October 24th, 2013

Show Me a Sign

No Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

The new Outdoor Advertising Control Map is improving government transparency and boosting efficiency at UDOT.

Photo of a billboard on I-15 in Weber CountyThe outdoor advertising industry, UDOT Project Managers and UDOT Permit Officers represent three of the groups that are benefitting from a new online map that shows geospatial locations of billboards along interstate routes.

State governments enforce federal rules regulating billboards on some routes. Back in the 1960s, Ladybird Johnson took an interest in highway beatification and worked with congress to pass laws limiting the proliferation of billboards on freeways.

UDOT has a codified agreement with the federal government that determines how billboards are treated on federally-funded primary routes, the National Highway System and Scenic Byways. The agreement, passed in 1968, established the UDOT Outdoor Advertising Control System.

Not controlling billboards would mean UDOT’s share of federal money for roads would be reduced by tens of millions of dollars each year.

From days to minutes

Until recently, finding out when the exact location of a billboard could take a day or longer. Depending on the information needed, state employees would sometimes have to check up to three separate documents or drive to a billboard location, which could be hundreds of miles away.

Now, new GIS tools mean it’s possible to put information about billboards in the hands of anyone with online access. See the map by visiting the UDOT’s Outdoor Advertising Control Program web page or UPlan, UDOT’s Map Center.

By using the map, a few mouse clicks can produce an image of the billboard and get information about federal rules that apply – like proximity to the closest billboard. “It’s the first time we’ve been able to see billboards online in real-time and connected to our inventory control system,” says Rod McDaniels, Outdoor Advertising Control Program Manager, who worked with a multi-disciplinary team of experts to re-design the way UDOT regulates outdoor advertising signs.

Getting it together

Gathering and organizing the information involved identifying known sign locations and filling in information gaps where needed, conceptualizing and building an efficient system to regulate billboards, and building a user-friendly online, interactive map. During the process, over 5 hundred geospatial points referencing signs were updated.

Saving time and funding dollars

Putting the map online has reduced the workload for UDOT employees, which conserves funding. Formal requests for information from the public have been reduced since people in the sign industry can easily find the needed information.

Feedback from the outdoor sign industry has been positive. “It brings us into the twenty-first century,” says Krissy Plett, Statewide Permits Officer for UDOT. “Now they don’t have to send someone out to view a sign” since users can take a virtual trip to a billboard using the map.

The map helps expedite project delivery too. UDOT project managers and maintenance workers can now easily see the exact location of signs that may be impacted by road work.

Links:

See the map, a PDF tutorial, and find information about state and federal laws and rules here.

See more maps or make your own map by visiting UPlan.

Interested in government transparency? See the UDOT Projects website to get information about past, current and future UDOT projects.

Engineer Mark Taylor working in an open traffic signal cabinet

Engineer Mark Taylor working in a traffic signal cabinet.

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

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

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

October 15th, 2013

Whatever the Weather

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    RWIS on Riverdale Road Photo

    RWIS on Riverdale Road

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

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

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

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

Photo of the funeral processon on I-215

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

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

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

Photo of wall of images from the Traffic Operations Center

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

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

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

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

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

I-15 and University Parkway Aerial photo

University Parkway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following post is the second of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system. Please also see GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four.

Widespread, enthusiastic uses of spatial data have not always been embraced – mostly because employees didn’t have experience using the data and tools. One of UDOT’s most enthusiastic GIS tool proponents, Pre-Construction Engineer Monte Aldridge, took a pro-active approach and changed the work culture in region four.

Aldridge required his pre-construction team to use the tools and then report back at a monthly team meeting. Pre-construction teams are made up of members with a variety of engineering specialties, including design, environmental, and hydrology. Teams plan and design small and large roadway projects.

The experience was “very beneficial,” says Aldridge. Once the team members investigated the tools then shared their use experience, they were hooked.  “Now it’s something that’s used every day.”

Wildlife Corssing Images

Wildlife fencing works to direct animals safely across roadways. In the top photo, a mule deer buck has just crossed an overpass. In the bottom photo, fencing directs a mule deer herd to a crossing under the roadway.

For example, roadway designers found out right away that using the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram tool, is useful to catalog relevant roadway assets before designing a project. Region Four designers also use smartphones as on-site data-collectors to geo-reference roadway features when visiting a future construction site. Using the tools has prompted ideas for other uses.

Oh deer!

A large animal that gets around wildlife fencing “is an almost guaranteed accident,” says Aldridge. When a wildlife carcass is picked up on a UDOT route, the location, animal type, along with other information is currently geo-referenced with a smart phone app.  A modification to this app will send an email when a carcass is picked up along a road section where wildlife fencing has been installed. The email will alert transportation technicians that a fence may have been breached.

Another app is being developed to accumulate crash hot-spot data. The Utah Highway Patrol investigates highway crashes and turns over information over to UDOT. Information on the location and cause of a crash is not immediate, however. Overcoming that time lag in getting that information can speed up the time it takes to improve safety.

Staff in Region Four is working to identify how to log crash data to exclude private and sensitive information that’s collected as part of UHP’s investigation. Then, the non-sensitive information can help UDOT employees make safety improvements, if needed, more quickly.

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

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

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

Maps and apps improve work coordination

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

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

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

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

August 30th, 2013

I-15 CORE Wins Two Safety Awards

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by John Gleason.

UDOT’s I-15 CORE and Provo River Constructors were recently selected by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association as winners of 2013 Roadway Work Zone Safety Awareness Awards in the local educational campaign and training categories. UDOT won for its campaign on the lane split traffic configurations and PRC won for its overall safety program that included their “Hands-on Safety” outreach.

Lane Splits Outreach Campaign

As part of I-15 CORE construction, the lanes on I-15 in Orem and American Fork were split around the construction zone. The lane splits created a communication and traffic challenge, as drivers would need to know which lanes to use long before they reached the area – so they could either exit or stay on the freeway.

The maintenance of traffic (MOT) and communications teams developed a comprehensive outreach campaign that would raise awareness of the upcoming traffic configuration and provide information on how to safely navigate them and divert at least 20 percent of traffic, to keep the freeway flowing smoothly. The campaign included TV and print news stories, radio advertisements, social media and direct mail. A highlight of the outreach campaign was a clever movie theater ad that played like a romantic-comedy trailer.

In less than one month, over a quarter-of-a-million movie goers saw the movie trailer and more than 8,000 viewed the instructional video the month before the lane splits were in place. As the real sign of success, traffic continued to move smoothly through the construction area while the splits were in place.

PRC’s Hands On Safety Campaign

PRC had to build 24 miles of I-15 in just 35 months, but the I-15 CORE design-builder still made safety its number-one priority.

PRC carried out a comprehensive safety program that all employees adopted in their daily work. All of the nearly 6,000 employees attended a mandatory Project Safety and Railroad Orientation before they could start work. Weekly toolbox safety meetings, monthly “All-Hands” safety meetings, safety pre-planning and pre-shift safety task planning, jobsite inspections, accident investigations, medical treatment management, and tracking of any indicators and trends before and after incident were all required.

Even with all this training, management began seeing a trend of hand injuries among work crews. To reverse this trend, PRC developed and implemented a “Hands-on Safety” program emphasizing pinch point awareness and hand protection guidelines. The program included presentations, posters and a policy change to require gloves to be worn at all times when handling tools and/or materials.

The success of PRC’s work zone safety approach resulted in crews achieving one million workhours without a recordable incident, and one million work-hours without a lost-time incident on four separate occasions.  PRC put in over 7 million work hours to build I-15 CORE and achieved a safety record that was four times better than the national average in the construction industry.

August 27th, 2013

A Vision for the Future

No Comments, Employee Focus, by Tania Mashburn.
Carlos Braceras, UDOT Executive Director

Carlos Braceras, UDOT Executive Director

Carlos is a man with a vision. A vision to make a difference.

It may sound simple, but it’s true. Over the past several weeks, he and his leadership team crafted a shared Vision Statement for the Department’s future that will help us enhance communities, improve the environment, and cultivate a stronger economy.

But this vision has actually been in the making for months…starting with ideas rolling around in Carlos’ head and jotted down as quick notes on his phone as new thoughts came to him. Let’s back up even further. This really all started when John Njord retired.

Choosing a new Executive Director for UDOT was a very high priority for Governor Herbert. It required Carlos to evaluate why he wanted the position and what he would do if he was successful. He said it took several months of thinking about the department and where we could make improvements.

“This was pretty tough because of the excellent work already going on in our organization,” Carlos said. But he wanted to find ways to better align with the Governor’s goals and broaden the areas in which we focus.

So this is where Carlos’ vision was born. He says he felt UDOT’s four strategic goals were taking us in the right direction, but there were other areas we could give priority to…leading him to determine our new “emphasis areas.” These emphasis areas are a combination of how we do our jobs and how we can improve our organization. They are:

  • Integrated Transportation
  • Collaboration
  • Education
  • Transparency
  • Quality
  • Operational Excellence

Carlos also says he took a lot of time to think about what UDOT’s core values are, values that we as employees all live by, but have never officially been put in writing.

“A lot of times in our business, decisions are easy to make,” Carlos said. “We can look in a manual or go online and get a direct answer. But most of the time the questions are much more difficult and there is no easy answer. That is where I expect our great employees to look to our core values to provide guidance. Think about these as the traits you would like the public to think about when they think about UDOT.”

For five months, every time Carlos heard a characteristic he thought represented UDOT, he wrote it down. In the end he had quite a long list, but he narrowed it down to only the most important values he would like our department to exemplify; innovation, trustworthiness, dedication, passion, public responsiveness, and fiscal responsibility. Carlos says, “These are the traits that I hope will guide us when we’re making difficult decisions.”

So back to the job interview. More than 60 people applied for the position of UDOT’s Executive Director. A screening and interview process narrowed the field to Carlos and two others. In an interview with Governor Herbert, Lt. Governor Bell, and the Governor’s staff, Carlos was asked two key questions.

When he was asked “what is your vision for the department?” he was prepared and happy he had thought about this very thing for several months. When he was asked “why do you want the job?” he was also quick to respond saying, “Because the work we do at UDOT makes a difference to all Utahns. We save lives, we improve the economy, and we make everyone’s lives better. I love Utah and I want to make a difference.”

Carlos says he is extremely grateful he now has the opportunity to work towards making a difference in his new role as Executive Director. When I asked him where he saw the department in ten years, he admitted his vision might change.

“Today I am confident we’re heading in the right direction, but tomorrow we have to be prepared to ask the question ‘is there more we can be doing in order to keep Utah’s transportation system the envy of the country?’”

Carlos says he knows with the dedication of our incredible employees, we will be able to make his vision a reality. He says, “I continue to be amazed by the passion all of you bring to your jobs. You don’t think of it as your job, but your mission to improve the quality of life in this great state.”

Carlos looks forward to having one-on-one discussion with employees about his new vision over the next several months. In the meantime, you can see what all the buzz is about. A downloadable PDF of the complete Vision plan is available below.

Carlos Vision

RWIS Network Map

UDOT RWIS network

Utah’s unique geography can be a challenge for traffic management and safety. Many of the critical highway routes in the state are in rural areas and can be prone to flooding, snow drifts, landslides, high winds or low visibility due to wild fire smoke. UDOT’s Road Weather Information System (RWIS) network currently has nearly 80 deployments throughout the state. An RWIS unit has several weather sensors that calculate wind speed, precipitation type, roadway temperature and more. Some RWIS have a traffic camera as well.

Utah has had an active winter and spring with several large storms, flooding and landslides. In June, UDOT deployed a portable RWIS unit near Monument Peak on SR-31. This site was adjacent to an area that was burned in a forest fire and was at risk for landslides. The portable RWIS can be relocated at a later date for other uses. The RWIS sends alerts to the UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) meteorologists who can then contact UDOT crews and UDOT management working in a specific area and alert them to any danger of landslides or flooding. The alert information is also shared with the National Weather Service, the National Forest Service, the United States Geological Survey, Utah Highway Patrol and other agencies. UDOT contracts with Northwest Weathernet for meteorological services and RWIS installation.

Photo of portable RWIS station

Portable RWIS unit being deployed for use during the Rockport 5 Fire

 

Screen shot of RWIS alert

A rainfall alert from the portable RWIS

 

For more information about our use of RWIS also check out RWIS Update and Forecasting for Smarties.