. ” The success of this project can be largely attributed to our hardworking summer interns and the help and cooperation of our maintenance station personnel.”
The data can be viewed by logging in to ARC-GIS. Andrews is working with UDOT GIS Manager Frank Pisani to integrate the database into UPlan.