Category Archives: Optimize Mobility

DIVIDE AND SPONSOR

The UDOT Research Workshop allows participants to prioritize research projects. Register by May 3 to participate.

Cameron Kergaye speaks at 2011 UTRAC

Usually held yearly, the Research Workshop is organized by the UDOT Research Division as a way to allow researchers and transportation experts from UDOT, FHWA, universities, private sector firms and other transportation agencies meet, network, share solutions and most importantly, prioritize research topics.

The May 10 2012 Research Workshop is approaching quickly and Kevin Nichol, Research Project Manager and workshop organizer hopes all who can be involved in the process will register  by May 3 to participate. Good participation – that is having a broad cross section of experts and a high number of participants makes for a healthy process – all involved can bring a different point of view or expertise to the table.

For researchers, that participation means presenting problem statements that detail proposed research. It’s a way for researchers to “engage their expertise,” says Nichol. This year, research problem statements are being accepted in six specialty areas:

  • Structures and Geotechnical
  • Environmental and Hydraulics
  • Construction and Materials
  • Maintenance
  • Traffic Management and Safety
  • Pre-construction

Problem statements need to be submitted by April 26.

A national expert on the Diverging Diamond Interchange will be the keynote speaker at the Research Workshop. Pioneer Crossing was UDOT's first DDI.

UDOT employees can participate in the workshop by registering for one of the specialty areas. At the conference, groups will meet separately to hear and prioritize problem statements.

It’s always exciting to see how the groups view and prioritize the research problem statements, according to Nichol. The Workshop draws a vibrant, intelligent community of transportation experts who take an important step in putting research in motion.

Ultimately, the knowledge and understanding gained by research will make for a better transportation system. For example, the 2011UTRAC Workshop produced studies that examined cost effective snow plow blade selection, sign management, and design of integrated abutment bridges.

General session

This year, workshop attendees will have a chance to hear from Gilbert Chlewicki — a national Diverging Diamond Intersection expert and advocate. Chlewicki is a leading expert on DDIs with respect to “geometric design, signal placements, traffic design, driver acceptability, pedestrian and bicycle issues, and locations for implementation,” according to his website.

NEW ENGINEERS

UDOT Engineers In Training are finding their work at UDOT challenging and rewarding.

Greg Merrill is an Engineer in Training in UDOT's Rotational Engineer Program

Short bios on the newest engineers at the agency describe some of the experiences and knowledge that are being gained by UDOT Rotational Engineers and Interns as they work to design, build and take care of the transportation system. The bios are a way to introduce the Engineers in Training to others at UDOT and associated private sector firms.

UDOT’s Rotational Program gives engineers a chance to “understand the overall role of the department,” says Richard Murdock, who has managed the program for 7 years. The program has existed for more than 20 years in a similar organizational form. UDOT gains by welcoming in enthusiastic, newly graduated engineers who view the world of transportation with new eyes. The Rotational Engineers come from diverse backgrounds and varied experiences.

Engineers apply to the program right out of college. Once at UDOT, EITs work under the supervision of Professional Engineers and rotate from one UDOT department to another about every six months. UDOT has a reputation for providing a good EIT experience, so more candidates apply that the program can accommodate. UDOT also offers a number of year-round internships that include full state benefits.

The EITs like the opportunity to work in the different specialty areas and gain broad experience. The rotations allow new engineers “to see how each [department] works and functions and how they each tie together,” says Greg Merrill who is assigned to Region One Construction. Rotations provide “a chance to find your niche” in preparation for later specialization.

Mandatory rotations include construction, design, maintenance and traffic and safety. Many of the EITs mention design as being particularly challenging. “I had no idea what went into a project from either the design or construction side, so I had to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research,” writes Megan Leonard, “ Being able to actually design projects is an amazing process and learning how many little details go into each project was an eye opener.”

Many of the Rotational Engineers appreciate the chance to network and learn from others at UDOT. “I have had great supervisors that have provided plenty of guidance whenever I have needed assistance understanding a concept or completing a project,” writes Aaron Pinkerton.

Leonard appreciates the respect she is shown at work. “I recommend this program to everyone who can apply for it. I feel like I’m trusted and treated like an actual staff member and not just a glorified intern.”

Read the bios:

Brian Allen

Zack Andrus

Jeremy Bown

Eric Buell

Scott Esplin

Ryan Ferrin

Alex Fisher

Megan Leonard

Greg Merrill

Ryan Nuesmeyer

Phillip Peterson

Aaron Pinkerton

Kayde Roberts

Brandon Weight

KWKW

Know Where Know Why is a communication effort that’s aimed at helping motorists avoid construction-related delay.

The KWKW website shows pop-up descriptions of projects that may cause delay to the traveling public.

A printed guide, interactive website, radio and TV spots and now, a traffic app – all are components of “the overall communication campaign for construction information for the general public,” according to UDOT Public Information Officer Nate McDonald.

Twenty high-impact projects are featured in UDOT’s new Know Where, Know Why 2012 Road Construction Guide. New this year, the guide has been distributed to auto repair and oil change shops along the I-15 corridor. UDOT is hoping that motorists who are preparing for a road trip will notice and pick up the guide. Guides have also shipped out to hotels, motels and truck stops across the state.

KWKW also includes television and radio spots that highlight the highest impact projects for weekend travelers.

UDOT Traffic is a new smart phone app available at the iTunes Store and Android Market and includes:
• A Google Maps display
• Traffic conditions
• Crashes, construction and hazards
• Special events
• Road weather and forecasts
• Seasonal road closures
• Traffic camera images
• Roadway sign messages

NJORD ON RESEARCH

The role of transportation researchers is to be continually “scouring the river looking for those valuable gems of truth that will enable us to be even better.”

“Our business is dynamic and it’s changing all the time,” according to UDOT Director John Njord. In the constantly shifting world of transportation, it’s important for leaders to understand the leading edge. To set the stage for progress, Njord prefers taking a step forward to the “bleeding edge.” In a recent interview Njord explained the bleeding edge, how UDOT has benefited from research and what the future holds for transportation.

Conservatism dominates the world of civil engineering; transportation delivery has not changed radically over the last fifty years. Leading safely will produce a good transportation system, but “the bleeding edge is where you’re cutting new territory,” explained Njord. He believes that leaders need to be willing to say “ok, nobody has done this, we don’t know if it will be successful, but we’re going to try it anyway.”

To reach the bleeding edge, executives need to create an environment where failure is not punished. Njord hopes researchers and others at UDOT feel comfortable enough to “step out on the edge” while weighing risks against benefits and doing as much as possible to ensure success.

Recent success

Research has helped UDOT’s efforts to improve system mobility and reduce construction related delay. When many intersections along the Bangerter Highway in Salt Lake County were facing operational challenges, UDOT engineers “launched out to Juarez, Mexico” to investigate Continuous Flow Intersections. UDOT has since built many CFIs. With design changes that make operation better suited to Utah locations “they are tremendously efficient,” explains Njord.

The Sam White Bridge replacement was the longest bridge to be moved into place in the Western Hemisphere. UDOT has rolled more new bridges into place than all other states combined.

Bridge moves allow road users to collectively realize savings in the millions of dollars by avoiding construction related delay. Nearly a decade ago, Njord and others from UDOT traveled to Florida to learn about accelerated bridge construction.

Today, UDOT has rolled more new bridges into place than all other states combined, he explains. “The time savings we’ve been able to generate for people who travel on the highways is worth finding new ways to work; we’re on that bleeding edge,” said Njord.

Great expectations

Njord looks forward to seeing new research generate products that will make the transportation system safer and more reliable. SHRP 2, a Transportation Research Board effort, is focusing on developing ways to improve safety at intersections, rehabilitate highways and bridges without disrupting traffic, minimize unpredictable traffic congestion and expand highway capacity while also considering the natural and built environments.

As chair of the USDOT Executive Committee for the Connected Vehicle Program, Njord sees a day when “your children and grand children will be able to purchase a car that will never crash.” Connected vehicle technology will make use of smart roads integrated with other systems to anticipate and eliminate collisions. “That’s pretty awesome, said Njord. “ We don’t see the whole picture today but we will.”

UDOT LEADER OF THE YEAR

Lee Theobald, Business Analyst Supervisor in Systems Planning and Programming is UDOT’s 2011 Leader of the Year.

UDOT Leader of the Year Lee Theobald spoke to employees gathered to honor the nominees. He gave his co-workers all of the credit --"They make me look good," he said.

Eight UDOT leaders and their guests gathered for lunch, great conversation and to be honored for their service by UDOT Director John Njord and UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras. “We do have some very talented people that work here here at the department of transportation — men and women that are leading this organization into new realms,” said Njord.

Kudos to all who were nominated for UDOT Leader of the Year:

Troy Esterholdt – Region One
Lee Nitchman – Region Two
Kurtis Park – Region Three
Ray Bentley – Region Four
Ron Butler – Operations
Stacy Frandsen – Project Development
Tim Rodriguez – Administration / Risk Management
Lee Theobold – Systems Planning and Programming

UDOT Leader of the Year, Lee Theobald: A highly respected leader and mentor, Theobald is famous at UDOT for his expertise, infectious and upbeat personality and his let’s-get-it-done attitude. Theobald’s leadership has helped transform his team into a model of efficiency and accuracy that has earned praise from UDOT leaders, team members and the Federal Highway Administration.

“Over the last thirty three years, Lee as worked his way up through the Planning ranks by being a leader who is dedicated to his work, staff, UDOT and is an inspiration to all those who know him,” according to nominator Stan Burns, UDOT Engineer for Asset Management who nominated Theobald. “Lee knows how to lead, manage and mentor multiple successful teams simultaneously.”

After a recent reorganization, Theobald took on new duties and staff and became responsible for collecting traffic statistics and road data, the Linear Referencing System and the uber important Highways Performance Monitoring System which is tied to more than half of UDOT’s Federal Funding. Theobald faced the challenge by inspiring employees and leading with vision. Within a few months, the disparate groups were transformed into a cohesive, collaborative team.

And, FHWA noticed, according to Burns. “Folks at the federal government said that HPMS report was some of the best they had seen from any state.”

Perhaps the best indicators of Theobald’s leadership ability are the statements made by those he leads. Here are a few statements made team members:

“Lee Theobald is one of those people who make it easy to come to work. Because of his even and pragmatic approach towards the execution of his responsibilities, Lee makes the challenges of work less burdensome, the problems less dramatic, and the successes more rewarding. Lee’s appreciation for his co-workers breeds cooperation, respect, and pride among his teams. Lee is one of those wonderful people that make a difference.” — Toni Butterfield

“Lee has given me the opportunity to use my skills and talent to do the job. He also provides me with plenty of assistance when the need arises. Also he is a very good boss and is there to help you keep focus on the job at hand.” — Doug Malone

“I have worked with Lee for seventeen years now. He is a leader that leads by example. He has always been the easiest going guy. He is always the one to go to for the answer to most questions. He is always willing to help and finds the best way to make the job less stressful. When I need advice he is the one I go to. He is one of those people that everyone has only good things to say about him. Lee will listen to your wants and needs and if he can help or make it happen he usually does. He is a leader that leads by example. Everyone that knows Lee knows that they can trust him and be confident in the answers and advise he gives.” — Pete Bigelow

UDOT U

UDOT University is a collective effort to bring all training offered at the department under one organizational umbrella.

A trainer tests pre-ride skills at the Trans Tech Academy, part of the Transportation Education Program. Courses offered through the TEP can be found through the UDOT U website.

Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, over 400 courses are offered.

The public face of UDOT U is a website, but the organization represents all of UDOT, with over forty people working together to create an inventory of existing training and also expand opportunities. Richard Murdock, UDOT University Administrative Vice President, says organizers are not looking to take over training functions from agency divisions, just create a clearinghouse of opportunity so employees can look across disciplines to find what they need. UDOT U Provost Richard Manser says the effort will make training at UDOT more systematic, organized and easier to find.

UDOT U is organized and operated similar to a regular university with five colleges, 32 schools, a course catalog, registration and a calendar. Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, with over 400 potential courses, enough is offered there to take a good look. Topic wise, “we cover just about anything the dept does,” says Murdock. UDOT is one of only 5 departments of transportation in the United States organizing training in a similar way.

A good example

Training has long been a main focus at UDOT; many divisions have developed comprehensive training programs, much offered on-the-job, to meet specific needs. For example, UDOT’s Transportation Education Program is an excellent and nationally known program and Murdock hopes the TEP can be used as a template for other UDOT U training opportunities.

The TEP prepares Transportation Technicians to perform maintenance and construction tasks – many move back and forth between maintenance and construction by driving a snow plow in the winter and working in a construction spring through fall.  Skills needed for the job include operating front loaders and road sweepers, repairing safety features like guardrail and road delineation markers and gathering and testing construction materials.

The TEP makes use of a wide variety of community based and in-house training opportunities. For example, the Salt Lake Community College teaches Math and in house experts teach how to collect materials for inspection and testing.  The TEP has prepared hundreds of workers to perform the core duties, allowing UDOT to use people-power effectively and efficiently throughout the year.

UDOT U’s future

More courses will be added to UDOT U soon; by July 1 2012, each of the colleges will add 32 new courses. Eight presentations from the last UDOT Annual Conference are also online now, and next year, more sessions will be offered.

Another goal according to Manser is to “have a ladder or a flow chart for every position title at UDOT.” Defining a training “pathway” for each position will promote the development of competency and help employees maintain expertise.

Online access to records is in the works. Murdock and others are working with the Utah Department of Human Resources Management to piggyback on their record keeping system. That way, students can check records online to produce proof of required training or supervisors can see what training employees have taken.

Murdock is looking forward to improving UDOT U by expanding training opportunities and website functionality. He wants all employees and others who work with UDOT to be aware of UDOT U, visit the site and see what is offered there. Manser says with improvements, the system will be easier to use, and more people will access it. “The system is going to grow and get better.”

REAL WORLD ESTIMATES

UDOT’s Estimate Support Team scrutinizes all associated project costs for better pre-bid estimates. 

The team also lends expertise to project teams to appropriately price change orders. The process, called cost-based estimating, is a departure from using average historical costs. Project costs, such as materials, can be subject to fluctuation due to market forces and project location, so an average of historical costs may not provide a good representation of specific project costs. Estimates that are close as possible to market costs allow UDOT to:

  • Allocate funds more wisely – high estimates leave money on the table when bids come in lower than expected. Better estimates mean funds can be shifted to other projects an average four months sooner.
  • Minimize re-advertizing – pre-bid cost estimates that are too low result in bids that may not be subject to approval. Re-advertizing is costly and delays improvements to the transportation system.
  • Be wise stewards of public funds during construction – pricing change orders correctly keeps the construction budget under control and allows UDOT to get the most out of every project dollar.

Chris Wilson, Abdi Fatemi, Jason Henrie and George Lukes are the Estimate Support Team. The team's cost based approach is producing estimates closer to the expected bid amounts.

Since June 2011, the UDOT Estimate Support team members George Lukes of UDOT and Jason Henrie, Abdi Fatemi and Chris Wilson of Stanley Consultants have been integrating with project teams. The team’s cost based approach is producing estimates closer to the expected bid amounts — the percentage of estimate funds awarded at bid opening jumped from 77 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2011.

Working together

Estimating project costs is more than just taking a look at market values. Estimators need to be experienced in the contracting world – “It takes a long, long time to be a good estimator,” says Fatemi. He has over three decades of experience working as a contractor and pricing projects.

Randall Taylor, UDOT Region Four Constructability and Environmental Engineer, has been working with the team since September 2011. He appreciates Fatemi’s extensive background and thinks cost based estimates give project teams “greater confidence that the budget is sufficient” and that the bids will come in near the expected range.

Fatemi knows the contracting world and Taylor knows the characteristics of region projects and local material sources. “We make a good team,” says Taylor. The two have come up with ways to save costs. For example, a Region Four project will re-use milled off tailings where possible instead of purchasing new material  – “energy savings and savings to the project” will result explains Taylor.

Taylor believes the present approach is an advantage. “We’re getting better estimates. We know better where our costs are going to be and we’re in a stronger position to negotiate change orders.”

GOOD TIP

Planners at the Wasatch Front Regional Council are finalizing the 2012-2017 Transportation Improvement Program or TIP, a six-year program of highway and transit projects for Salt Lake, Ogden and Layton.

Projects included in the program will help meet the transportation needs of the area. Updated yearly, the systematic process of putting together the TIP is designed to be continual, comprehensive and cooperative. WFRC works closely with UDOT, the Utah Transit Authority elected officials and the public to finalize the TIP.

The program lists priority projects for the Wasatch Front region that are developed and approved by the WFRC Board and local elected officials, and presented for public review and comment.

The process starts in the fall of each year when WFRC invites project sponsors to submit letters of intent. WFRC planners evaluate each project and determine conformity to the air quality standards. The Technical Advisory Committee, Councils of Governments and the Transportation Coordinating Committee and WFRC planners approve and rank projects.

The projects are incorporated into UDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program  after approval by the UDOT director as the governor’s designee. The STIP is also submitted to Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration for approval and adoption.

The projects listed in the TIP are incorporated into UDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program

TO LIFE

Highways for Life is a Federal Highways Administration funded program to promote the use of new technologies to improve the transportation system.

Geo synthetic Reinforced Soil, layers of "fabric" and soil, allows settlement to occur more quickly and speeds up construction time.

Nationwide, our transportation system is facing increased ADT which can cause greater than anticipated wear on roads and bridges. Transportation research has lead to safer practices and new features that can save lives. With increased traffic, construction that shuts down highways becomes very inconvenient for the traveling public.

New tested technologies that can extend the life of highway infrastructure or improve safety are ready for widespread use – that is, if transportation agencies know about the technologies and have access to funding needed for deployment.

HfL provides up to twenty percent of the total project budget and expertise needed so transportation agencies can adopt market-ready technologies. Projects must serve at least one or all of three main goals: improve safety during and after construction, reduce congestion caused by construction, and improve the quality of the highway infrastructure. The performance goals are meant to serve road users and represent “the best of what we can do,” according to the HfL website.

This year, HfL will support 17 projects being built in the next several months, including an pre-cast bridge in Idaho, an ACS signal system in New Jersey and a DDI in Wyoming. Many of the projects will involve showcase events that will allow people from other transportation agencies to see the new technologies being employed.

UDOT received support for a HfL project using Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil – Integrated Bridge System on I-84 over the Echo Frontage Road. UDOT is a leader in using accelerated bridge construction to reduce inconvenience and delay caused by construction. However, this project is different than other ABC projects UDOT has employed, according to Bridge Design Engineer Rebecca Nix. “The design removes the traditional concrete abutments and the superstructure bears directly on GRS. Using GRSwill allow the bridge to settle uniformly with the adjacent roadway providing a smooth transition onto the structure.”

Construction of the project will be phased to allow traffic to use the roadway during construction. The superstructure will be built in the median, and traffic will be routed over the structure to allow for the construction of the modular block wall foundations. Once the foundations are completed, the superstructure will be slid into place.

RESEARCH BASED SOLUTIONS

Research helps UDOT improve safety and reduce travel delay for road users.

Click to enlarge this graphic: Through research, cable barrier has been shown to improve safety and save lives.

Transportation research is the basis for good decision making, and helps make departments of transportation across the nation good stewards of the transportation system. According to an article in the AASHTO Leading in Lean Times Newsletter, research helps DOTs solve problems and make good decisions. UDOT Executive Director John Njord explains: “Most DOTs today are facing significant funding constraints. We have to focus on making the most of what we have, and research plays an important role in finding effective and efficient solutions.”

Some research-based solutions UDOT has implemented have resulted in a safer, more efficient transportation system.

Safety: Through research, cable barrier has been shown to improve safety and save lives.  Since 2003, UDOT has installed 189 miles of median cable barrier constructed out of steel strong enough to prevent even large trucks from crossing the median.

Reduced construction related delay: UDOT leads the nation in developing Accelerated Bridge Construction techniques that reduce the duration of construction on the road and limit the amount of construction related inconvenience.  By building off-site, then moving those structures into place, bridges can be replaced in hours as opposed to months.

As part of the I-15 CORE project, UDOT built and moved the Sam White Lane Bridge into place. “At 354 feet the Sam White Lane Bridge was the largest ever moved in the western hemisphere using accelerated bridge construction techniques,” said Njord. “We have now moved almost 40 bridges into place using ABC. Why? Because research showed us that the technique was feasible and would result in much shorter delays for the travelling public. We value people’s time and our goal is to minimize the impacts on the public.”

Thousands of Utahns are saving travel time by using the Express Lanes. During peak traffic, users travel about 14 miles per hour faster than the general lanes.

Improved efficiency: Express Lanes on I-15 in Utah average 10-15 percent faster than regular lanes and help UDOT predict travel times. Thousands of Utahns are saving travel time by using the Express Lanes. During peak traffic, users travel about 14 miles per hour faster than the general lanes. The smart new system allows vehicles to take up available space in the Express Lanes so travel time on I-15 is better for everyone. UDOT manages Express Lane use by adjusting the price according to traffic conditions — so when traffic is heavy drivers will pay little more. The system allows maximum use of all lanes with the Express Lanes maintaining a speed of 55 mph during peak travel times.

Improved, state-of-the-art traffic signal timing, developed through research, has reduced travel delay on high-volume roadways.  In 2011, 10 detailed signal coordination projects took place involving 164 signals on 22 corridors, including the busy Salt Lake City business district.  Overall, the improved timing resulted in a 5.5 reduction in travel time, an 11.4 percent reduction in stops, a 14. 7 percent reduction in intersection delay and an estimated $6.2 million in savings to the public in reduced delay.

Utah is growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2015, travel will increase by 85 to 90 percent, population by 70 to 80 percent and new capacity by only seven percent. Facing increased demand on Utah’s transportation system will take careful, strategic planning. Transportation research provides a solid foundation for making informed, intelligent transportation improvements.