Category Archives: Preserve Infrastructure

TALKING TO TRAFFIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using the proper tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

LARGE LOADS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHIELDS

Shield symbols direct road users to the right lanes near interchanges.  

Thermoplastic shields that show route numbers are meant to give drivers a recognizable symbol and advanced notice about which lane leads to the desired route.

Pavement messages that use numbers or letters to give road users information about school zones or other directional help for decades. UDOT is using a fairly new technology to apply thermoplastic markings in the shape of shields to direct drivers to the correct lane at interchanges.

Shields are easily identifiable symbols that drivers know to represent interstates.  The giant stickers are easy to see during the day and retroreflective for good visibility at night. Studies show that the shields are helpful and evaluations indicated the markings are also durable.

Pavement markings provide another visual clue to drivers besides signs.  Drivers who have difficulty interpreting signs may make sudden lane changes and those movements are known to cause crashes. The thermoplastic shields are meant to give drivers a recognizable symbol as further advanced notice about which lane leads to the desired route.

Research conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A and M University shows that road users prefer the shield or other symbol markings over plain numbers. Participants of the study, representing a broad cross section of road users, viewed photos of roadways with symbols or numbers representing freeway types and routes.

Ninety three percent of the participants preferred the symbol type of pavement marking, including shields, as opposed to number only markings. When asked, participants stated that the symbols were colorful, more easily identified and helped identify highway type.

UDOT installed the first shield pavement markings in September of 2008 under the direction of Dan Betts, Region Two Pavement Marking Supervisor. The markings were evaluated fourteen months later. Only minor chipping was found on the edges of the markings on the initial evaluation. Since northern Utah experiences several snow storms a year, pavement markings are subject to being scraped by plow blades. The first shields are still holding up well after several snow seasons.

The shield pavement markings will continue to be used where needed.

FRIDAY PHOTO — PAVEMENT MARKINGS

When snowflakes fly, UDOT plows are out in full force. Plowing makes roads safer, but the scraping action of the plow blades against the pavement is tough on pavement markings.

Dan Betts has pioneered a method of cutting into the pavement slightly to recess the area slightly below the pavement surface. The process makes paint more durable.

Years of UDOT research has shown that recessing paint slightly below the pavement helps markings last three to five times longer because markings are less vulnerable to snow plows. UDOT Region Two Pavement Maintenance Coordinator Dan Betts has pioneered a method of cutting into the pavement slightly to recess the area slightly below the pavement surface.

“We are constantly looking for new products and technologies that are both cost effective and provide long term durability,” writes Ken Berg, Maintenance Planning Engineer. “We are asking pavement marking suppliers to apply a product of their choice and guarantee that it will perform for a 5 year period. Our intent is to eliminate yearly public impact from striping operations by providing the best pavement markings we can with minimal disruption to traffic.”

See more pavement marking photos on UDOT’s Flickr photostream. Thanks goes to Ken Berg for the photos!

WATCHING THE WORK

Transportation Technicians at UDOT guard the public trust.

The Code of Federal Regulations and UDOT’s Standard Specifications require close oversight of all materials used in road construction and maintenance. “By law, we have to be testing and measuring what goes onto the road,” according to Mike Miles, UDOT Region Four Materials Manager. Trans-techs have the responsibility of being at the right place at the right time to observe construction processes and to take samples of materials, like asphalt or concrete, back to a lab for testing.

By filling an important responsibility, Trans-Techs are “guardians of the public trust” because they help assure materials used in construction meet contract requirements, explains Miles. The job has important consequences when it comes to quality and longevity of the transportation system.

Trans-Techs become qualified for the job through training, including classes that focus on maintenance, construction and materials. Mike Adams, an instructor at the annual Trans-Tech Academy training, shows how to collect an aggregate sample.

Trans-Techs become qualified for the job through training, including classes that focus on maintenance, construction and materials. Training increases a Trans-Tech’s skills and abilities required for working at UDOT. On the job site, Trans-Techs need to be prepared to answer questions and make decisions – sometimes tough decisions. Miles compares the role Trans-Techs play to an umpire.

Like a good umpire, Trans-Techs need to know the rules, be at the right place at the right time and control situations by being calm, polite and objective. And, both Trans-Techs and umpires need to be willing to change a wrong decision when necessary.

Miles offers this advice to Trans-Techs: “don’t let the situation get the best of you.” A fast-pitch softball umpire, Miles knows about making quick, accurate decisions. His experience being an umpire was brought into sharp focus when the legendary Peter Meredith launched a few softballs his way.“I learned real quick what was a ball or a strike,” says Miles.

Meredith has an impressive list of achievements including pitching 23 consecutive International Softball Congress World Tournaments, 57 scoreless innings, 60 lifetime wins, many strike-out records and he was a 7-time player on the All World team. Meredith’s pitches are challenging to call, says Miles.

The best fast-pitch softball pitchers throw around 80 mph. Because the pitching mound is only 46 feet from the batter’s box, pitches are tough to hit and call. When up against Meredith, Miles instantly called a few pitches balls. Seeing things differently, the catcher suggested Miles was wrong. Miles took stock of the situation and realized he should change the way he was calling balls and strikes.

Whether it’s fast-pitch softball or road construction, good decisions take thought, expertise and a high level of professionalism. Knowing the rules and making the right calls as a Trans-Tech assures that taxpayers get the best value for each dollar of transportation funding.

JOHN NJORD HONORED

UDOT Executive Director John Njord has received an award for his leadership of the I-15 CORE Project.

UDOT Executive Director John Njord, left, with Executive Director of AASHTO, John Horsley.

Njord was honored with the George S. Bartlett Award because of his “outstanding leadership” of the I-15 CORE, a twenty-four mile freeway widening project in Utah County.

The award is given to leaders who make significant contribution to highway construction progress. Njord’s leadership demonstrates his “exceptional contribution to highway development and innovation” according to a Transportation Research Board press release.

Some past recipients include former US Secretaries of Transportation Mary Peters and Norm Mineta; former US Congressman and Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure James Oberstar; former AASHTO Executive Director Francis B. Francois;  Former FHWA Director Ray A. Barnhart and former FHWA Administrator Thomsas D. Larson.

Njord’s project oversight of the I-15 CORE has set the stage for innovations that have propelled I-15 CORE into the record books for transportation infrastructure construction

At $1.75 billion, I-15 CORE is UDOT’s biggest ever highway reconstruction and the fastest-built project of its size and budget in the United States. The nearly completed project will be finished ahead of schedule and $230 million under budget this December.

The contracting approach, called Fixed-Price, Best-Design, added a best value element to the traditional Design-Build contracting process and allowed UDOT to deliver the best project possible for available funding. UDOT’s request for proposal asked for reconstruction of fourteen miles of freeway; the winning contractor, Provo River Constructors, proposed building twenty eight miles.

Requirements to keep lanes open during construction pressed the contractor to use innovative means, like bridge moves and split-lane configurations, to keep traffic moving and save time for road users.  The Sam White Bridge move was one of the most remarkable time-saving fetes of the project.

Because the Sam White Bridge was built off-site and moved into place in a single weekend, the move resulted in much shorter delays and much less construction impact for the traveling public than the traditional built on-site method. And at 354 feet, structure was the largest bridge ever moved into place the western hemisphere.

The George S. Bartlett award is presented yearly by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and the Transportation Research Board. Established in 1931, by friends of Bartlett, founders intended the award to commemorate his “spirit of friendship and helpfulness.”

BIKE PLANS

The Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study will find ways to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections to transit and lay the groundwork for bicycle and pedestrian plans.

UDOT Region Four already has a pedestrian and bicycle plan, and the work to develop plans in the other regions will be patterned after the Region Four process.

UDOT and the Utah Transit Authority, in cooperation with Wasatch Front Regional Council, Mountainland Association of Governments and Salt Lake County are co-managing UCATS. The goals of the study are to strengthen economic development through improved walking and biking facilities in our communities, to enhance quality of life through active transportation projects that improve the environment and public health, to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety by creating dedicated on and off street facilities, and to increase transit ridership through better active transportation connections to transit stations.

One outcome of the study will be a plan for an urban network of bicycle routes along the Wasatch Front in UDOT Regions One, Two and Three. UDOT Region Four already has a pedestrian and bicycle plan, and the work to develop plans in the other regions will be patterned after the Region Four process – which is not to imply that all plans will have all the same types of features.

“Every region will have a different take on what the bike plan needs,” said Andrea Moser, a planner on the UCATS team.  The plan for each region is intended to close gaps between facilities between city, county and state roads and to plan for maintainable facilities that can be used well into the future. Moser listed some of the activities the UCATS team will perform in order to develop pedestrian and bicycle plans.

Consolidation of local plans – team members will take a look at data and bicycle plans that have been developed by local municipalities and take a close look at previous transportation studies.

Field verification of routes – Sometimes maps produced by municipalities or cycling groups have conflicting information on facilities. UCATS team members are in the process of conducting site visits to confirm bicycle facilities.

A safety review – UCATS team members will conduct a safety review of crashes involving cyclists.

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

The UCATS team will focus on system integration, safety and connectivity to transit. At the end of the day, the study will produce a prioritized list of projects that will be built as funding becomes available.

The UCATS study team is using an interactive website to involve the public. The website 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,” according to Tuddenham. The study team is working to identify gaps and opportunities in order to create a “backbone” of connecting facilities throughout the Wasatch Front.

BUILDING A BRIDGE

POE Agents are committed to fulfill responsibilities to enforce rules and regulations, but accomplish that duty by seeing the motor carrier’s point of view.

Some trucks are checked to make sure that weight carried is appropriate for truck configuration. POE Agent Kim Richins takes measurements of the truck length and width, noting the number of axles, tire width and ratings.

UDOT Ports of Entry are bustling activity hubs where protecting the transportation infrastructure is one important focus. Motorists passing a Port of Entry on an interstate know that trucks stop there to be weighed. However, not many outside the motor-carrier industry know the variety of activities that take place.

POE Agents conduct tasks that protect safety of motorists and preserve the transportation infrastructure. To accomplish the important agency goals, POE Agents need to know about the way trucks operate and the laws that govern the trucking industry.

Being a POE Agent is a challenging occupation. “No day here is the same,” says Leona Dalley, supervisor at the Perry POE. The motor-carrier industry is dynamic, which requires agents to always be learning along with the industry.

Dalley encourages agents at the Perry Port to choose to learn something new every day, and to pay attention to drivers. “They are our very best educators.” Anytime POE Agents choose to have all the answers, she explains, “that’s a big mistake.”

But obtaining knowledge is not enough for the important job. Agents need to have the communication and people skills to ask questions and work with drivers to problem solve also.

Protecting infrastructure

Ports of Entry are bustling activity hubs: agent Kyle Jensen operates the scales, agent Kim Richins views a truck and Supervisor Leona Dalley answers a question about permits.

Big rigs need to conform to federal regulations regarding the length vs. weight ratio with the weight of the cargo spread appropriately over the axles. Weighing trucks and calculating the length to weight ratio is one way UDOT focuses on protecting the state’s transportation infrastructure. Trucks that don’t meet federal regulations could possibly damage pavement, bridges or other structures.

Port workers view all the trucks components, including axles and tires and watch the weight readings as trucks pass over the scales. Some trucks are cleared and others are checked to make sure that weight carried is appropriate for truck configuration.

Port Agents begin by taking measurements of the truck length and width, noting the number of axles, tire width and ratings. Next, the measurements are incorporated into a ‘bridge’ diagram, and POE Agents make calculations based on federal regulations and the truck data.

POE Agent Kim Richins enjoys the work. The calculations seem complicated, but with experience, it becomes natural, he explains. He works quickly and efficiently so drivers can continue on their way.

POE Agents value and respect the drivers and the trucking industry and seek to find solutions in partnership with carriers.

FRIDAY PHOTO

Each Friday, a photo that emphasizes one or more of the Final Four Strategic goals will be featured on the UDOT Blog.

UDOT, in partnership with the Utah Department of Public Safety, met with media to help spread the word that moving is safer than waiting for troopers on the side of the freeway.

The Final Four helps UDOT focus on improving the transportation system and include:

  1. Preserve Infrastructure — The most effective way to preserve the transportation system is to maintain a regular schedule of up-keep to prevent deterioration.
  2. Optimize Mobility — Making improvements that reduce delay on freeways, at intersections and along major corridors and judiciously expanding system capacity keeps traffic moving, The former goals, Increasing Capacity and Make the System Work will be combined into a new goal, Optimize Mobility, which will incorporate .
  3. ZERO Fatalities — Even one death on Utah roads is too many. UDOT strives to reach ZERO Fatalities, a goal we can all live with.
  4. Strengthen the EconomyAn efficient, well maintained transportation system is fundamental to a strong economy.

Some of the photos will be part of a set of images that can be viewed on UDOT’s Flickr photostream in a set with captions that gives information about transportation activities. This Friday Photo shows an image from a media event aimed at telling the public what actions to take after a minor crash. View other photos from this event on Flickr.

UDOT employees, private sector partners or members of the the general public are encouraged to send in photos to be considered for Friday Photo. Send photos along with a caption to Catherine Higgins.