Author: Kristen Hoschouer

Traffic Signal Amendments and Runaway Vehicle Ramp Requirements

Two bills passed by the state legislature this March will affect transportation in Utah, SB 123, Runaway Vehicle Ramp Requirements and HB 272, Traffic Signal Amendments. Both of these bills help to relieve traffic and make roads safer in Utah.

I-70 Runaway Truck Ramp

Runaway truck ramp on eastbound I-70 in Emery County.

SB 123, prohibits a person from using a runaway vehicle ramp unless the person is in an emergency situation requiring use of the ramp to stop the person’s vehicle; and prohibits a person from stopping, standing, or parking on a runaway vehicle ramp or in the pathway of a runaway vehicle ramp.

These ramps save lives by stopping vehicles, particularly semi-trucks, that have lost their brakes or are unable to slow down. When the ramps are blocked by vehicles-not using it for its intended purpose- runaway vehicles are left with very few safe options in stopping their vehicles. Not only is the driver in danger but the runaway vehicle puts many other motorists in danger. This bill will help to ensure that runaway trucks have a safe place to stop if their truck is unable to slow down.

HB 272, provides that under certain circumstances an operator of a vehicle facing a steady red arrow signal may cautiously enter the intersection to turn left from a one-way street into a one-way street.

Under this bill, motorists may only make this left turn on a solid red light when a sign at the intersection indicates that it is legal. Drivers are still required to stop at the red light and yield to oncoming traffic before cautiously entering the intersection, similar to any turn made on a red light. This bill, although not specifically designed for diverging diamond interchanges (DDI), will make these intersections more efficient and will allow traffic to move more quickly and safely.

Highway Littering and Failing to Secure a Load Amendments

Chair and stuffed gorrilla removed from I-15 in Orem.

UDOT crews removed this chair and stuffed gorilla from I-15 in Orem.

Legislators passed this past March HB 328 S1. This bill increases the fines for littering on a highway and increases the fines for failing to secure a load while operating a vehicle on a highway.  Previously, a person could be fined no less than $100 for littering or not securing a load. This has been increased to no less than $200. The fine for a second or subsequent violation within three years of a previous violation also increased from $250 to $500.

The fine for violators operating a commercial vehicle also increased with this bill. Previously, a person could be fined no less than $250 for littering or not securing a load. This has been increased to no less than $500. A second or subsequent violation also increased from $500 to $1,000.

Under this bill a vehicle may not be operated or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is constructed or loaded to prevent its contents from dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping. A vehicle carrying trash or garbage shall have a covering over the entire load. A vehicle carrying dirt, sand, gravel, rock fragments, pebbles, crushed base, aggregate, any other similar material, or scrap metal shall have a covering over the entire load unless:

  • the highest point of the load does not extend above the top of any exterior wall or sideboard of the cargo compartment of the vehicle; and
  • the outer edges of the load are at least six inches below the top inside edges of the exterior walls or sideboards of the cargo compartment of the vehicle.

Unsecured loads are dangerous, not just for drivers but for Utah Highway Patrol Officers who must remove items that have fallen off vehicles. Officers and drivers have been killed from debris on roads and freeways, left by negligent vehicle operators.

Currently, it costs Utah $1.8 million dollars to clear trash from state roadways, money that could spent on maintenance or construction projects. In the coming year signage displaying the new fines for litter will be placed along Utah roadways. Money from fines will be split between the Utah Highway Patrol for litter blitzes, and the Utah Department of Transportation for education and public awareness on the dangers of littering and not securing loads.

Speed Limit Amendments

Northbound I-15 near Paragonah 80 mph speet limit sign

Existing 80 mph zone on northbound I-15 near Paragonah. Photo taken by Ming Jiang of the Traffic and Safety Division.

A number of bills passed by the legislature this past session affect Utah roads and highways. One of these bills was HB 83: Speed Limit Amendments. This bill expands portions of I-15, I-80, and I-84 where the Utah Department of Transportation may establish a posted speed limit that exceeds 75 miles per hour. These sections of freeway include, portions of I-15 from Santaquin to St. George and from Brigham City to the Utah-Idaho border. Portions of I-80 potentially affected will be from Grantsville to the Utah-Nevada border and I-84 from Tremonton to the Utah-Idaho border.

If the Department of Transportation chooses to increase the speed limit in these sections the department will evaluate the results and impacts of increasing the speed limit and will report the findings of the evaluation to the Transportation Interim Committee no later than one year after the speed limit is posted.

This bill continues a process which began a number of years ago to evaluate some of Utah’s interstates to determine if there are areas that could appropriately accommodate speed limits above what is currently posted.

Opponents of this bill feared that with an 80 mile per hour speed limit there would be an increase in accidents and that drivers would increase their speed beyond 90 miles an hour. Through the studies conducted over the past few years the department has found that this is not the case.

Beginning in 2008, studies were conducted on portions of I-15, where the speed limit was increased from 75 to 80 mph. The studies concluded that most drivers preferred to drive between 82 and 83 mph regardless of the posted speed limit. Accident rates on these stretches of freeway were also studied and concluded that the increased speed did not affect the number of accidents or fatalities.

2013 Strategic Direction — Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in our series about the 2013 Strategic Direction. Please also check out Part 1: Preserve Infrastructure, Part 2: Optimize Mobility and Part 3: Zero Fatalities.

Strengthen the Economy

This goal recognizes UDOT’s role in creating and managing a transportation system that enables economic growth and empowers prosperity. Investing in major roadway projects in the past few years has paid great dividends. While many cities in the United States show increasing travel times, Utah travel times are decreasing. This is very significant considering the population of Utah has grown 63 percent since 1990.

UDOT is providing a product for future generations. When Utah’s roadways are safe, free of congestion and operate efficiently, Utahns are free to live where they like with a wider selection of jobs. Businesses are also able to reach a wider range of customers and employee base. Success in the first three goals creates a solid foundation for economic growth.

UDOT understands the importance of mobility and its significance for economic growth. Businesses also understand the importance of locating in areas where their product can be distributed quickly and efficiently, and where their employees can benefit from a healthy quality of life.

Everyone benefits from a safe transportation system, including the economy. When a roadway is known to be safe, residents and visitors will be more likely to use it. Safe roads can promote the growth of business along that roadway and the local economy.

For the third year in a row, Forbes magazine has named Utah as the best state in the U.S. for doing business. According to economist, transportation plays a big role in the state’s business environment. Certainly, businesses in Utah are benefiting from the improved mobility on roadways.

In conclusion, UDOT has completed two of the largest projects in our history using only state funds and delivered the largest construction season in our history. Our significant challenge remains. However, the future is bright for transportation as we focus on our four strategic goals.

2013 Strategic Direction — Part 3

This is the third part of a 4 part series about the 2013 Strategic Direction. Please also check out Part 1: Preserve Infrastructure,  Part 2: Optimize Mobility and Part 4: Strengthen the Economy.

Zero Fatalities

UDOT remains committed to safety. This new goal replaces the previous goal of “Improving Safety” emphasizing UDOT’s commitment to reducing fatalities. Some may believe that zero is unattainable, however to those who’ve lost family members on Utah roads one fatality is one too many. Zero Fatalities is the only goal acceptable to Utahns and to UDOT.

In 2012, 218 lives were lost on Utah’s roads in car crashes–the lowest Utah traffic fatalities have been since 1959. We are making progress toward our goal of Zero Fatalities, but we still have a ways to go.

Every UDOT project incorporates safety improvements. In 2012, UDOT programmed $19.2 million for specific safety projects, including:

  • 42 miles of median cable barrier installed, for a total of 231 miles since 2003
  • Approximately $17 million of Safety Program funds were assigned to specific safety projects in 2012
  • 12 new traffic signals constructed
  • 24 traffic signal upgrades constructed
  • 11 pedestrian/school crossing improvements
  • Construction of 20 safe sidewalk projects
  • Installation of 540 sidewalk access ramps

In UDOT, the focus on safety within engineering begins with planning, designing and building safe roadways. Engineering for safety is UDOT’s commitment to a safe-system approach. The main principle of a safe-system approach is the roadway is designed and built to realistically prevent traffic related deaths even when driving behaviors create crashes.

Education is also important roadway safety. Utah demonstrates its commitment to safety through outreach efforts that help educate the public and make Utah a safe place for living, traveling and doing business. These education programs include:

Since 2009, UDOT safety programs have:

  • Totalled more than 135 presentations to elementary schools
  • Reached more than 100,000 students statewide

UDOT’s Incident Management Program began in 1994 as part of UDOT’s on-going commitment to safety on Utah’s roads. From the beginning, the program has provided significant benefit by increasing first responder safety, reducing congestion and delays and reducing secondary crashes.

Snow and ice removal is a major component to safe driving in Utah. To clear snow from approximately 6,000 centerline miles of Utah’s roads, UDOT employs the latest technologies and trains crews to ensure they are ready.

  • On average, Utah receives more than 25 winter storms each year and UDOT crews remove more than 65 million tons of snow and ice from Utah’s roads.
  • To help keep our roads clear around the clock, UDOT operates a fleet of approximately 500 snowplows.
  • UDOT’s winter operations budget for the 2012-2013 winter season is $23.3 million, including equipment, salaries, sand, salt, brine and avalanche control.

2013 Strategic Direction — Part 2

This is the second part of a 4 part series about the 2013 Strategic Direction. Please also check out Part 1: Preserve Infrastructure, Part 3: Zero Fatalities and Part 4: Strengthen the Economy.

Optimize Mobility

The goal of optimizing mobility continues to include the need to build new highways, expand existing highways, build more bicycle and pedestrian paths and expand the transit network. UDOT accomplishes this by adding capacity, managing lanes, developing innovative cross roads, coordinating signals, and providing traffic information.

Since 2006, more than 575 lane miles have been added to the state system from various programs that fund more than 100 projects. Currently, capacity projects are primarily funded through the Transportation Investment Fund (TIF). Some of these projects include the I-15 CORE, Mountain View Corridor, US-40 passing lane improvements, SR-18 intersection upgrades at St. George Blvd. and US-6 passing lane improvements. These capacity projects dramatically improve delay on Utah roadways.

Wasatch_Front_Delay

Without capacity improvements, delay along the Wasatch Front would have experienced a three-to-five fold increase.

UDOT currently has 124 miles of Express Lanes (62 miles both northbound and southbound) with 54 continuous miles between Spanish Fork and North Salt Lake City making Utah’s Express Lanes the longest continuous Express Lanes in the country. More than 13,000 Express Pass transponders have been purchased, speeds average 9 mph faster than the general lanes and travelers experience a higher level of safety.

Developing and constructing innovative cross roads is a fundamental in optimizing mobility on Utah roadways. Flex Lanes, Commuter Lanes, ThrU-Turn Intersections (TTI), Diverging Diamond Interchanges (DDI) and Continuous Flow Intersections (CFIs) decrease delay at intersections, reduce travel time, improve safety, and reduce the length and cost of construction.

The Traffic Operations Center (TOC) continues to be the key to providing a cost-effective and and efficient solution to help relieve congestion on Utah’s roads and highways. Using advanced technologies such as cameras and traffic/weather sensors, operators in the TOC can monitor traffic, detect problems and take actions necessary to return traffic flow to normal.

UDOT uses a variety of methods to provide actual travel times and accurate traffic and weather information to help drivers make choices that reduce delay, prevent crashes and improve air quality. By implementing an extensive Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), UDOT is able to know what is happening on Utah roads, and provide travelers the information they need to plan their routes. UDOT communicates travel information online at udot.utah.gov and through variable messages signs (VMS), traffic cameras, twitter, facebook, and YouTube, and the UDOT Traffic App.

2013 Strategic Direction — Part 1

This is the first part of a 4 part series about the 2013 Strategic Direction. Please also check out Part 2: Optimize Mobility, Part 3: Zero Fatalities, and Part 4: Strengthen the Economy.

After a record breaking construction year, with more than 200 projects completed, worth just over $3 billion, what is in store for UDOT in 2013? The newly completed 2013 Strategic Direction and Performance Measures highlights accomplishments by the department in 2012 and introduces goals for 2013 and the coming years.

Key to the Strategic Direction document are the UDOT Strategic Goals. These goals ensure that we focus our efforts and capital on the most important activities. This year we have revised our goals, which include:

  • Preserve Infrastructure
  • Optimize Mobility
  • Zero Fatalities
  • Strengthen the Economy

Details on each goal will be provided in a four part series, beginning with:

Preserve Infrastructure

Preserving Utah’s multi-billion dollar investment is the single largest expenditure year to year within UDOT. Keeping the state’s bridges and pavement in good condition is the most effective way to extend the life of the transportation system. This is accomplished by applying well-timed preservation treatments to roads, and addressing critical needs first. By applying a combination of routine maintenance, preservation and minor and major rehabilitation projects, UDOT is able to utilize limited funding to maximize the pavement condition.

In 2012:

  • More than 100 preservation and rehabilitation projects were completed,
  • Approximately 350 miles, or six percent of the system, received a specific preservation or rehabilitation treatment,
  • Six critical bridges were replaced,
  • Eighty-four new bridges were built by capacity-driven project,
  • Two pedestrian bridges were built,
  • Bridge preservation and rehabilitation activities were performed on more than 170 bridges.

Please also check out Part 2: Optimize Mobility.