Monthly Archives: October 2013

Show Me a Sign

The new Outdoor Advertising Control Map is improving government transparency and boosting efficiency at UDOT.

Photo of a billboard on I-15 in Weber CountyThe outdoor advertising industry, UDOT Project Managers and UDOT Permit Officers represent three of the groups that are benefitting from a new online map that shows geospatial locations of billboards along interstate routes.

State governments enforce federal rules regulating billboards on some routes. Back in the 1960s, Ladybird Johnson took an interest in highway beatification and worked with congress to pass laws limiting the proliferation of billboards on freeways.

UDOT has a codified agreement with the federal government that determines how billboards are treated on federally-funded primary routes, the National Highway System and Scenic Byways. The agreement, passed in 1968, established the UDOT Outdoor Advertising Control System.

Not controlling billboards would mean UDOT’s share of federal money for roads would be reduced by tens of millions of dollars each year.

From days to minutes

Until recently, finding out when the exact location of a billboard could take a day or longer. Depending on the information needed, state employees would sometimes have to check up to three separate documents or drive to a billboard location, which could be hundreds of miles away.

Now, new GIS tools mean it’s possible to put information about billboards in the hands of anyone with online access. See the map by visiting the UDOT’s Outdoor Advertising Control Program web page or UPlan, UDOT’s Map Center.

By using the map, a few mouse clicks can produce an image of the billboard and get information about federal rules that apply – like proximity to the closest billboard. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to see billboards online in real-time and connected to our inventory control system,” says Rod McDaniels, Outdoor Advertising Control Program Manager, who worked with a multi-disciplinary team of experts to re-design the way UDOT regulates outdoor advertising signs.

Getting it together

Gathering and organizing the information involved identifying known sign locations and filling in information gaps where needed, conceptualizing and building an efficient system to regulate billboards, and building a user-friendly online, interactive map. During the process, over 5 hundred geospatial points referencing signs were updated.

Saving time and funding dollars

Putting the map online has reduced the workload for UDOT employees, which conserves funding. Formal requests for information from the public have been reduced since people in the sign industry can easily find the needed information.

Feedback from the outdoor sign industry has been positive. “It brings us into the twenty-first century,” says Krissy Plett, Statewide Permits Officer for UDOT. “Now they don’t have to send someone out to view a sign” since users can take a virtual trip to a billboard using the map.

The map helps expedite project delivery too. UDOT project managers and maintenance workers can now easily see the exact location of signs that may be impacted by road work.

Links:

See the map, a PDF tutorial, and find information about state and federal laws and rules here.

See more maps or make your own map by visiting UPlan.

Interested in government transparency? See the UDOT Projects website to get information about past, current and future UDOT projects.

Traffic Signal Performance Measures announced as a 2013 AASHTO Innovation Initiative

Engineer Mark Taylor working in an open traffic signal cabinet

Engineer Mark Taylor working in a traffic signal cabinet.

Managing traffic is an effective way to reduce congestion, save fuel costs and improve safety. One of the most visible components of the traffic management landscape is traffic signals. Day-to-day traffic challenges keep the staff at the UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) very busy- especially during winter weather, special events and during the morning and evening commutes. The operators at the TOC have the ability to remotely operate nearly 80% of Utah’s traffic signals, which can be a very helpful way to alleviate traffic congestion. Each signalized intersection has a metal cabinet adjacent to the intersection that holds the equipment needed to operate the traffic signals. The equipment that operates the traffic signal can be programmed for specific traffic patterns along a corridor in an effort to better manage traffic.

Every year, the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) identifies innovative projects that have been successfully adopted by transportation agencies across the country. One of the 2013 AASHTO Innovation Initiatives was UDOT’s Traffic Signal Automated Performance Measures program. The program developed a structure that will allow UDOT to actively manage, in real-time, its traffic signal systems which will help traffic flow as efficiently as possible along any given roadway corridor. “When we have a maximum number of vehicles arriving at a traffic signal when the light is green, traveler delay is minimized,” said Mark Taylor, UDOT’s Traffic Signal Engineer. Other benefits to well-timed traffic signals are reduction in vehicle emissions and reduction in crashes. Since traffic management needs to occur every day of the week and at all times of day, the Performance Measures program helps to monitor and improve traffic flow even when a traffic signal engineer is not available.

UDOT is moving forward with an AASHTO Technology Implementation Group (TIG) which will work to document the techniques, benefits and technologies UDOT is using for Traffic Signal Performance Measures so other interested transportation agencies can begin their own program in this important area. More information about the AASHTO Innovation Initiatives selected for 2013 can be found on their website.

Whatever the Weather

During storms, driving conditions can cause travel delay, especially during the morning and evening commute.

When a storm hits the Wasatch Front, a twenty-minute commute can turn into an hour due to slick roads, start-and-stop traffic and low visibility. What if traffic could be managed more effectively to minimize the sluggish traffic speeds drivers experience during storms?

Recent technological advances in assessing weather and controlling signals have given traffic engineers better tools to keep traffic moving in stormy weather. On some corridors along the Wasatch Front, UDOT is taking a Weather Responsive Traffic Management approach that puts the tools to use.

WRTM uses sensors, traffic signal plans designed for storm conditions, and sophisticated traffic monitoring systems already in place to move traffic more efficiently during winter weather.

Traffic on Riverdale Road PhotoDuring winter months in 2013, an urban arterial in northern Utah served as testing area for WRTM. Riverdale Road intersects a busy shopping district and connects four Utah cities with Interstates 15 and 84. Over 47 thousand vehicles travel the corridor each day.

UDOT’s results in managing Riverdale Road traffic during winter storms were very good – for motorists, that is. Drivers experienced less stopped time at intersections compared to other storm days, and overall, traffic speeds were not significantly impacted by weather.

Here’s how the WRTM system worked on Riverdale Road:

  • Traffic engineers created signal timing plans for implementation before or during a storm. The plans accommodate travel speeds that are likely during storms so that signalized intersections along the corridor work together to make traffic flow more efficient.
  • A Road Weather Information System unit was installed in the corridor. The RWIS helped meteorologists and engineers anticipate upcoming storm severity to decide which signal timing plan to employ.

    RWIS on Riverdale Road Photo

    RWIS on Riverdale Road

  • Detection units were installed overhead along the roadway. The new equipment is better at detecting traffic movement during storms, and the equipment gave UDOT traffic speeds.
  • To monitor traffic during storms, UDOT used a Signal Performance Metrics System that lets signal operators assess and adjust traffic in real-time. After a storm, the system can be used to evaluate how the signal plans worked.

Winter 2013 ended up being a challenging year to test the WRTM system. During testing, the Salt Lake City and Ogden area experienced one of the worst winter storms in the past decade. Nevertheless, post-storm review showed an average or above average improvement in performance in traffic operations in over half of the weather events, including during the major storm.

Post-storm analysis also shows that cars maintained a high level of progression from intersection to intersection with platoons of cars arriving on green lights. When platoons of cars arrive at intersections on green lights, traffic flow throughout the corridor is more efficient.

Based on the success of the Riverdale Road WRTM performance, UDOT plans to expand the system to other corridors.

UDOT assists with traffic management for Draper Sergeant Derek Johnson’s funeral procession

Photo of the funeral processon on I-215

The beginning of Sgt. Johnson’s funeral procession on I-215.

On September 1, 2013, Utah lost Draper Police Sergeant Derek Johnson in the line of duty. This tragic loss brings grief and heartfelt sadness, but also patriotism, gratitude and remembrance from whole communities. Nearly 4000 law enforcement, family and citizens joined the memorial service at the Maverik Center and tens of thousands of thankful citizens lined the procession route.

UDOT’s Traffic Management Division collaborated with many law enforcement agencies to ensure that traffic flow to and from the Maverik Center and along the procession route moved as smoothly as possible. UDOT’s traffic signal operations staff were deployed to key intersections throughout the Salt Lake Valley to assist with traffic control, while UDOT’s Traveler Information Manager was using the @UDOTTraffic

Photo of wall of images from the Traffic Operations Center

Staff at the Traffic Operations Center monitored the procession route on cameras throughout the Salt Lake valley.

Twitter account to update the public on lane and ramp closures. UDOT was listening to the police radio event channels to monitor the traffic flow along the procession route.

Photo of flags along and citizens lined up along 12300 South.

Citizens lined up along 12300 South in Draper to honor Sergeant Johnson. Photo courtesy of Mark Taylor.

UDOT worked with the Unified Police Department, Unified Fire Department, Salt Lake City Police, Draper Police, the Utah Department of Emergency Management and the Utah Highway Patrol for traffic management during the funeral and procession. Several other agencies not mentioned here came together honor Sgt. Johnson – an awesome tribute to a dedicated public servant.