September 6th, 2013

Under construction: GIS apps to improve safety

Preserve Infrastructure, Zero Crashes, Injuries and Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

The following post is the second of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system. Please also see GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four.

Widespread, enthusiastic uses of spatial data have not always been embraced – mostly because employees didn’t have experience using the data and tools. One of UDOT’s most enthusiastic GIS tool proponents, Pre-Construction Engineer Monte Aldridge, took a pro-active approach and changed the work culture in region four.

Aldridge required his pre-construction team to use the tools and then report back at a monthly team meeting. Pre-construction teams are made up of members with a variety of engineering specialties, including design, environmental, and hydrology. Teams plan and design small and large roadway projects.

The experience was “very beneficial,” says Aldridge. Once the team members investigated the tools then shared their use experience, they were hooked.  “Now it’s something that’s used every day.”

Wildlife Corssing Images

Wildlife fencing works to direct animals safely across roadways. In the top photo, a mule deer buck has just crossed an overpass. In the bottom photo, fencing directs a mule deer herd to a crossing under the roadway.

For example, roadway designers found out right away that using the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram tool, is useful to catalog relevant roadway assets before designing a project. Region Four designers also use smartphones as on-site data-collectors to geo-reference roadway features when visiting a future construction site. Using the tools has prompted ideas for other uses.

Oh deer!

A large animal that gets around wildlife fencing “is an almost guaranteed accident,” says Aldridge. When a wildlife carcass is picked up on a UDOT route, the location, animal type, along with other information is currently geo-referenced with a smart phone app.  A modification to this app will send an email when a carcass is picked up along a road section where wildlife fencing has been installed. The email will alert transportation technicians that a fence may have been breached.

Another app is being developed to accumulate crash hot-spot data. The Utah Highway Patrol investigates highway crashes and turns over information over to UDOT. Information on the location and cause of a crash is not immediate, however. Overcoming that time lag in getting that information can speed up the time it takes to improve safety.

Staff in Region Four is working to identify how to log crash data to exclude private and sensitive information that’s collected as part of UHP’s investigation. Then, the non-sensitive information can help UDOT employees make safety improvements, if needed, more quickly.

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