Category Archives: Optimize Mobility

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.

UDOT’s Trip Reduction Implementation Plan (TRIP)

This is a guest post written by the TravelWise team.

Utah’s air quality has been a topic of much conversation during this past winter inversion season. While the winter inversions are over, Utah continues to face air quality challenges. In an effort to meet those challenges, on Feb. 12, Governor Gary Herbert sent a memo to state agencies directing them to establish a “meaningful and measurable” Trip Reduction Implementation Plan (TRIP) through UDOT’s TravelWise program.

UDOT set the example by establishing its own TRIP, identifying ways its employees will reduce their weekly trips. UDOT set its trip reduction goal at 15 percent, which will be accomplished through a combination of telecommuting, teleworking, vanpooling/carpooling, taking public transit, using flexible work schedules and walking or bicycling to work. Each of the four Regions, as well as the Traffic Operations Center and the Complex has identified areas of improvement and has committed to helping UDOT meet the TravelWise TRIP goal.

UDOT’s TravelWise team is now working with other State agencies, using UDOT’s TRIP as a model. To learn more about UDOT’s TravelWise program or to view UDOT’s TRIP, visit travelwise.utah.gov.

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.

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT DIVISION AND REGION 2 ASSIST WITH GOVERNOR’S INAUGURATION

An inauguration of an elected official is an exciting event, and UDOT was on hand during the January 7, 2013 inauguration of Governor Herbert to ensure that traffic moved smoothly. UDOT was contacted by Capitol staff ahead of the inauguration hoping to mitigate traffic problems that were observed during previous inauguration events. The UDOT Traffic Management Division (TMD) and UDOT Region 2 were tasked with using the knowledge and tools available to ensure that traffic delays were at a minimum during this important event.IMT Truck & Utah State Capitol

“The staff at the UDOT TMD and Region 2 went above and beyond to help get attendees of Governor Herbert’s inauguration where they needed to go safely and with little confusion or traffic delay,” said Eric Rasband, UDOT Engineer-in-charge for the event.

UDOT’s duties were to coordinate signal timing plans, attend pre- and post-event meetings, coordinate with Capitol employees and local police as well as handle traffic control and snow/ice removal. UDOT also utilized its social media outlets for parking alerts and related information.

The total attendance for the event was between 1000 and 1500. Overall, traffic moved very well and there were no major delays.

TWO MASSIVE ROAD PROJECTS OPEN

UDOT marked two significant milestones as it celebrated the completion of the largest road construction projects in Utah history on Saturday, December 15 with the opening of the Utah County I-15 Corridor Expansion (I-15 CORE) and 15 miles of the Mountain View Corridor (MVC) in Salt Lake County.

“We have delivered the World Series and the Super Bowl all in one day,” said UDOT Executive Director John Njord.

Local leaders, including Governor Gary Herbert, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senator John Valentine, joined UDOT in cutting the banner on the record-breaking I-15 CORE project Saturday afternoon. More than 100 people braved the chilly December weather to join the festivities. Refreshments including hot chocolate, hot dogs and special I-15 CORE sugar cookies were available to say thank you to the public for their patience throughout construction.

I-15 CORE Ribbon Cutting

I-15 CORE Ribbon Cuttin

“Hear the noise. That’s the sound of progress,” Herbert said, as cars and trucks passed underneath the Sam White Bridge on I-15. “That’s the sound of commerce, that’s the sound of a state that’s really going in the right direction.”

Construction on I-15 CORE was finished in an unprecedented 35 months, making it the fastest billion-dollar public highway project ever built in the United States. The project came in $260 million under budget.

Saturday’s celebration was held on the Sam White Bridge in American Fork, the site of one of the project’s greatest achievements. In March 2011, UDOT moved the bridge — the longest two-span bridge to be moved by self-propelled modular transporters
(SPMTs) in the Western Hemisphere — into place over I-15 in one night.

“The technology to move the Sam White Bridge into place in hours instead of months is indicative of all the work that took place on this project” to complete it quickly and keep traffic moving, Njord said.

I-15 CORE reconstructed 24 miles of freeway from Lehi to Spanish Fork, with two additional freeway lanes in each direction.

Earlier that day, snow flurries didn’t deter over 200 runners who bundled up in their winter gear to attend the MVC opening celebration, which featured a 5K Polar Bear Fun Run to give members of the community an opportunity to enjoy the road before it opened to motorists.

“It looks like Christmas to me,” said Governor Herbert as he spoke to the chilly, but upbeat crowd.

MVC Opening 5K Polar Bear Fun Run

MVC Opening 5K Polar Bear Fun Run

Runners were entertained by music courtesy of the Copper Hills High School Marching Band, stayed warm with the help of hand warmers and MVC beanies and enjoyed holiday treats, hot cider and hot chocolate provided by the project’s contractors.

Representative Wayne Harper and West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson also addressed the audience and thanked UDOT for their continued innovation and partnership in developing this vital roadway.

The current phase of MVC is 15 miles long and features two lanes built in each direction from Redwood Road (at approximately 16000 South) to 5400 South, with signalized intersections where future interchanges will be located.

To meet projected transportation demands in the year 2030, future construction will build out the remainder of the corridor by adding interchanges and inside lanes to achieve a fully functional freeway that will connect with I-80 in Salt Lake County and I-15
in Lehi.

Construction funds have been identified to extend MVC from 5400 South to 4100 South in the next few years.

The roadway also features 15 miles of trails adjacent to the corridor, 9 miles of paved bike lanes and UDOT’s first radar activated bike turn signal.

“The vision for the Mountain View Corridor came from the communities in Western Salt Lake County,” said Project Director Teri Newell. “UDOT is proud to make this vision a reality and provide these communities with a new transportation solution.”

MVC provides increased mobility, but will require motorists to adjust their driving patterns and learn how to navigate a new one-way roadway, as this initial phase is similar to a divided highway with one-way northbound and southbound roadways. Signs
are posted along the corridor and at each intersection to help motorists adjust to the new traffic patterns. UDOT has also produced a navigational video to teach motorists how to drive on the new roadway.

Governor Herbert touted the success of both the I-15 CORE and MVC projects, highlighting their importance state. “This is about economic development. If you want a state to thrive economically, you’ve got to have a transportation system that works,” said Herbert.

You can find out more on the I-15 CORE Infographic and the project website, www.udot.utah.gov/i15core. Additional details about the MVC project are available on the MVC Infographic or by logging on to www.udot.utah.gov/mountainview.

This is a guest post by Mary Rice of the Mountain View Corridor Project Team.

SCORING STORMS

UDOT is developing a way to rate storm severity in order to make better use of resources.

A Utah-specific weather severity index will help UDOT improve the efficiency of snow fighting tactics. Here, a tow-plow clears I-15 in Salt Lake City.

Managing resources during winter months in a state that experiences extreme to mild weather conditions can be challenging. Researchers working with UDOT are investigating a method to define the severity of storms and seasons by using a winter severity index to assign numerical value that represents storm characteristics like intensity and duration. Rating storms will help the UDOT Maintenance Division evaluate the allocation of resources like staffing, de-icing chemicals and equipment.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: This map shows precipitation patterns

A number of Midwestern states and provinces in Canada have developed weather severity indexes. While examining how those indexes were developed is useful, those models consider region-specific terrain and weather patterns. For example, some states have indexes that take freezing rain into account; freezing rain is common in other parts of the country but rare in Utah.

Terrain plays a significant role in Utah’s climate, according to Jeff Williams, UDOT Weather Programs Manager. The mountain range that extends from Logan to St. George is a “spine” that divides Utah and acts as a climate barrier. Precipitation patterns differ widely from the east to the west side of the mountain range.

During winter, storms move in from the west. “When storms arrive from the west and meet the mountains, rising air leads to increased precipitation,” says Williams. Those storms cover the mountains with snow. Sinking air dries the area east of the mountains making winter the most arid time of year.

During summer, Monsoons that originate from the Gulf of Mexico bring warm moist air to Utah. Storms and sometimes floods occur east of the mountains while the mountains usually stay dry.

A Utah-specific weather severity index will help normalize the difference between locations and weather events. By comparing resource use from location to location, operations and maintenance managers will be able to improve the efficiency of snow fighting efforts.

TERRIFIC TWEETS

Innovation touched every aspect of the I-15 CORE project from construction to communication. While massive structures were built nearby then moved into place, communication experts were devising new ways to inform the public about how to avoid construction related delay.

This post is the second of two posts that detail how combining social media and traffic management tools helped keep traffic moving. The posts are based on a presentation given by Geoff Dupaix, Public Involvement Manager on the project. Missed the first post? Read it here.

“Our project communications team did an outstanding job in finding creative, innovative approaches to keep the public up to speed on the latest construction news related to the project,” says Nile Easton, Communications Director for UDOT. Social media, traffic reports and paid advertisements were used to inform the public about travel through the I-15 CORE construction zone. Two examples illustrate the success of the communication efforts in reducing delay during critical points in time.

No post-game problems!

BYU football games typically draw more than 60 thousand attendees to the campus. That influx of traffic creates delay on I-15 and surrounding streets and requires close collaboration among BYU, police and traffic signal engineers from Orem and Provo.

This graph illustrates how letting the public know about anticipated delay due to construction can affect driving behavior. The PI team asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to avoid a heavy influx of traffic. The red line represents an even flow of traffic entering the freeway.

PI and MOT teams anticipated heavy attendance at the BYU vs. Wyoming game that coincided with a ramp closure that eliminated one option for drivers leaving the game. Under normal circumstances, traffic peaks two hours following a game. With the additional ramp closure, PI and MOT team members worried that even more delay could occur. A goal of reducing traffic by 10 percent was set in order to keep traffic moving onto I-15 following the game.

The PI team devised specific messages to the public aimed at preventing traffic entering the freeway all at once after the game. The messages, delivered by Tweets and KSL traffic reports, asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to eat, watch a movie or shop. Traffic volume was reduced as a result of the communication effort.

After the game, BYU officials became “true believers” in the ability of the PI-MOT team to provide information and options to the public, according to Geoff Dupaix, a PI Coordinator on the project. “That’s a credit to this team.”

Practice makes perfect

After 60 closures, the PI-MOT team was accomplished in helping the public avoid delay. However, the last full closure posed an additional challenge. A full overnight closure of I-15 was needed to set a bridge girder. The only identified alternate route was a 7 mile detour. The PI-MOT team needed road users to avoid that area of I-15 or face delays.

Messages about the closure and alternate route were conveyed to the public, and PI-MOT team members monitored traffic flow and volumes. Within minutes before the closure, “volume disappeared,” says Eric Rasband, I-15 CORE MOT Manager. The public “became a true partner in our closure.”

Lessons learned

The level of cooperation and successful outcomes resulted in strategies that can be tailored for use on a project of any size:

  • Leadership should set PI and MOT goals, and PI and MOT requirements should be set in tandem.
  • Where possible, set up a mini TOC to monitor traffic moving through the project.
  • Establish a planning and approval process that involves all relevant parties, including project UDOT, the contractor and stakeholders.
  • Set realistic goals for reducing traffic volume and define expectations.  It may not be possible to eliminate all the inconvenience of road construction, but good PI strategies can make traveling through the construction zone much easier.
  • Ask four critical questions before each closure or traffic event: First, what are the current planned traffic conditions and challenges? Second, how do we want driving behaviors to change to meet those challenges? Third, what messages will most effectively affect that change? And fourth, what tactics can be used to communicate those messages, and who should be the target of those messages?

Stakeholder feedback indicates the PI-MOT communication strategies worked:

TALKING TO TRAFFIC

Innovation touched every aspect of the I-15 CORE project from construction to communication. While massive structures were built nearby then moved into place, communication experts devised new ways to inform the public about how to avoid construction related delay.

Today and tomorrow, two posts will detail how combining social media and traffic management tools helped keep traffic moving.  The posts are based on a presentation given by Geoff Dupaix, Public Involvement Manager on the project.

I-15 is Utah County’s only continuous north-south corridor and serves over 120 thousand trips per day. Keeping lanes open and minimizing delay through the corridor during construction was no small task.

Combining two important functions, maintenance of traffic and communication, helped keep traffic moving during I-15 CORE freeway re-construction.

MOT plans detail how traffic is managed during construction projects.  Keeping traffic moving through and around road construction is critical; drivers need clear signs and safe, easy to understand traffic control devices that delineate full closures, alternate routes and lane reductions.

Public Information experts communicate with road users about MOT, and suggest ways to avoid construction related delay. Close collaboration between the PI and MOT teams on the I-15 CORE project was an effective way to inform road users about construction and also keep traffic moving though the corridor.

Communicators on the I-15 CORE project have set new standards for keeping the public informed by using social media, especially Twitter, extensively.

I-15 is Utah County’s only continuous north-south corridor and serves over 120 thousand trips per day. Keeping lanes open and minimizing delay through the corridor was no small task. The project faced challenges including major planned events overlapped with full ramp closures.

Big public events, like concerts or football games, increase traffic volume that can cause delay, making PI efforts critical to maintaining traffic mobility. On a major construction project, good communication with the public can help prevent gridlock.

MOT and PI teams collaborated very closely throughout the project. The teams met often and well in advance of planed closures or big events to discuss and problem-solve. The two teams even moved into adjoining offices to make collaboration more convenient.

Using the proper tools

The I-15 CORE team accessed Traffic Operations Center tools to set up a mini TOC. Camera views specific to the project and traffic volume data gave PI and MOT teams the ability to observe traffic in real time. When crashes or other incidents occurred, help could be dispatched immediately. The PI and MOT team could also observe and direct traffic to less-busy corridors.

Camera views specific to the project and traffic volume data gave PI and MOT teams the ability to observe traffic in real time.

The PI and MOT teams used traffic volume data to set goals for reducing traffic volume during upcoming events or MOT changes. The PI team planned messages that informed the traveling public about anticipated delay and gave options to help road users make good travel decisions. For example, messages would suggest leaving early, taking an alternate route or using an alternate exit. Social media, especially Twitter, was used extensively.

Tweeting traffic information turned out to especially useful for road users. “We got it down to a science,” Dave Smith, Public Information Manager for the project. The PI team was able to affect behavior in a very short time and actually observe traffic divert to under-served corridors based on tweets.

“It was not the number of our followers,” that made the effort successful, according to Smith; traffic reporters who followed the I-15 CORE Tweets passed along that information to their followers as well.

How did the close collaborative effort work? Check back to see tomorrows post detailing two examples and feedback from stakeholders.

LARGE LOADS

UDOT Motor Carriers Division has the responsibility of making sure oversize loads are routed properly. 

Thousands of times times each year, oversize loads travel on Utah highways and arterials. Routing big loads properly protects the traveling public and UDOT’s roads and bridges.

Routing big loads properly protects the traveling public and UDOT’s roads and bridges.

Some of the loads are so big that passing over or under bridges puts those structures at risk. UDOT’s Motor Carriers Division defines the routes for super-sized loads in order to protect those important assets. “Our mission is to protect and preserve the highway infrastructure, while enhancing safety for the motoring public” says Adam Anderson Supervisor for the Superload Coordination Team. Structures and highways cost millions of dollars to build, “we want to have them last a long, long time.”

The Motor Carrier Division utilizes an online permitting system that helps simple the application process for carriers and many permits are issued within minutes. These permits are issued by the Motor Carrier themselves or issued by Ports of Entry Agents throughout the states.

Permits are issued by category according to the size of the load. Extremely large loads, which exceed 14’ high or 14’6” wide or 105’ in length or 125,000 lbs, need to be adjudicated Motor Carrier Specialist, Loads exceeding 15’6” high, 17’ wide or 300,000 lbs needs to be processed by the MCD Super Load Team – Anderson heads the group that includes three other MCD Agents from across the state.

Carriers may also be required to hire pilot cars or police escorts. Oversize loads are also subject to hours of operation limitations to avoid peak traffic.

Routing super loads can be challenging. When construction closes a route to oversize loads, sometimes the defined route can be circuitous or hundreds of miles longer than usual. And, some routes have permanent restrictions due to narrow lanes or other features. New structures that can’t accommodate very tall loads can cut off access through a formerly used route. UDOT routes super loads on state roads first and county and city roads only if necessary.

UDOT Regions, responsible for carrying out road construction and permitting utility projects, also work with the Super Load Team to make sure loads are routed properly around projects. Contractors doing the work do their best to accommodate big loads by moving traffic control or opening lanes.

While simple permits take only minutes, a super big load permit may take up to 48 hours. Since the safety of the public and protection of structures is at stake, MCD Agents are very careful when routing the super loads, says Anderson. “We want to take our time to make sure things are done right the first time.”

Many carriers are familiar with the best routes and applicants can define the best way to get from point A to point B. For example, massive truck beds used in mining operations are detached from trucks and moved through the Salt Lake Valley many times each year to be repaired.

Often, carriers are very familiar with the cities and towns and are sensitive to the needs of the residents. Anderson tells about how a super load move was planned to avoid Raspberry Days in the Bear Lake area. The load was so massive, signals had to be removed and replaced as the big load moved along the route.

The move took place during early morning hours “before everybody lined up to get the raspberry pancakes,” says Anderson. “We had it taken care of pretty quick.”

Many carriers are familiar with the best routes since they move loads often. For example, massive truck beds used in mining operations are detached from trucks and moved through the Salt Lake Valley many times each year to be repaired. This photo, taken by Lita Madlang, was provided by Kennecott Utah Copper.