Category Archives: Optimize Mobility

ALL LANES OPEN

Commuters driving between Utah and Salt Lake County will likely experience less delay starting Monday, November 5.

New Diverging Diamond Interchange

That’s when UDOT’s I-15 CORE will open all travel lanes through the 24-mile project. Construction will continue until mid December, but the open lanes will provide better mobility through the corridor while workers complete landscaping, drainage, barrier construction, painting and other activities during off-peak times.

I-15 CORE is the fastest billion-dollar public highway project ever constructed in the U.S. – an impressive fete considering the project scope. From Lehi Main Street to the Spanish Fork River, crews have added two travel lanes in each direction, placed new concrete pavement, and rebuilt or replaced 63 bridges and 10 freeway interchanges in an unprecedented 35 months.

Contractor Provo River Constructors deserve credit for proceeding construction quickly. “They set an aggressive schedule and were prepared to meet it,” says John Butterfield, UDOT Materials and Pavement Engineer for the project. While good weather provided a backdrop, PRC was able to provide the resources and people necessary to move work forward.

Much of the work has been done out of the way of traffic. For example, some of the bridges were built off-site then moved into place. Crews also pushed miles of concrete pipe under the freeway rather than installing drainage systems using open-trench methods which require closures.

When the project was initiated, UDOT hoped for 14 to 15 miles of new freeway with the available budget. However the project exceeds what was originally expected. The new wider freeway, 40- year pavement and 75-year bridges represent long term value to Utah taxpayers.

HONING OUR FUTURE

UDOT Director John Njord talks to conference attendees

UDOT Director John Njord praised employees and private sector allies for partnering and innovation.

When asked what UDOT does, the general public is most likely to respond by citing the most obvious outward manifestation – road construction projects. “There’s much, much more” when it comes to UDOT’s function than road construction, said Njord. He spoke to employees, private sector contractors and local government transportation officials at the annual UDOT Conference.

While the general public associate construction projects with UDOT, many more activities take place that “don’t get into the limelight.” And all those activities are important to the overall success of the agency. UDOT is finishing the biggest project year ever, and citing that tremendous accomplishment, Njord took the opportunity to cite some of the successes realized by the agency.

Njord gave credit to the whole of the UDOT team, and likened the intrinsic value of every employee to the story of a NASA janitor who, in 1964, was approached and asked about his job. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” was his quick response. The janitor’s understanding of his role showed a “direct connectedness” to the overall agency mission.

Njord named specific projects too, and went on to relay some feedback from stakeholders. The Mountain View Corridor, SR 14 Landslide Repair, Renovate 80 Wanship Bridge Deck move and the I-15 CORE projects showcase UDOT’s efforts to address the needs of the transportation system. And “the public appreciates the work you do at the department more than you know,” said Njord.

ZERO Fatalities is a new strategic goal.

Njord played video comments given by the public answering questions about UDOT. Responses showed a good understanding of UDOT’s mission. For example, when asked to identify how UDOT helped make life better, responders cited reduced delay from capacity projects and ABC construction techniques.

Njord is optimistic that UDOT will continue to innovate, and said new ideas “will come from those people who are seated in this room right now.” He believes there’s “an inventor trapped inside each one of us,” and stressed that all can help hone UDOT’s future by making good work decisions daily. “You are the standard bearers” for transportation projects across the country, said Njord.

Njord’s presentation, including a change to the Final Four, video highlights of projects and glowing reviews from transportation officials from federal and state governments, has been posted on the UDOT website, and a link to video of his remarks will be available on the UDOT Blog on Friday, November 2.

A CHALLENGE

UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras asked UDOT employees to align personal achievement with agency goals.

Deputy Director Carlos Braceras talks to conference attendees.

Everybody should know and understand UDOT’s mission as expressed by the Final Four – Optimizing Mobility, Preserving Infrastructure, Zero Fatalities and Strengthening the Economy. Knowing and understanding those agency goals are paramount to setting personal goals on individual performance plans. By scrutinizing individual roles, and making sure those roles align with the agency mission, everyone will be pulling in the same direction, said Braceras at the UDOT Conference held this week in Sandy, Utah.

The UDOT website has fresh information about agency performance, and Braceras asked that employees get acquainted with that information. The Performance Dashboard and UDOT Projects are data repositories that can give employees “very, very fresh information,” sometimes hours old, about how UDOT is accomplishing its mission.

Braceras cited each strategic goal and some important UDOT achievements.

Optimizing Mobility: New projects have changed the way people get around and are supporting improved mobility. For example, the Southern Parkway opened up new development potential in Washington County.

Preserving Infrastructure: A new way to fund projects will provide a steady funding for taking care of our transportation investments and make for a more sustainable transportation system.

Zero Fatalities: Safety improvements have resulted in yearly declines in fatalities. Zero Fatalities is UDOT’s goal –“In my heart I believe we can do this,” said Braceras.

Strengthen the Economy: Utah enjoys an efficient and relatively delay-free transportation system compared with other states. Companies looking to relocate operations most likely will consider delay as important.

Carlos praised UDOT and private sector partners. “You guys are the best of the best,” he said.

Braceras’ presentation, including what change means to UDOT, a visual of how to quantify mobility as a way to bolster the economy and the importance of treating customers like family is posted on the UDOT website, and a link to video of his remarks will be available on the UDOT Blog.

CLOSING GAPS

Wasatch Front transportation agencies are studying how people connect to transit.

The Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study – is a comprehensive project that will look at ways to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections to major transit lines and lay the groundwork for an urban network of bicycle routes along the Wasatch Front – and anyone can participate.

The first step to using public transit is getting to an access point such as a Trax station or a bus stop. Many transit users count on active transportation – walking or cycling – to reach that connection.

UDOT and the Utah Transit Authority, in cooperation with Wasatch Front Regional Council, Mountainland Association of Governments and Salt Lake County have just launched an effort to identify difficulties walkers and cyclists face when getting to transit hubs. UCATS – the Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study – is a comprehensive project that will look at ways to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections to major transit lines and lay the groundwork for an urban network of bicycle routes along the Wasatch Front – and anyone can participate.

The study team is using an effective and dynamic web-based in-put mechanism.  An online forum allows users to create a profile and dialog with other users about connectivity issues.

The UCATS website allows easy direct public input, according to Evelyn Tuddenham UDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator, because participants don’t need to attend a public meeting or wait to be called to contribute. And the process facilitates dialog – UCATS participants can even collaborate online to solve problems.

The study team is encouraging a wide range of participants including “people who like to ride bikes but don’t,” says Tuddenham. “We need to hear from them… not just from the people who are comfortable riding on the road.”

Discussions that take place through the UCATS website will help the project team shape recommendations “that look at the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure recommendations coming out of the study.” For UDOT, one outcome will be bicycle plans for UDOT Regions One, Two and Three.

UCATS will have a big impact on the future of bicycling and walking along the Wasatch Front, says Tuddenham. “We want to improve mobility for all kinds of users by giving them active transportation options and closing the gaps linking to transit.”

SEEING BICYCLES

 UDOT’s first radar activated signal for cyclists is providing safer access to Mountain View Corridor.

A newly completed seven mile portion of the Mountain View Corridor also includes bike lanes and multi-use trails from Porter Rockwell Blvd at 16000 South to Old Bingham Highway. Cyclists were invited to celebrate the opening by participating in a race on October 13.

A newly completed seven mile portion of the Mountain View Corridor also includes bike lanes and multi-use trails from Porter Rockwell Blvd at 16000 South to Old Bingham Highway. “I would think Mountain View Corridor will be busy bike route with the beautiful scenery and trails,” says UDOT Traffic Signal Operations Engineer Mark Taylor, who is also a cyclist.

The new road segment includes a bike lane and trail access point at Porter Rockwell Blvd. Anticipated high traffic volume and speed in the area prompted traffic engineers to find a safer way for cyclists to reach that access point from busy Redwood Road.

UDOT has installed radar detection and a signal specific to cyclists turning left from Redwood Road onto Porter Rockwell Blvd. The signal improves safety for motorists and cyclists.

This video gives a good overview of the signal:

Cyclists sometimes use the left turn lane along with automobile traffic. However, due the T intersection configuration where Porter Rockwell meets Redwood road, “there is not a concurrent vehicle movement cyclists can use,” explains Taylor. The signal stops traffic so cyclists can turn left on Redwood Road, then travel west on Porter Rockwell Boulevard to the Mountain View Corridor bike lanes and multi-use trails.

To activate the signal, cyclists need to stop in the designated area on the right north-bound shoulder of Redwood Road.  Radar detection picks up the presence of cyclists, stops traffic with a red light, gives cyclists a green light, and provides enough time to cross Redwood Road.

UDOT chose radar detection over other alternatives including inductive loops and video detection. Modern bicycles don’t have enough metal to disrupt the electromagnetic field created by inductive loops. And, video detection does not work well at night or during storms.

UDOT uses radar detection often, however, is the first use of the technology for a signal specific to cyclists.

TOWING THE LINE

Operators of UDOT tow plows recently got a chance to practice driving skills.

Three tow plows practice driving skills on a course that simulates intersections, car lined streets and on-ramps. When deployed, the tow plow swings sideways to clear twenty five feet.

“They’re different,” than regular plows, explains Chris Scribner who drives a tow plow for UDOT during the snow season. A tow plow can startle drivers because “it looks like it’s jackknifing,” he says. When deployed, the tow plow swings sideways to clear more of the roadway – a total of twenty five feet, to be exact. A truck with a tow plow takes the place of two trucks. Scribner is one of about thirty plow operators who attended a training to practice driving the unusual plow that helps UDOT improve the efficiency of snow and ice removal.

Curtis Sanchez, Equipment Safety Trainer at UDOT, organized the training “to make sure the operators are as comfortable as possible,” he explains. The training includes classroom time focusing on safety and the pre-ride check and then driving on a course set up to simulate intersections, car-lined streets and on-ramps.

Dirk Richards, a trainer from UDOT Region One, help set up the course. He says it’s important that drivers learn to be aware of their surroundings, and how the equipment will deploy. “So when they are working, there are no surprises on the road.”

Driving the plow is not for rookies. “We’re choosing the best operators in each shed” to be tow plow drivers, says Sanchez.

Driver Mark Prows says tow plow operators need to be acutely aware of the roadway environment and the movement of the plow that’s operated by a complex hydraulic system — all while driving. He compares it to playing the piano. “You have to keep your fingers moving and your eyes on the sheet music… if you’re a little bit off of your game, things can go bad fast.”

UDOT acquired the first tow plows after Heavy Equipment Manager Steve McCarthy saw them at a conference. “I thought it was an idea we needed to explore,” he says. UDOT is one of only a few states that use tow plows. Eventually each shed along the I-15 corridor will have at least one. UDOT currently operates eight tow plows.

SHRP 2

The Strategic Highway Research Program 2 is nearing the end of a long effort to conduct and prioritize research projects.

Some SHRP 2 products address rapid design and construction methods that minimize road user inconvenience and produce long-lived facilities.

Planning for SHRP2 began in 1999, and in 2009, funding for the effort was authorized by Congress. SHRP 2 is intended to address critical needs related to the nation’s highways. Some of the products of that research are nearing completion.

Neil Pedersen, Deputy Director of Implementation for SHRP 2, visited UDOT this week as part of an effort to ask state departments of transportation to “help TRB with the transition from research to implementation.”

SHRP 2 products are process related and address problems facing the nation’s highways in four critical areas:

  • Safety – focuses on ways to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes by understanding the behavior of drivers.
  • Renewal – focuses on rapid design and construction methods that minimize road user inconvenience and produce long-lived facilities.
  • Reliability – focuses on ways to effectively reduce traffic congestion by managing traffic flow and reducing and clearing crashes or other incidents.
  • Capacity – focuses on ways to plan new facilities that improve mobility while meeting the economic and environmental needs of the community.

Sixty five products representing “targeted, short-term, results-oriented research” have been forwarded through a prioritization process. Those products will be taken through the implementation phase by state DOTs after a competitive selection process.

Pedersen described the implementation effort as a “lead state concept” whereby states DOTs take on the process of implementation by demonstrating and evaluating the value, ease of use and usefulness of the products. Once products have been demonstrated successfully, “others will follow,” said Pedersen. The implementation process will take approximately three years for each product.

Pedersen explained that states that have experience in specific areas may have an inside track when it comes to being selected to take the lead. However, rather than taking on a project that has already been implemented, states make a needs-based assessment since states that are chosen will receive funding and technical assistance.

UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras says he and Director John Njord have asked UDOT senior leaders to evaluate projects and determine which ones are the most suitable opportunities for UDOT.

SHRP 2 is managed by the Transportation Research Board on behalf of the National Research Council. FHWA and AASHTO will provide funding and technical support during the implementation process. UDOT Research staff facilitated Pedersen’s visit.

PORTS PROMOTE SAFETY

Ports of Entry have a critical safety role to play in Utah, where the percent of truck traffic on state highways is the highest in the nation.

Utah Port of Entry inspectors conduct over 37 thousand vehicle safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles per year at eight ports throughout the state.

Utah is strategically critical to North America’s commercial trucking industry. By way of I-80, Utah is a freight crossroads for big rigs that move goods through North America. Two of I-80’s most important feeder routes – I-84 from the Pacific Northwest, and I-15 from Las Vegas and southern California, junction with I-80 in Northern Utah.

Consequently, UDOT’s highways handle a disproportionately high amount of freight for the entire country. Large trucks make up 23 percent of total traffic on Utah highways; the national average is 12 percent.

Heavy truck traffic and Utah’s crossroads standing make for a challenging environment for UDOT Ports of Entry workers who are charged with maintaining safety and facilitating commerce.

Port workers partner with Utah Highway Patrol Troopers to ensure that commercial trucks operating in the state don’t pose a threat to safety. One way that mission is accomplished is through regular vehicle inspections conducted at ports of entry.

Inspectors conduct over 37 thousand vehicle safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles per year at eight ports throughout the state. Over 10 thousand of those trucks pass through the Perry Port of Entry on I-15 north of Brigham City.

When it comes to conducting inspections, ports focus on carriers and shippers that pose a risk to highway safety.  An automated transponder system called Prepass helps expedite that effort.

“It’s really a great sorting tool, allowing qualifying carriers to proceed down the highway.  Then we can spend our time on those that need a closer look,” says Leona Dalley, Perry Port of Entry Supervisor. Prepass allows cleared vehicles to pass by ports at highway speed.

Eliminating a stop means greater efficiency for shippers and helps UDOT  strengthen the economy.  Safety for all highway users is also improved because port workers can focus inspection efforts where the greatest need exists. Added benefits include reduced fuel consumption and emissions. In Utah, those benefits have been significant.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Utah Ports of Entry are part of the UDOT Motor Carriers Division.

PRECAST PANELS

This post is second in a series about how research supports innovation at UDOT. Many in the transportation community and the general public are familiar with UDOT’s method of building bridges off-site and then moving them into place. Other important innovations garner less attention. See the first post here.

UDOT’s innovative pre-cast pavement panels speed up concrete road repair.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Precast concrete elements are often used for bridge girders, decks or MSE walls. But using pre-cast panel systems to repair or build pavement is not yet common. UDOT Research Division has partnered with FHWA Highways for Life to develop and demonstrate a design for a precast pavement panels, and so far, “they seem to be working very well,” says UDOT Research Project Manager Daniel Hsiao who oversaw panel testing and design.

The innovation is in the speed of construction, and the non-proprietary design. Using a cast-in-place method involves closing lanes and waiting for concrete to cure before traffic can travel on the pavement.  With pre-cast pavement panels the cure time takes place off site, so traffic lanes can be reopened soon after installation.

The unique design specifies leveling bolts that are commonly used in bridge deck construction. After placement, the bolts are turned against steel panels on the sub-base to achieve correct elevation. Four bolts are placed in each panel during the casting process. Six grout ports are also included in each panel. Using the bolts also means that traffic lanes can be open before the grout is fully cured.

The panels are also designed to be a standard size, 12 by 12 feet square and 9 inches thick.  A standard panel size helps minimize construction costs and simplify installation. The panels are reinforced with steel rebar to support lifting the 17,000 pound panels.

Because the design is non-proprietary, “anybody can use it,” says Hsiao. The non-proprietary aspect helps support a competitive bidding environment, which conserves limited funding.

SIGNAL HISTORY

The traffic signal systems of today are the result of a stream of innovative technologies starting with a simple light box on a pole.

Salt Lake City Police Officer Lester Wire designed and built a pole mounted box that housed green and red lights.

Utah has approximately 1700 traffic signals owned by city, county and state governments. Sophisticated and efficient, modern signal systems are coordinated and monitored by traffic engineers and centrally controlled by computers. Devices that detect cars can adjust signal timing along traffic corridors to allow for directional traffic flow throughout the day. When needed, traffic engineers can make changes to keep traffic flowing.

Effective signal coordination improves safety, saves fuel, reduces emissions, enhances traffic flow, and decreases travel delay and traffic congestion.

The story of how modern signal systems were developed starts in Utah; the first traffic signal for automobiles was put into service in 1912 in Salt Lake City at the intersection of Main Street and Second South.

Salt Lake City Police Officer Lester Wire saw the need to help move traffic through intersections safely and efficiently.  He designed and built a pole mounted box that housed green and red lights. Wires connected to the trolley system overhead carried electricity. The lights were changed manually by an officer who stood nearby and used his discretion to make the switch.

UDOT has created an exhibit that shows how technology has progressed since the early days of traffic management. A collection of signals and equipment, including a model of Lester Wire’s first traffic light, will be on permanent display at the UDOT Traffic Operations Center. The collection is open to the public.

Signal innovations

Shortly after Wire’s traffic light was put into use, other inventions pushed signal technology forward quickly. Signal development followed electronic and computing trends, and some key transformational changes include:

1927    The invention of the fixed control timer, which made it possible for the first traffic operations center to manage 31 signals in Los Angeles.

1928    The first semi-actuated signal, installed in Detroit, which used a microphone to detect the sound of a car horn and assign right-of-way.

1952    The first actuated signal system which adjusted timing based on traffic demand. Installed in Denver, the system was made possible by analog technology.

1972    The first Advanced Traffic Control system which used microprocessors, fiber optic cable and inductive loops to connect and control timing at 113 intersections in Washington DC.

UDOT Today

UDOT is currently using radar detection to improve safety and optimize traffic signal performance.

Radar is being used to detect cars in the ‘dilemma zone’ – a space prior to entering an intersection where drivers decide to stop or keep going. Software used with the radar equipment is programmed to extend the signal phase to allow cars in the dilemma zone more time to get through the intersection.

UDOT also uses an online tool to improve the way traffic engineers monitor and optimize signal performance. Signal Performance Metrics, originally developed by Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University, uses dilemma zone radar detection along with software developed by UDOT in cooperation with Wavetronics and Econolite.

The system locates and counts cars, places a time stamp on every car and then pulls that data into online graphs that can be observed in real time. By observing traffic movement as it occurs, engineers can make immediate changes to optimize traffic flow.

Director John Njord has charged UDOT traffic engineers with creating a world-class traffic signal system. UDOT has taken full advantage of modern innovations and established itself as a leader in modern traffic management.

 


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

More about signals

  • Pulse, a trade magazine published by Wavetronics, published a great article on the history of traffic signals.
  • A page on the FHWA website explains the benefits of signal coordination.