Category Archives: Preserve Infrastructure

ROAD VIEW ROCK STARS

By Catherine Higgins and Gary Kuhl

An innovative and robust data collection system will help UDOT take better care of assets associated with state roads.


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The Mandli Road View’s decked out Hummer gets attention when it cruises through town. Some onlookers even have concerns about privacy. But the sophisticated gear mounted on the front and back of the vehicle does not  spy on people; the equipment collects information about assets associated with roads. For UDOT, those assets include thousands of miles of pavement and thousands of bridges, overpasses, signs, barrier and guardrail.

Mandli Communications, Inc. recently displayed the vehicle for UDOT engineers from UDOT Traffic and Safety, Maintenance, Structures, Motor Carriers and Asset Management. The three UDOT departments are combining forces to collect asset data. UDOT engineers overseeing the project are not aware of any other departments of transportation that are collecting as much data in one pass as is occurring in Utah.

Data collection will be accomplished by using five integrated systems:

High definition LiDAR sends out bursts of light to measure the distance to an object. LiDAR can collect “over a million points per second” according to the vendor’s website. While other methods collect asset data like pavement condition every few feet, LiDAR creates a spatially accurate point cloud for a continuous accurate measurement of pavement and all surrounding roadway assets, including vertical clearance for the overpasses.

  • Three HD cameras that record two hundred frames per mile will take a right-of-way inventory for a visual record of roads and associated assets. The photographs will allow users to take a virtual drive on any state route. The images will also be available for public view.
  • A Laser Crack Measurement System will detect, measure and classify pavement cracks and wheel path rutting.
  • An ARRB Hawkeye profiling system uses accelerometers and lasers to measure the profile of the road surface and from that data, will derive IRI, a measure of pavement smoothness.
  • Together, a GPS system, Gyroscopic Aplanix and distance measuring system will Geo-reference all of the data and provide integration with UDOT mile posts. Additionally this data will provide GIS linework for each route, horizontal curve, elevation and grade data.

Mandli was selected to provide the services through a competitive selection process. Asset data collection will be colleced on entire state system including ramps and collectors, and will include the number of lane miles, surface areas including width of shoulders and medians, all signs, guardrail, cable barrier and rumble strips. After collection, the Utah Department of Technology Services and UDOT Engineering Technology Services will develop an integrated database for displaying, querying and analyzing assets on an easy to use desk top application.

Departments of transportation across the nation, including UDOT, have traditionally maintained stand-alone data bases for each asset category to track maintenance and inspection data. An integrated data base will help UDOT have a better understanding of the transportation system as a whole and make better use of funding, staffing and other resources used to care for state assets.

UGATE

UDOT is developing a GIS backbone for sharing and viewing information about the state’s transportation system.

This screen shot shows the straight line diagram component of the Explorer Application. Designed to have broad utility, the application helps us display linear relationships which can be hard to view in a typical map.

UGate is a robust data repository that is automatically populated by many data base systems already in place. Once uploaded to UGate, data can be integrated with other information and accessed by end-users via web application portals like UPlan.

The big picture

The effort is allowing UDOT’s information to be less fragmented and “more consistent and concerted,” says Frank Pisani who heads the Enterprise GIS Team. Stand-alone databases exist in many forms all departments ac cross UDOT. Now, layers of information, such as future and past projects, bridge inspections, pavement quality, can be viewed together to give a more complete picture of the state’s transportation system.

As an illustration, Electric Program Management is a database used to track project funding, scheduling and staffing. Currently, ePM automatically uploads to UGate and along with other information, is part of Transparency In Government Spending, an application portal that lets end users see the ePM information integrated with an interactive map (like the example below) and query tools.

Department of Technology Services programmer Ruben Schoenefeld is on the UGate development team. He points out that having a data set on display via a web-based application instead of a spreadsheet or other stand-alone form has  advantages. Quality control can be managed more easily. “Even though it may be scary for the data owners to put their data ‘out there’ for others to see, they profit from it by getting feedback.”


View Larger Map

Successful data integration

Data collection needs to be web-based in order to auto-feed into UGate. Culvert inspection data, for example, will soon be collected via smart-phone. The GIS capability of smart phones will make data upload seamless, not to mention easy and accurate.

Besides TIGS, “there are now multiple applications that use that structure,” says Schoenefeld, naming Highway Reference Online as another example. Once a feature of the UGate system is put in place, multiple applications can take advantage of that feature. The interactive map is one example.

Schoenefeld has enjoyed being part of the effort to improve the way data can be used. “It’s fun to see it all come together,” he says.

Learning the system that creates features like the interactive map has been challenging for programmers. But the promise of integrated data in a system that will have years of utility for UDOT is worth the effort. Pisani believes UGate is a “web tier delivery architecture that we feel can accommodate future changes in technology.”
Getting the word out

Steve Quinn, UDOT Director of ePM and ETS and Pisani are planning to take the message on the road – visits to the UDOT Regions are being planned for this summer. Both are anxious to show what GIS can do to help improve the way UDOT builds and maintains the state’s transportation infrastructure.

UTAH TRAVEL STUDY UPDATE

For the last three months, transportation planners have been asking Utahans how, when and where they travel.

The Utah Travel Study will help planners prioritize highway and transit projects for the 30-year long range transportation plan.

Sponsored by six agencies, including Metropolitan Planning Organizations and UDOT, the Utah Travel Study has contacted more than five thousand households across Utah so far. Over eight thousand college students have also participated. And this summer, a special bicycle and pedestrian survey will collect information to help planners “understand more about bike and walk travel behavior and needed improvements in Utah,” says Elizabeth Greene, with Resource Systems Group, Inc. Research firms RSG and Westat, are administering the survey on behalf of the sponsoring agencies.

The survey asks participants to provide basic demographic and vehicle information, including the number and characteristics of adults and children and number and type of vehicles available in the household. Participants are also asked to report information about trips made in one 24-hour weekday period and answer questions about transportation priorities.

Once compiled, the database will help planners prioritize highway and transit projects for the 30-year long range transportation plan. UDOT and other transportation agencies spend billions of dollars on highway and transit projects, and the data gathered by the survey will help planners ensure that money is well spent.

All six sponsoring agencies will have access to the database for planning and research. The data base will not include personal information – such as names or contact information – of the respondents. Some of the results will be published as a brief report so sponsoring agencies can share what they’ve learned with the public.

“Travel demand modelers, transportation planners, and policy-makers across the state of Utah will all analyze the data as part of their jobs,” explains Greene. “The first and foremost goal is to understand travel patterns and travel needs in order to best plan for future transportation improvements and investments.”

UDOT and other transportation agencies “really values the participation of Utahan’s from across the state.”  It’s important to hear from everyone who is contacted. Only by hearing from everyone can the state of Utah best understand the overall travel patterns and travel needs in the state and thereby best plan improvements and investments in the future,” explains Greene.

“To prepare for the Olypmic Games ten years ago, Utah invested heavily in transportation projects. Since then, development of our transportation system has continued, benefiting our economy, safety, and quality of life,” says UDOT Director John Njord. ” The Utah Travel Study will help UDOT in making decisions about future investments as we continue to develop our transportation system while preserving our existing assets and infrastructure.”

Data collection will continue throughout the summer.

INTELLIGENT COMPACTION

UDOT Project Manager Jim Golden and UDOT Engineer for Technology and Support Brent Gaschler

The Federal Highways Administration and UDOT will partner to study an innovative method for compacting pavement.

Proper compaction of asphalt pavement is critical when building or reconstructing roads. Without proper uniform compaction, differential settlement can lead to cracking and water intrusion can cause breaks and potholes, and overall, both conditions can shorten pavement life.

UDOT and FHWA will study the use of Intelligent Compaction equipment this summer on a project on US 89 and SR 180 in UDOT Region Three. The purpose of the study is to relate IC measurements to nuclear gauge or coring density tests to demonstrate how the system can be used for improved quality control and quality assurance.

IC systems are similar to regular compactors equipped with GPS to determine the location and number of passes, sensors to determine the increasing stiffness of the pavement. As the compactor makes passes, the GPS and stiffness measurements are integrated to a digital display that gives the operator a comprehensive real-time picture of the compaction process. All information is recorded and can be downloaded for review by the project owner.

Core samples of the HMA will be taken “to see the correlation between stiffness and density” and demonstrate the value of this tool for QA/QC, says Brent Gaschler, UDOT Engineer for Technology and Support, who is working with FHWA to coordinate the effort. The demonstration of the IC method will take place during four days in late July or early August at the contractor’s discretion.

INNOVATION

Gilbert Chlewicki , known as the Father of the DDI, gave the keynote address at the UDOT Research Workshop.

Gilbert Chlewicki spoke about innovation at the UDOT Research Workshop. "Innovation does not have to be provocative or really out there, it can be very simple."

Chlewicki focused his remarks on innovation and some of the key ways creativity is fostered in engineering organizations. UDOT employees are familiar with many of his talking points – leaders at UDOT purposely create an environment where innovation is encouraged.

According to Chlewicki, barriers to innovation can include organizational disconnect between engineering specialties and a general disinclination on the part of members of the engineering profession to try new things combined with fear of failure.

Most departments of transportation are structured in ‘pillars’ with very little overlap between areas of specialty, such as design or traffic operations. For innovation to occur, engineers in transportation agencies need to understand how different specialties co-relate.

For example, “it’s good to understand how geo-metrics and traffic operation work together,” said Chlewicki. He also pointed out that engineering is a conservative profession and in a department of transportation – or any organization – fear of failure can subvert innovation.

Are the cards stacked against innovation? Chlewicki seemed optimistic that innovation can be fostered and encouraged and offered some suggestions for employees and organizations:

  • Don’t get bogged down by a standard, code or a process. Finding a solution may be outside of the commonplace approach.
  • Look for uncomplicated solutions. “Innovation does not have to be provocative or really out-there, it can be very simple.” Chlewicki pointed to the Diverging Diamond Interchange as an example of a simple solution. Named by by Popular Science magazine as one of the best innovations in 2009, the DDI switches traffic to the opposite side of the roadway in order to avoid left-turn conflicts.
  • “Hang out with other innovators.” Creativity can rub off!
  • Organizations should reward innovation if possible and try to provide an environment where failure is not punished.

It’s good to make room for an ‘ah ha!’ moment. While looking to innovation as a way to solve transportation challenges is necessary in the modern world, once in a while, innovation just happens. “It’s not always need based,” said Chlewicki. “…sometimes it comes out of nowhere.”

TRAILBLAZER AWARD

Dr. Kyle M. Rollins, researcher and Professor of Civil Engineering at BYU has won the UDOT Research Division’s annual Trail Blazer Award.

UDOT Director of Research Cameron Kergaye, Trailblazer award recipient Dr. Kyle Rollins and workshop organizer Kevin Nichol pose after the award ceremony. Rollins is known in Utah and around the country for research on pile foundations.

Rollins was honored at the annual Research Workshop lunch. Last year’s winner, Blaine Leonard praised Rollins for his contribution to a broad range of research topic areas and for the innovative and creative ways he has accomplished that research.

“The Trailblazer Award is recognition of long time contributions to transportation research in Utah,” said Leonard. The honor is given to people who “start new paths for the rest of us to follow.” Rollins is known in Utah and around the country for research on pile foundations and load testing and is one of the few researchers that “does a fair amount of full scale load testing on piles,” said Leonard. Some of Rollins’ resent research includes evaluating and predicting corrosion rates of piles, evaluating the interaction between soil-abutment-bridge structures for seismic performance based design and field testing of colloid silica grouting for mitigation of liquefaction risk.

A “creative guy,” Rollins does dynamic testing using a tool called a statnamic – it’s basically a rocket engine, explained Leonard. This means, not only is Rollins geotechnical engineer, “he’s also a rocket scientist,” joked Leonard.

Rollins also partners effectively with the private sector, said Leonard, and often finds funding and other resources needed to carry out testing thoroughly and cost effectively. He stays on the cutting edge of research and also has the ability to develop research projects that produce practical solutions for the real world – “stuff that has been really useful.”

Rollins gave credit to UDOT’s innovative and accepting culture and to smart, hardworking students at BYU. “I have had success “because of the situation I have been in… UDOT is a pretty innovative organization.” His colleagues around the country “don’t always have that situation.”

Rollins appreciates UDOT’s acceptance of innovative testing methods, such as using small explosive charges to liquefy soil and sand boxes on a table top, and notes that some of his testing methods have received international recognition.

STOPPING SCOUR

UDOT has recently surveyed bridges over waterways with unknown foundations and identified which is at risk for scour.

Montezuma Creek

Over time, water can excavate soil and rocks from around bridge piers, piles and abutments causing bridge scour and putting the structure at risk for premature failure. Scour can happen gradually on structures with constant slow moving water or quickly during a flood event.

This concrete wall provides a permanent fix for scour.

Bridge inspectors check for scour along with other structural features of bridges on regular inspections that occur within every 24 months. For bridges over waterways, inspectors look at the bridge structure, orientation, geomorphic conditions , the type of rock or soil near the abutments, the location of sediment carried by the water, and the angle, magnitude and duration of the flow. Inspectors also check piers or piles for evidence of scour holes (where water has excavated soil from around structures) or corrosion on structural elements.

Inspectors take detailed notes about the location of potential or actual problem areas. Close regular monitoring is a way to “keep our finger on the pulse of the bridge,” explains UDOT Central Hydraulics Engineer Denis Stuhff.

After inspection, a Plan of Action is developed for each bridge that includes management strategies and countermeasures for keeping the bridge safe for the traveling public before, during and after a flooding event. Sometimes permanent structural countermeasures are taken; however the most common countermeasure is the addition of strategically placed riprap.

Placing riprap is an economically sound and effective approach that allows UDOT to address the potential of scour at all bridges rather than just a few since pinpointing which bridges will be vulnerable from year to year is not an exact science. “At any time, any bridge over a waterway may have a flood,” says Stuhff who uses a gambling metaphor to explain.

“Catchment areas in Utah are like one big casino. We put our hydrology quarter in our hydrology slot machine once a year and we pull the handle… somewhere in the state, it’s paying off.”

UDOT DIRECTOR TO RECEIVE DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI AWARD

John Njord received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Utah Department of Civil Engineering.

UDOT Director John Njord

Njord received the Distinguished Alumni Award and was inducted into the CE Academy. The award is given to an “alumnus that has been influential in education, industry, business, government, or construction,” according a Department of Civil Engineering newsletter.

Njord’s leadership has “made this transportation agency the envy of transportation agencies across the country and in fact, around the world,” says UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras. “John is one of those exceptional leaders that allowed every employee in this agency to be their best.”

Njord joined the Utah Department of Transportation in 1988 after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering degree from the University of Utah. He worked as a Field Engineer, Local Governments Liaison Engineer, Engineer for Urban Planning, Director of Olympic Transportation Planning and Deputy Director before becoming Executive Director in 2001.

Braceras credits Njord’s “natural leadership and his caring for the employees” for making UDOT “a productive place to make a difference.”

Njord said he was “shocked” and “obviously honored” on learning of his selection, especially in light of previous recipients and their accomplishments in this community. “I realize that in many ways I am the face of the department – I am the front guy,” he said. Njord believes that the  accomplishments made by department employees “has drawn recognition to me.”

Under his direction, Njord has led the effort to use innovative solutions to improve the transportation system in Utah. UDOT leads the nation in Accelerated Bridge Construction. Thirty-seven bridges associated with interstate highways have been built off-site and moved into place. The agency has pioneered the design and construction of innovative intersections and interchanges that have enhanced traffic mobility.

His role as he sees it is “to provide an environment where folks feel like they can solve problems.” Njord seeks to foster “a healthy environment where the best ideas can come forward.”

While some think of engineers as professionals who seek to work strictly by the book, Njord takes exception to that view. “True engineering begins as textbook engineering,” said Njord. “When you depart from ‘chug and plug’ engineering, all the innovation lights can turn on.”

Njord believes that any engineering problem can be solved when employees are willing to explore any idea. “And in the end, we are doing a great service for the citizens of our state.”

“I believe most of our employees go home and think ‘we’re doing good things.’”

The other CE Academy inductees are:

C. Ross Anderson
David Eckhoff
Paul Hirst
Jim Nordquist
Ron Reaveley

DOCTOR SEEKS SLOW CURE

Prolonged internal curing promises to help concrete resist shrinkage and cracking.

Concrete designed for internal curing resists shrinkage and cracking. The small plywood square in the foreground is a temporary cover for a sensor embedded in the concrete that will help researchers gather data.

BYU researcher Dr. Spencer Guthrie is comparing and evaluating the performance of concrete on two concrete bridge decks – one is made of regular concrete and the other is made with “pre-saturated lightweight aggregate fines,” explains Guthrie.  “My particular task is to quantify the differences between this type of concrete and conventional concrete in bridge deck applications.”

Adding the wet, fine aggregate causes prolonged internal curing which has been shown to reduce shrinkage and cracking in concrete.* Internal curing also makes the concrete less porous and therefore delays the intrusion of water and dissolved chemicals and minerals that eventually cause the steel reinforcement to corrode.

A detailed explanation of internal curing can be found in a YouTube video of a presentation given by Dr. Jason Weiss of Purdue University School of Civil Engineering. According to Weiss, “internal curing increases hydration and ‘densifies’ the system.”

Concrete (basically cement and aggregate) cures through a chemical reaction, called hydration, which occurs when water saturates the cement. Internal curing is especially useful when it comes to high performance concrete that has a very dense aggregate matrix. Concrete mixes that are designed to be dense and structurally robust restrict water movement during the curing process.

Pre-wetted aggregate temporarily holds water in the concrete mixture without increasing the water-cement ratio.  As the hydration unfolds, tiny pockets of water in the aggregate continue to react with the cement. “When we get more internal curing water, we keep the system moist, we keep the system reacting, we keep hydrating the cement which means we’re going to have lower overall porosity in the system,” says Weiss.

Guthrie and engineers at UDOT will eventually have objective data that will show the differences between conventional concrete and concrete designed for internal curing. Sensors embedded in the concrete measure time, water content, temperature, and electrical conductivity, which is a good representation of permeability. Guthrie and others will also conduct strength and durability tests in the lab.

Weiss claims that internal curing can effectively double the life of bridge decks, making it possible to use transportation resources more wisely.

 *According to Guthrie: “Shrinkage always happens before cracking (and is often the cause of the cracking).”

LIGHT ROCKS

Lightweight concrete proved to be a good solution for a deck replacement project in rural Utah.

Lightweight concrete is not commonly used for constructing bridge decks according to Joshua Sletten, Structures Design Manager at UDOT. Some of the barriers to using lightweight concrete are availability of aggregate and slightly higher cost. Additionally “many engineers simply aren’t familiar with it and may shy away from it for that reason.”

However, light weight concrete was a good choice for the Taggart Bridge. The twin structures that carry I-84 over the Union Pacific Railroad were originally built in 1967. Lightweight concrete allowed the bridge deck to accommodate a thicker deck and asphalt overlay to meet the adjoining freeway profile and not exceed the load capacity of the older, pre-stressed concrete girder bridges.

 


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The bridge geometry, along with the need to keep the freeway open during construction, presented challenges that were met by UDOT, Hanson Structural Precast and Granite Construction Company Inc. Design was the project’s first hurdle.

Both bridges are three-span structures on a curved alignment. A total of sixty individual deck panels were designed, and “no two panels were the same,” according to UDOT Design Engineer Robert Nash. He kept the outside dimensions the same where possible but “the location of shear blockouts and leveling devices were different for every panel.” Each panel was designed utilizing reinforcing bars grouted into the top flanges of the concrete beams.

Hanson created precise shop drawings for each pre-cast panel. An indoor pre-cast yard made Hanson immune to weather delay, and a rigorous internal quality control process eliminated fit issues at the construction site. Panels used concrete with Expanded Shale Lightweight Aggregates from Utelite Corporation, a local supplier.

Granite Construction achieved UDOT’s aggressive construction schedule requirements while keeping traffic moving during construction. Workers even kept pace during snow flurries and low temperatures that would have stopped a cast-in-place deck pour.

In addition to the deck replacement, Granite also completed extensive substructure repair work on columns, pedestals, bent caps, wingwalls beam ends and backwalls. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget and won Granite’s project of the year award among entries costing up to $5 million and UDOT’s Rural Project of the Year.

The lightweight concrete deck panels seem to be performing well, according to Sletten. “I think you will see it utilized more frequently in the future.”