Category Archives: Optimize Mobility

Variable Speed Limit Signs Now Activated on I-80

Photo of Variable Speed Limit sign with a semi passing by on I-80 in Parley's Canyon

Variable Speed Limit sign on I-80 in Parley’s Canyon

The UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) now has a new tool to enhance safety for drivers  on I-80 – one of the most heavily-traveled roads in the state. Last Wednesday (Jan. 8), 15 new variable speed limit (VSL) signs were activated along I-80 in Parley’s Canyon. The new signs will be controlled by the TOC to help maintain consistent traffic flows and assist drivers in adjusting speeds when necessary due to weather conditions.

The 15 signs – 8 eastbound and 7 westbound, located between the mouth of the canyon and Jeremy Ranch, are equipped with LED display screens that allow UDOT to remotely adjust speeds. These adjustments will be made based on driver behavior and road conditions.

“We are always looking for new technologies to help us manage traffic more effectively and enhance safety,” said UDOT Region 2 East District Engineer Robert Miles. “These signs will help keep drivers moving and reduce the number of weather-related crashes in Parley’s Canyon.”

The variable speed limit signs in Parley’s Canyon have been divided into four zones – an eastbound lower zone and westbound lower zone, from the mouth of the canyon to Mountain Dell/Lambs Canyon, and an eastbound upper zone and westbound upper zone, from Mountain Dell/Lambs Canyon to Kimball Junction. When a speed limit is adjusted for a specific zone, the new speed limit will be displayed on all signs within the same zone. These zones were created because of the differences in weather patterns and average speeds observed in the canyon due to changes in elevation.

The TOC will monitor speed limits in the canyon. In the event of poor weather or low visibility, a traffic engineer will be able to review information such as current road conditions, weather forecasts, snowfall rates, observed speeds, and reports from maintenance personnel. Based on this information, the engineer can make the decision to reduce the speed limit as needed. Depending on conditions, speed limits may range from 35 to 65 miles per hour.

The new variable speed limit signs are the first of their kind in Utah. Other states, including Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada, currently use these signs and have observed a reduction in weather-related crashes in areas where these signs are employed. Washington (Snoqualmie Pass – I-90) and Wyoming (east of Evanston – I-80) in particular are using these signs in areas similar to Parley’s Canyon: interstate highways with moderate to heavy traffic, with significant elevation differences, that are prone to inclement weather.

The Parley’s Canyon VSL project was developed jointly by UDOT and the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP). The speed limits posted on these signs are not merely advisory speeds, but regulatory speed limits that will be enforced by UHP troopers.

I-80 in Parley’s Canyon was selected as the location for this pilot project due to its changing weather conditions, heavy traffic, and existing fiber optic communications network. The investment for the design and construction for the new signs was $750,000, and the annual operating expense is estimated between $7,500 and $10,000. UDOT is also considering installing variable speed limit signs in other locations around the state, such as Sardine Canyon and Provo Canyon, based on the results of this project.

This guest post was written by Aaron Mentzer with the UDOT Traffic team.

Consider a Map

Online maps are serving as great communication tools for UDOT Planning’s efforts to develop and improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.

A coordinated active transportation network for pedestrians and cyclists is an essential part of an integrated transportation system that considers the needs of all users. Recently, UDOT Director Carlos Braceras listed five areas of focus for the agency, and he included integrated transportation:

Photo of Road Respect bicyclists riding in traffic“UDOT will actively consider how to best meet the needs of trucks, bikes, pedestrians and mass transit when studying transportation solutions and ensure those solutions are applied to the most appropriate facilities. We will strive to provide Utahns with balanced transportation options while planning for future travel demand.”

How can UDOT employees meet the challenge of communicating and coordinating with the diverse transportation user groups? One way is by using online maps as communication tools.

“When you have a precise illustration, which a map provides, it gets everyone on the same page by relaying a lot of information in a concise, coordinated way,” says Evelyn Tuddenham, UDOT’s Walking and Biking Coordinator in the planning division. “Maps contain so much information – it allows viewers to see the ebb and flow in ways that you can’t accomplish just by looking at numbers.”

Maps as communication tools can enhance collaboration and help convey a distinct message. Here are some examples of how maps are being used to help plan a coordinated active transportation network:

The Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study (UCATS) used online maps on an interactive website to show pedestrians and bicyclists existing facilities and then get feedback about where improvements are needed. Study participants used that information to identify a proposed regional bicycle network that will improve and extend the state’s active transportation system by making facilities safer and improving connectivity to transit.

The outcome of the UCATS study will have a huge impact on the active transportation in Utah by identifying needed improvements and systematically planning ways to coordinated and implement active transportation infrastructure.

screenshot of Utah Bike Maps websiteThe UDOT Walking and biking program is using a series of maps to show cyclists existing routes. The map series idea was proposed by Nick Kenczka, Research Consultant in UDOT Systems Planning and programming. Tuddenham resisted the idea at first, thinking that one map would be simpler.

“It turned out to be a great way to talk to cyclists,” Tuddenham says of the series. “Having a set of maps breaks information down and allows us to present the information in a more coherent way.”

Each map has a separate focus and a separate message. Altogether, the series is an effective tool for cyclists with different needs. Recreational cyclists can check out shoulder widths and other infrastructure elements, the difficulty of the terrain and the screen shot of popular rides online maplength of the route to plan trips. Bike commuters can use the maps to see traffic volume information and to check route. Cyclists can even zoom into specific areas on the maps and take a virtual ride down the road to see what they could encounter on a particular route. The maps are useful tools that can help cyclists make informed travel decisions.

Give it a try

Using maps to communicate is easier than you think. The UPlan Map Center, available on the UDOT Data Portal, allows users to build a custom map, or several maps, quickly and easily. Pre-built maps can also be used and changed to suite communication needs.

Combining a series of maps, like the ones used to communicate with cyclists, takes the help of a UDOT eGIS expert. Contact information for the eGIS team is available on the UDOT Data Portal.

More about maps:

Behind the Scenes at UDOT – November 22, 2013 Wind Storm Response

Photo of UDOT personel receiving an update regarding the weather

UDOT Wind Event Weather Briefing

Weather events can have a huge impact on traffic and traveler delay. The UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) handles routine day-to-day rush hour congestion and traffic signal timing smoothly after years of practice. But what about a large winter storm or wind event?

A significant amount of planning and consideration is needed to ensure that UDOT’s response to a storm is thorough and serving the needs of the public. For the high winds event that affected interstate and highway routes from Woods Cross to Centerville on Nov.21–22, 2013, TOC coordination started with a weather briefing. Weather briefings are generally held 24 to 48 hours before a storm to ensure that the incoming weather data is as accurate as possible. Many UDOT departments attend the weather briefings. The briefings are an essential tool to ensure that the UDOT response to an event

Photo of the portable RWIS stations next to I-15 in Centerville

UDOT Portable RWIS Station (Photo by Cody Opperman)

is coordinated and timely. “The weather briefing discussed what we anticipated, what steps they would take when certain thresholds were met, and a detailed schedule of who would be in charge throughout the event,” said Jason Davis, UDOT’s Director of Operations.

Photo of UDOT maintenance technician J.T. Dziatlik is foul weather gear

UDOT Maintenance Technician J.T. Dziatlik

Following the weather briefing, UDOT employees sprang into action. UDOT began strategically deploying equipment and personnel to assist with equipment malfunctions and outages due to the storm. The Traffic Operations Center had an event coordinator and meteorologist on staff around the clock for the duration of the event.

One of the most valuable pieces of equipment during a wind storm are the Road Weather Information System (RWIS) stations. A portable RWIS was deployed at the epicenter of the wind and communicated wind speeds and gusts back to the TOC. Over the course of the storm, the UDOT weather group posted dozens of Road Weather Alerts on the UDOT Traffic app, website and 511 phone line. The weather group was also in near-constant communication with UDOT’s region offices and maintenance sheds providing storm updates.

UDOT Launches a new Citizen Reporter Program

Diagram showing all of the different data sources for weather operationsCurrent and forecast weather conditions are a critical part of traveler information in Utah.  Utah has many high mountain passes and rural routes that frequently experience hazardous winter weather, and accurate road condition information for these routes is vital for traveler safety and route planning.

The UDOT Citizen Reporting Program enlists volunteers to report on current road conditions along specific roadway segments across Utah.  The volunteers can be UDOT employees, law enforcement, truck drivers, plow drivers, experienced commuters, or other volunteers.  The long term goal of adding Citizen Reporters to UDOT’s weather operations road reporting is to supplement current condition reporting on segments where drivers are already traveling.

All of the incoming data is compiled with carefully crafted logic to determine the condition of the road surface. Reports from plow drivers, law enforcement and other experienced reporters may be utilized in a different way than volunteer citizen data, however all data is immensely valuable and helpful in determining the condition of the road surface.

How do I become a UDOT Citizen Reporter?

In order to become a UDOT Citizen Reporter, you will need to complete a brief training (either online or in person), take a short quiz and complete a sign-up form. The training takes approximately 30 minutes. Once a volunteer has completed these steps, they will be provided with a login and PIN, and can begin submitting reports. Reports are submitted through the UDOT Citizen Reporting app, downloadable for Android and Apple devices from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

If you would like to become a Citizen Reporter, please follow this link to take the online training: For more information or to schedule an in person training, email

2013 Construction Season Nears the End

The leaves have turned, the first snow has fallen on the mountains, and the 2013 construction season is nearing an end. UDOT and contractor crews have completed more than 200 road construction projects statewide in 2013. By the end of the year, 216 projects will have been carried out state roads and Interstates from Plymouth to St. George and from Wendover to Vernal. Each one of these projects was designed to help accomplish one or more of UDOT’s strategic goals:

    Photo of crews working along I-80 in Parleys Canyon

    Construction crews installing a new 66″ concrete pipe along I-80 in Parleys Canyon.

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

In 2013, most construction projects fell under the goal to Preserve Infrastructure. These repaving and rehabilitation projects will keep Utah’s roads in good condition and prevent the need for more costly repairs in the future. Maintaining our highways helps them last as long as possible, and benefits the economy by keeping people, goods, and services moving throughout the state.

In 2012, UDOT completed 229 projects with a total value of $2,783,444,049, which included the I-15 CORE and Mountain View Corridor projects. By comparison, the total value of projects scheduled for completion in 2013 is $631,489,082. To make the best use of a much smaller budget during the 2013 construction season, the department focused on maintaining and making minor improvements to Utah’s roads, rather than major expansion or reconstruction efforts.

During the 2013 construction season, UDOT has resurfaced or repaired pavement on more than 400 miles of Utah highways and roads, and has completed 12 bridge repair or replacement projects. Some notable projects that have been completed or are scheduled for completion this year include:

    Photo of new bridge over I-15 at St. George Blvd during construction

    Workers constructing a new bridge over I-15 as part of the new DDI at St. George Boulevard.

  • I-80 Culvert Installation: Workers installed approximately two miles of 6-foot-diameter concrete pipe along I-80 in Parley’s Canyon to replace the original drainage system constructed in the 1960s.
  • I-15 Widening: Crews widened an 8-mile section of I-15 in southern Utah County from two lanes to three this year to reduce congestion and accommodate future growth in the area.
  • St. George Boulevard Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI): Workers are converting the existing interchange at I-15 and St. George Boulevard into Utah’s fifth operating DDI to improve the flow of traffic.
  • U.S. 89/91 Repaving: Crews repaved U.S. 89/91 in Cache County from Sardine Summit to Wellsville.
  • U.S. 89 (State Street) Widening: Workers widened and repaved a two-mile section of State Street between Orem and Pleasant Grove.
  • Bangerter Highway Continuous Flow Intersection (CFI): Crews completed a new CFI at the intersection of Bangerter Highway and 13400 South to improve traffic flow in southwest Salt Lake County. Utah leads the nation with 11 CFIs (there are only 20 total in the nation).
  • I-215 Concrete Maintenance: Workers repaired concrete on I-215 from S.R. 201 to North Temple to extend the useful life of the pavement.

Moving forward in 2014, UDOT will widen I-15 at the Point of the Mountain and in Davis County, as well as continue its aggressive focus on maintaining existing roads.

This guest post was written by Leigh Gibson from the UDOT Traffic team. 

Traffic Signal Performance Measures announced as a 2013 AASHTO Innovation Initiative

Engineer Mark Taylor working in an open traffic signal cabinet

Engineer Mark Taylor working in a traffic signal cabinet.

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

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

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

Whatever the Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RWIS on Riverdale Road Photo

    RWIS on Riverdale Road

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of the funeral processon on I-215

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

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

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

Photo of wall of images from the Traffic Operations Center

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

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

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

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

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

I-15 CORE Selected as National Top-Ten Project; Now Up to Public Vote

I-15 and University Parkway Aerial photo

University Parkway

In August I-15 CORE was picked as one of the top 10 finalists for the 2013 America’s Transportation Award sponsored by the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As a finalist, I-15 CORE is eligible for either the Grand Prize, which is awarded by a panel of judges, or the People’s Choice award, which is based on public voting. The winner receives a $10,000 donation for a local charity, and UDOT has selected United Way of Utah County for the donation. United Way of Utah County works to create lasting improvements in the community in the areas of education, income and health.

To vote, go to the following link, and select I-15 CORE.  Each person can vote up to 10 times a day through Oct. 2.

I-15 CORE was completed in December 2012 as the fastest billion-dollar highway project built in U.S. history. The project included the widening and reconstruction of 24 miles of I-15 from Lehi to Spanish Fork and was $260 million under budget.

United Way of Utah County seeks to help those most vulnerable in the community, focusing on three areas that are building blocks of a good life: education, income and health.

This is a guest post written by I-15 CORE communications team member Christina Davis.

Update: Thanks to everyone who voted. We didn’t win the people’s choice award but did win the Grand Prize and $10,000 for United Way of Utah County. Congratulations I-15 CORE team and United Way!

GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four

UDOT Region Four takes in half of the state. While other regions face heavy snow or urban traffic, Region Four’s challenge is to coordinate work over a large area. Geographic Information System (GIS) tools have helped that coordination process.

The following post is the first of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system.

Data Portal screenshotGIS data can be accessed at the UDOT Data Portal.  Much of the information on the site is geo-referenced – that is, given an exact spatial location. The UDOT Data Portal also has tools to view and analyze the data sets. Tools include maps and the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram generator. Both tools can be populated with multiple data sets, like the location of culverts or bridges. Data sets can also be downloaded.

Maps and apps improve work coordination

The Utah Prairie Dog, which occupies habitat within the right-of-way of many highways in Region Four, is afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act. UDOT recently completed a formal consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service that defined measures to minimize impacts to this species.

As part of implementing these measures, UDOT uses GIS and GPS tools to identify and quantify the acreage of habitat of temporary and permanent impacts. The tools expedite surveying and monitoring efforts so UDOT can quickly complete necessary road work.

Material pits are the sources of rock, sand and gravel used on construction and maintenance projects. Pits located on BLM or US Forrest Service land require permits.

An app that geographically displays the pits along with their permitting information is helping UDOT employees stay on top of the permitting process. The app generates an automatic email six months before expiration of the permit so UDOT won’t risk losing access to pits.