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WYDOT SPEED STUDY

Variable Speed Limit Signs have helped reduce crashes on a 45 mile section of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie in Wyoming.

I-80 in Wyoming -- wind and snow can cause low visibility and slick roads.

Photo courtesy Tom Kelly Photography. See the link below for more images.

Driving on the stretch of roadway can be treacherous when wind and snow combine to make for slick roads and poor visibility. “That’s our biggest challenge,” says Ken Schultz, WYDOT State Maintenance Engineer. To help motorists deal with road weather and improve safety, the Wyoming Department of Transportation studied the area and then placed speed VSL signs that can be changed according to conditions.

This WYDOT Traffic Camera photo shows I-80 between Laramie and Rawlins.

The signs, along with RWIS stations and speed detectors are connected to an intelligent transportation system that feeds data on speed and weather to Wyoming’s Transportation Management Center in Cheyenne. Online cameras let engineers and motorists see the conditions. Before speed is adjusted, engineers monitor traffic and weather to establish a pace speed more in line with conditions, and also consult WYDOT maintenance workers and highway patrol troopers in the area.

The protocol for reducing speed that uses weather, speed and experiential data has worked well,   says Schultz. “Everybody is really tuned in to it.” Speed sensors show that drivers are responding to the lowered speed on the VSL signs. Since the signs have been placed, fewer crashes have occurred. Schultz also believes that a switch to better de-icing chemicals have also played a role at improving safety.

While winter weather makes winter driving challenging, speed differential also contributes to unsafe conditions. When some vehicles are driving slowly and some are driving very fast, crashes are more likely to occur.

According to NCHRP Report 505, “studies show that regardless of the average speed on the highway, the more a vehicle deviates from the average speed, the greater its chances of becoming involved in a crash.”

Schultz believes the VSL signs, along with warning signs  and online cameras, have provided better information that “does help folks to make decisions about their travel,” including driving slower or even delaying travel until conditions improve.

UDOT is preparing to evaluate I-80 through Parley’s Canyon as a location that may be appropriate for VSL signs. Although all locations are different and need to be evaluated individually, like I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie, many of the crashes that do occur in Parley’s are due to weather and speed differential.  

For more:

  • Read an article by Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune
  • See more photographs of I-80

RAILROAD INTERMODAL FREIGHT SERVICE IN UTAH

A guest post by Daniel B. Kuhn, UDOT Railroad & Freight Planner

One of the most impressive sights in the diverse world of freight transportation in Utah is that of a lengthy Union Pacific Railroad double-stack container train speeding along at 60 MPH or more. These trains have been a common sight on select Utah railroad lines since the mid-1980s when transcontinental double-stack operations began. Known as intermodal trains in railroad parlance, these special trains carry domestic and international cargo containers two high on specialized rail cars that reduce weight and fuel consumption by being articulated into sets ranging from three to five cars in length.

Providing good highways to move the truck freight is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

Intermodal freight transportation combines the best of highway and rail service, combining trucking’s speed and flexibility with railroading’s fuel efficiencies and economies of scale when moving mass quantities of containers. Trucking will continue to dominate freight movement across North America inasmuch as most freight moves short distances or requires speedy delivery which railroads cannot match. However, while Utah’s primary freight network highways are in superb condition, the freight highway routes in many states are not. This combined with the fact that trucking is usually more expensive than intermodal is diverting a growing amount of freight to the railroads.

One key advantage railroads have with intermodal freight service is their ability to run longer trains with the same number of crewmembers. Here in Utah UP intermodal trains have grown from 80 to 100 cars in length to as much as 200 cars. The use of environmentally-sensitive, high-efficiency diesel-electric locomotives placed at strategic locations within a given train, and operated via computer-aided radio control from the lead locomotive, has made these huge trains possible. This practice, known as Distributed Power Units (DPU) is also used on other types of freight trains running in Utah.

Most of the freight carried by Union Pacific’s intermodal trains is passing through Utah en route to and from west coast seaports and Midwestern and eastern cities, Salt Lake City is also home to one of Union Pacific’s largest intermodal freight terminals. The Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal (SLCIT) is located on the west side of the city along 5600 West (State Route 172) between the S.R. 201 freeway and Interstate 80. SLCIT’s location gives trucks serving that facility quick access to the primary freight network highways that link the Wasatch Front with the rest of the Mountain West region.

Utah is already the crossroads for long-distance trucking in western America, having the highest truck traffic percentage (23% of total traffic on Utah highways is large trucks) of all 50 states. Providing good highways to move the truck freight heading to and coming from Union Pacific intermodal trains at SLCIT is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

UP intermodal trains serve SLCIT every day en route to and from the Midwest and southern California, with the facility averaging around 500 containers and truck trailers, the later known as Piggyback when carried by train, being handled each day. On average from 900 to 1200 trucks arrive and depart SLCIT on a daily basis, with weekends being the busiest times. Utah’s highways are critical links in SLCIT’s ability to serve as the regional hub for intermodal rail and truck freight service. Containers and piggyback trailers are trucked as far distant as Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from SLCIT.

Northern Utah sits at the crossroads of two major UP intermodal routes, with trains bound for northern California and the Port of Oakland passing through Ogden and crossing the famous Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake, while southern California trains serve SLCIT and then head southwest via Milford and Las Vegas to the Los Angeles Basin. East of Ogden, the trains of both routes use the historic Overland Route mainline across Wyoming and Nebraska, which was part of America’s first transcontinental railroad. Double-stack trains do not use UP’s former Rio Grande mainline over Soldier Summit en route to Helper and Denver as the tall container stacks will not fit through the many tunnels along that route.

According to the Association of American Railroads, the major Class 1 rail carriers in the U.S. and Canada carried 13.7 million trailer and container loads in 2010. While this amount sounds large, truck freight on our highway system was between four and five times that amount. However, rail intermodal is expected to grow at a rate of around six percent each year through 2022 according to the American Trucking Association. Depending upon future economic conditions, the sight of those long and colorful double-stack trains will continue to be an increasing part of the Utah transportation scene, further reinforcing Utah’s status as the freight and logistics Crossroads of the West…

HIGH MAST UPDATE

Lighting maintenance on I-15 in Salt Lake County is nearly complete and nighttime drivers should notice that the freeway is brighter.

A worker raises the high-mast light fixtures after completing maintenance.

One of the most common reasons people call the UDOT main office is to express concern about freeway lighting. Appropriate lighting is important to safety. According to numerous studies (see NCHRP Project No. 5-19, P. 73)  night time crashes can be reduced by over 20 percent at some locations by adding lighting. System to system interchanges and other places where the freeway is complex having many directional signs indicating interchanges or exits benefit from good lighting. For example, on the I-15 to I-80 interchange in Salt Lake County, lighting helps assist state-to-state motorists head in the right direction.

Work on high-mast lights on I-15 is almost complete.

UDOT has been working hard to replace centerline lighting on I-15 through the Salt Lake Valley.  High mast fixtures, ballasts and fuses need to be replaced about every four years. Starting from 106th South and proceeding north, crews have been working on Sundays to re-lamp the freeway.

Good news – the work is nearing completion. “There are a few poles along there with circuit problems, but we will get that addressed soon,” according to Richard Hibbard, UDOT Traffic and Safety Signal and Lighting Engineer. “The I-215 South Interchange gore areas still need some work as well.”

Shane Killen with Black and McDonald of Sandy, Utah has been managing the project. “It’s been a pretty routine process,” says Killeen, who has been working with crews on successive Sundays to avoid heavy traffic. Other than a few snow days and some underground power issues, the work has gone well. Killeen anticipates that the work will be completed before the end of March.

LET THERE BE LIGHT EMITTING DIODES

LED fixtures installed near the Salt Lake International Airport will provide low maintenance, energy saving bright light.

Mike Bishop with UDOT's Light and Signal Crew holds one of the new fixtures.

UDOT crews will install LED fixtures on highways in Region Two, starting with fixtures on the I-80-Bangerter Highway Interchange near the airport. LEDs emit white light that “Produces far more color within the color spectrum” which allows drivers to see roadway objects more clearly at night, explains Richard Hibbard, UDOT Traffic and Safety Signal and Lighting Engineer. LEDs have been installed in several locations along the Wasatch Front, including Foothill and 7th East in Salt Lake City, on 13th East in Sandy City and on 6200 S in Holladay.

The more efficient, long lasting fixtures will save costs. A typical 400 Watt HPS fixture costs UDOT about $10 per month. Considering that Region 2 alone has about 1,000 400W fixtures on the Rocky Mountain Power grid, anticipated savings could be as $5 thousand per month. LED fixtures are expected to last 20 years or longer with no maintenance at all. Standard fixtures need to be replaced every five years.

High mast fixtures are still in development. “When manufacturers begin producing viable, cost-effective LED fixtures for high-mast, then we will begin a replacement program for that system,” according to Hibbard. “I don’t anticipate that happening for at least two to three years.”

SAFE KIDS

UDOT’s SNAP campaign representatives talked with children and parents at the Safe Kids Fair in Sandy.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The Safe Kids Fair is designed to be an entertaining event with activities that teach kids to stay safe, says Stacy Sappenfield, who works for event sponsor Clear Channel. “Every booth has an interactive component so it’s fun for the kids.” UDOT wants to spread the word about the importance of safety when driving, walking and riding. The Student Neighborhood Access Program booth involves kids in fun activities that teach kids safe habits.

The fun, colorful booth draws kids in and invites them to color a picture, pick up a workbook and make a commitment to safety. Paper footprint cut-outs have a place for children and parents to write names – posting the footprints on a pledge board gives participants a chance to publicly show their promise to observe safety rules. “The idea is that they pledge and then get their picture taken,” says Cherissa Wood, coordinator of the SNAP program.

SNAP provides free resources to encourage safe walking and biking, including mapping software, a 35-minute musical assembly and DVD, student activity booklets and teacher lesson plans, to assist in getting more students walking and biking safely to school. SNAP also sponsors the Walk More in Four Challenge during September. The four-week event encourages students to practice safe walking and biking for a chance to earn prizes and money for their school.

PLEDGE TO STAY SAFE

Two ZERO Fatalities displays, one serious and one fun, encourage kids and parents to always buckle up.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A Zero Fatalities display at the entrance to the Safe Kids Fair was the one exception to the fun-and-games booths at the otherwise festive event. The startling display that features a wrecked car stopped two teenage boys in their tracks. “It is sad, definitely,” said Cameron after reading a description of the crash; a young driver who fell asleep at the wheel was seriously injured, but nevertheless, probably would have died if he had not been wearing a seat belt. Both boys viewing the display agreed that it’s important to take safety seriously.

Taking safety seriously is the focus of another Zero Fatalities booth manned by Lora Hudson and Jeff Bleak.  Hudson encourages kids to buckle-up correctly every time they’re in the car. Putting seat belts on correctly helps the important safety feature to protect occupants in the event of a crash. Kids who pledge to buckle up get a back pack with a bold printed reminder. Bleak says giving kids a token of their pledge “helps the mom or dad say ‘hey, you signed saying you’ll wear your seat belt.’”

The Zero booth gives kids some leverage with parents too. Bleak hopes kids who make the seat belt pledge will encourage dads and grandpas to follow their good example. Men between the ages of 25 and 69 are the group that’s least likely to use seat belts.  Losing a dad, or any family member, is a huge loss to a family, explains Hudson.

Mom Shandy Burgon, who stopped by the Zero Fatalities booth, is teaching her young son how to make seat belt use a habit. “We just tell him that when we’re in the car, we always have the seat belt on until we come to a complete stop and turn the car off… if you start them young, you don’t have issues when they get older.”

UDOT booths for the Zero Fatalities programs will be at many events throughout the state this summer.

NEW CRASH DUMMY

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has adopted a 10-year old.

Sitting 28 inches high, the new crash test dummy is designed to be the best size to test restraint and other systems that protect older children in a crash.

In order to “keep pace with the latest scientific research and child restraint system technologies” the NHTSA has adopted a rule requiring manufacturers of car seats to use a child-sized crash test dummy. The NHTSA announced the new addition in an article on its website. The new dummy will allow researchers to test the effectiveness of new restraint systems that protect children weighing more than 65 pounds.

Children who exceed the size and weight limits of a car seat should be placed in a booster or other restraint device until the size and weight limits of that device are exceeded — usually sometime between age eight to 12. During a crash test, the dummy approximates the size and movement of a 77 pound human body, representing a child midway between ages eight to 12 years old.

Sitting 28 inches high, the dummy is designed to be the best size to test restraint and other systems that protect older children in a crash. Seat and belt fit of the dummy is very similar to a child. Children sit lower than adult, and therefore are not adequately protected by the cross-chest safety belt used by adults.

Manufacturers of child restraint devices were consulted and provided feedback during the development of the new dummy. According to the NHTSA, “Commenters were very supportive of the idea of incorporating an ATD representing children in the 8- to 12-year-old age range.”

Legislation to require children to be placed in booster seats was first passed in 2001 in Washington State. “Anton’s Law” is named after a four year old child who died in a crash. Anton had outgrown his car seat and was belted in without a booster in the front passenger seat of the car. He was thrown from the car and killed when the vehicle rolled over him. His mother, journalist Autumn Alexander Skeen, is credited with raising awareness of the need to investigate the effectiveness of adult seat belts used on children. Skeen also worked to promote laws to require booster seats for older children.

For more, read a post on Ray LaHood’s blog Fast Lane.

For information about Utah Law, contact the Utah Department of Public Safety, Highway Safety Office at 801-957-8570, or visit the Highway Safety Website.

JOB WELL DONE

UDOT Region Two Incident Management Team members’ work is commendable!

IMT

The IMT program is a key element in the UDOT Traffic Operations Center’s ability to maintain safety and movement on urban freeways. IMTs work closely with Utah Highway Patrol Troopers to clear crashes or other incidents on state roads so traffic can return to normal. But the most important work team members do is to improve safety. IMT workers provide a safer crash scene stopping zone for UHP Troopers and motorists, and they help clear crashes or other incidents quickly, which prevents secondary crashes.

Troopers are vulnerable to passing traffic when stopped on the side of the road. IMT Trucks are equip with lights, signs and other equipment that can be set up to make crash scenes more visible to passing motorists so troopers have a safer place to do their important job. Although one goal of the IMT program is to provide assistance as quickly as possible, technicians stay on scene as long as troopers, motorists, emergency responders and tow truck operators need protection. “We don’t leave them” until safe conditions are restored, says Dave Stallworth, IMT Coordinator.

Getting traffic back to normal is also important to preventing secondary incidents. When traffic flow slows or stops suddenly because of a crash or other incident, rear-end or side swipe collisions are more likely to occur. UDOT engineers estimate that for every one minute saved by clearing an incident quickly, five minutes of traffic delay can be prevented. Those few minutes saved means that fewer secondary crashes occur and normal traffic flow is quickly restored.

The UHP has recently recognized the Region Two IMT for the great work they do. “It is always difficulty to quantify how many lives we save out there on the roads because it is not tangible and we do not see the results first hand.  I know that without a doubt that all of you have helped in one way or another to save one of our lives as police officers working on our freeways,” says a Letter of Commendation sent by Sergent Jeff Nigbur of the UHP.

Congratulations to Region Two IMTs: Dave Stallworth, Jeff Reynolds, Billy Frahsure, Mark Whittaker, Nick Jarrett and Ron Williams.

GET A GRIP

UDOT will test a how high friction surface treatments increase skid resistance and improve safety.

UDOT and the Federal Highways Administration are working on a project to improve the skid resistance at key locations by applying a high friction surface treatment. This photo shows a roadway in Colorado.

Pavement-tire friction provides skid resistance and helps motorists break safely. Departments of transportation evaluate pavement friction by objectively scoring skid resistance – a score of 40 or more usually represents adequate friction while “35 or below is a trigger value,” says Barry Sharp. He and others at UDOT and the Federal Highways Administration are working on a project to improve the skid resistance at key locations by applying a high friction surface treatment – HFST – consisting of an epoxy binder and non-polishing aggregate.

FHWA is reaching out to UDOT and other states to promote the study and possible implementation of market ready products including HFSTs. Other states have used HFSTs and realized an immediate reduction in crashes. In Utah, using an HFST “could be huge in terms of saving lives,” says John Haynes, Research and Innovation Manager at FHWA.

Steep roadways, freeway ramps or sharp curves may benefit from a highly skid resistant surface. UDOT engineers work to keep roads as safe as possible by maintaining skid-resistance and setting appropriate speed limits. But, rain and speeds that are too high can combine to make for dangerous conditions, especially for semis or other very large vehicles.

UDOT Engineers will identify some locations that could benefit from HFST by checking crash data for run-off-the-road collisions. Before and after studies, including IRI measurements and crash data, will provide the basis of an evaluation, explains engineer Abdul Wakil, UDOT Research Project Manager. Engineers will also look at how the product holds up under traffic, weather and snow plows.

Brent Gaschler, UDOT Engineer for Technology and Support has taken a preliminary look at how improving skid-resistance is expected to help reduce crashes. “it’s a really wise investment even though it seems to have some up-front costs; we expect the long term benefits to outweigh initial expenditures.” Several HFST products are available, but the product UDOT will use for the study will be determined through a competitive bidding process.

“If this treatment is successful, we may draft a specification or special provision for UDOT,” says Wakil. Adding a UDOT Specification will make it easier for UDOT Project Managers to add HFST to projects, and for contractors to select an appropriate product.

PEER TO PEER

A yearly video contest invites teens to tell their peers why smart driving is important.

Don’t Drive Stupid is a Zero Fatalities  communication effort that tells teens to take driving seriously. Unfortunately, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens across the nation. A combination of factors may contribute to the sad statistic. Teens tend to drive with multiple passengers which puts young drivers at risk for being distracted. And, teens lack experience in high risk driving situations. The Don’t Drive Stupid video contest lets teens create a message that resonates with other young drivers.

Kasper Kubica is the winner of the 2012 contest: