November 30th, 2012

FRIDAY PHOTO — PAVEMENT MARKINGS

No Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

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!

November 28th, 2012

WATCHING THE WORK

1 Comment, Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

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.

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.”

November 23rd, 2012

FRIDAY PHOTO: SNOOPING UNDER BRIDGES

No Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Workers use a bridge inspection truck with an articulating arm. Sometimes called a “snooper,” The hydraulic arm of the truck reaches under bridges so inspectors can take a closer look, and also  lets inspectors work from either side of the bridge. 

UDOT Bridge Inspectors use the snooper truck

See more bridge inspection photos on UDOT’s Flickr photo stream.

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.

November 17th, 2012

AVALANCHE FORECASTING HISTORY

No Comments, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

Alta, Utah, located on SR 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon, is the birthplace of avalanche forecasting and avalanche control in North America.

The current Highway Avalanche Safety Program at UDOT has evolved over seventy years to its current state of practice.

The historic connection between Alta, SR 210 and avalanche forecasting seems fitting since the road has one of the highest Avalanche Hazard Index ratings in North America. Snowfall abundance, terrain steepness and traffic volume have combined to give the road a high avalanche rating of 766.

The current Highway Avalanche Safety Program at UDOT has evolved over seventy years to its current state of practice. In 1939, the United States Forest Service hired the first Snow Rangers and established the first program in North America devoted to the study of avalanches at Alta. Following WW II, The USFS hired Monty Atwater, now known as the Grandfather of Avalanche Forecasting, as the Snow Ranger at Alta.

During his years at Alta, Atwater conducted research on snow safety and became known as a world authority on avalanche control. He pioneered the use of military weapons which are still used by UDOT for avalanche control.

“It’s the work of all our predecessors that laid the groundwork for what we do today,” according to Liam Fitzgerald who as the Avalanche Forecaster for UDOT knows science of avalanche forecasting and avalanche safety programs. Fitzgerald administers the Avalanche Safety Program at UDOT which is based on three primary areas of focus: avalanche forecasting, control and rescue.

UDOT is making efforts to move away from the use of military artillery for avalanche control. New Gaz-X exploder systems have been installed at known avalanches sites.

UDOT’s Highway Avalanche Forecasts are issued for 12 hour periods for each canyon. Forecasts are based on snow-pack structure, local weather data and accurate weather forecasts. If the forecast suggests an avalanche is likely to occur, forecasters test the snow-pack for stability. Often, the tests are carried out using military artillery. Terrain features, snow-pack structure, weather conditions, and avalanche activity from the past determine targets for military artillery.

UDOT is making efforts to move away from the use of military artillery for avalanche control. New Gaz-X exploder systems have been installed at known avalanches sites. Two of the new avalanche control systems have recently been installed in a known avalanche path called Valerie’s Slide in Little Cottonwood Canyon on the lower face of Mount Superior.

The visible part of the system is a downward-facing twelve foot long, two foot diameter tube. An underground oxygen and propane storage farm feeds the gases to exploders where the gases are mixed in preparation for firing. The units are then triggered by remote control producing a shock wave that moves through the tube.

The resulting controlled slide prevents a bigger, potentially more destructive slide. The system is a better alternative than howitzer-fired or hand dropped shells since the slide area is adjacent to Snowbird Village and SR-210. Two similar units have been in operation for two years. The new units are planned to be operable for this coming snow season. UDOT has plans to install more units next year.

Although most of the time avalanche forecasting and control efforts allow for safe travel on the canyon roads, naturally occurring avalanches occasionally reach the canyon roads while they are open. When a snow avalanche occurs, and a rescue operation is needed, UDOT forecasters assume the role of Accident Site Commander in Highway Avalanche Rescue efforts along the Wasatch Front. UDOT Avalanche Forecasters are a part of the Wasatch Backcountry Rescue organization.

This post is based partly on a presentation given by Liam Fitzgerald, the Avalanche Forecaster for UDOT.

November 16th, 2012

FRIDAY PHOTO — DON’T DRIVE STUPID

No Comments, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

Teens who lost their lives motor vehicle crashes were remembered at the ZERO Fatalities Summit.

Parents of teens attended a media event and recounted the lives of the young people in hopse that their stories will remind others to drives safely. Stories about some of the teens who lost their lives in 2011 have als been compiled in a book available on the ZERO website. See more photos of the ZERO Summit on Flickr.

November 15th, 2012

RATING ROADS

2 Comments, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

The Utah Department of Transportation is charged with the responsibility of keeping state roads safe, and part of that responsibility includes forecasting and preventing snow avalanches.

A system known as the Highway Avalanche Hazard Index has been developed to give a numerical value to the potential snow avalanche threat.

Some of the roads in Utah affected by Snow Avalanches include SR 158, Powder Mountain; SR 190, Big Cottonwood Canyon; US 189, Provo Canyon; US 40, Daniels Canyon and SR 92, American Fork Canyon.

Steep terrain, heavy snowfall, and snow-pack combine to make those Utah roads prone to snow avalanches. But of all the roadways in Utah that are threatened by snow avalanches, the most frequently occurring hazard is on Little Cottonwood Canyon – SR 210. In fact, Little Cottonwood Canyon Road has one of the highest Avalanche Hazard Index ratings in North America.

A system known as the Highway Avalanche Hazard Index has been developed to give a numerical value to the potential threat. The  rating helps planners and administrators “have some understanding of what motorists face on mountain corridors,” says Liam Fitzgerald, UDOT’s Avalanche Forecaster.

A number of factors are combined to determine that numerical value, including snowfall abundance, terrain steepness and traffic volume. Comparing Little Cottonwood Canyon Road with other well known mountain roads gives some perspective: Red Mountain Pass in Colorado has a rating of 126, Rogers Pass in Canada is rated at 174 and Little Cottonwood Canyon Road is rated at 766.

Little Cottonwood Canyon has in part been shaped by avalanches. Avalanches influence vegetation patterns and in turn, vegetation influences erosion patterns forming gullies. Gullies then direct debris further influencing tree growth. Terrain in different parts of the canyon leads to different types of avalanche problems.

Some terrain is very steep and rugged which results in more frequent avalanches usually involving more recently deposited layers of snow. In other sections of the canyon where terrain is more open and less steep, fewer avalanches tend to occur but those occurrences often involve older layers of snow and may cover a wider area.

Although most of the time avalanche forecasting and control efforts allow for safe travel on the canyon roads, upon occasion, naturally occurring avalanches reach the canyon roads while they are open.

Information about back-country safety can be obtained by clicking under the Salt Lake City link on the Avalanche Center’s Web site, www.avalanche.org.

This post is based on a presentation given by Liam Fitzgerald, the Avalanche Forecaster for UDOT.

November 13th, 2012

BUILDING A BRIDGE

3 Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

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.

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.