Commuters driving between Utah and Salt Lake County will likely experience less delay starting Monday, November 5.

New Diverging Diamond Interchange

That’s when UDOT’s I-15 CORE will open all travel lanes through the 24-mile project. Construction will continue until mid December, but the open lanes will provide better mobility through the corridor while workers complete landscaping, drainage, barrier construction, painting and other activities during off-peak times.

I-15 CORE is the fastest billion-dollar public highway project ever constructed in the U.S. – an impressive fete considering the project scope. From Lehi Main Street to the Spanish Fork River, crews have added two travel lanes in each direction, placed new concrete pavement, and rebuilt or replaced 63 bridges and 10 freeway interchanges in an unprecedented 35 months.

Contractor Provo River Constructors deserve credit for proceeding construction quickly. “They set an aggressive schedule and were prepared to meet it,” says John Butterfield, UDOT Materials and Pavement Engineer for the project. While good weather provided a backdrop, PRC was able to provide the resources and people necessary to move work forward.

Much of the work has been done out of the way of traffic. For example, some of the bridges were built off-site then moved into place. Crews also pushed miles of concrete pipe under the freeway rather than installing drainage systems using open-trench methods which require closures.

When the project was initiated, UDOT hoped for 14 to 15 miles of new freeway with the available budget. However the project exceeds what was originally expected. The new wider freeway, 40- year pavement and 75-year bridges represent long term value to Utah taxpayers.

UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras asked UDOT employees to align personal achievement with agency goals.

Deputy Director Carlos Braceras talks to conference attendees.

Everybody should know and understand UDOT’s mission as expressed by the Final Four – Optimizing Mobility, Preserving Infrastructure, Zero Fatalities and Strengthening the Economy. Knowing and understanding those agency goals are paramount to setting personal goals on individual performance plans. By scrutinizing individual roles, and making sure those roles align with the agency mission, everyone will be pulling in the same direction, said Braceras at the UDOT Conference held this week in Sandy, Utah.

The UDOT website has fresh information about agency performance, and Braceras asked that employees get acquainted with that information. The Performance Dashboard and UDOT Projects are data repositories that can give employees “very, very fresh information,” sometimes hours old, about how UDOT is accomplishing its mission.

Braceras cited each strategic goal and some important UDOT achievements.

Optimizing Mobility: New projects have changed the way people get around and are supporting improved mobility. For example, the Southern Parkway opened up new development potential in Washington County.

Preserving Infrastructure: A new way to fund projects will provide a steady funding for taking care of our transportation investments and make for a more sustainable transportation system.

Zero Fatalities: Safety improvements have resulted in yearly declines in fatalities. Zero Fatalities is UDOT’s goal –“In my heart I believe we can do this,” said Braceras.

Strengthen the Economy: Utah enjoys an efficient and relatively delay-free transportation system compared with other states. Companies looking to relocate operations most likely will consider delay as important.

Carlos praised UDOT and private sector partners. “You guys are the best of the best,” he said.

Braceras’ presentation, including what change means to UDOT, a visual of how to quantify mobility as a way to bolster the economy and the importance of treating customers like family is posted on the UDOT website, and a link to video of his remarks will be available on the UDOT Blog.

UDOT Director John Njord talks to conference attendees

UDOT Director John Njord praised employees and private sector allies for partnering and innovation.

When asked what UDOT does, the general public is most likely to respond by citing the most obvious outward manifestation – road construction projects. “There’s much, much more” when it comes to UDOT’s function than road construction, said Njord. He spoke to employees, private sector contractors and local government transportation officials at the annual UDOT Conference.

While the general public associate construction projects with UDOT, many more activities take place that “don’t get into the limelight.” And all those activities are important to the overall success of the agency. UDOT is finishing the biggest project year ever, and citing that tremendous accomplishment, Njord took the opportunity to cite some of the successes realized by the agency.

Njord gave credit to the whole of the UDOT team, and likened the intrinsic value of every employee to the story of a NASA janitor who, in 1964, was approached and asked about his job. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” was his quick response. The janitor’s understanding of his role showed a “direct connectedness” to the overall agency mission.

Njord named specific projects too, and went on to relay some feedback from stakeholders. The Mountain View Corridor, SR 14 Landslide Repair, Renovate 80 Wanship Bridge Deck move and the I-15 CORE projects showcase UDOT’s efforts to address the needs of the transportation system. And “the public appreciates the work you do at the department more than you know,” said Njord.

ZERO Fatalities is a new strategic goal.

Njord played video comments given by the public answering questions about UDOT. Responses showed a good understanding of UDOT’s mission. For example, when asked to identify how UDOT helped make life better, responders cited reduced delay from capacity projects and ABC construction techniques.

Njord is optimistic that UDOT will continue to innovate, and said new ideas “will come from those people who are seated in this room right now.” He believes there’s “an inventor trapped inside each one of us,” and stressed that all can help hone UDOT’s future by making good work decisions daily. “You are the standard bearers” for transportation projects across the country, said Njord.

Njord’s presentation, including a change to the Final Four, video highlights of projects and glowing reviews from transportation officials from federal and state governments, has been posted on the UDOT website, and a link to video of his remarks will be available on the UDOT Blog on Friday, November 2.

October 30th, 2012

STRENGTHEN THE ECONOMY

No Comments, Strengthen the Economy, by Catherine Higgins.

Utah’s Speaker of the House said transportation helps strengthen the economy in opening remarks at the annual UDOT Conference.

Lockhart took time to speak with conference attendees after her remarks.

Speaker Becky Lockhart has an affinity for orange barrels. The large traffic control devices are a sign of road construction “which I love,” she said during lunch time remarks on Monday.

While road construction can make getting around inconvenient temporarily, in the long run, transportation projects help strengthen the economy. Building and maintaining an efficient transportation system helps support commerce, job growth, and helps expand a healthy tax base that can fund critical needs like education, explained Lockhart.

Speaker Lockhart was part of an effort with other lawmakers to examine the way transportation funding was accomplished in the past. “We looked at the past and tried to find a plan to work in the future for the next two decades.” Lockhart said former legislator Marta Dilree, who was a strong advocate for transportation funding, started the effort to evaluate transportation issues years ago.

Lockhart also spoke about the importance of maintaining roads and bridges. Funding maintenance has been made more difficult by the depth and duration of the recession. Ongoing maintenance is important to keeping the transportation system healthy, but articulating that message can be difficult.

Lockhart praised Provo River Constructors, who are building the I-15 CORE project, and said “we got what we wanted and more,” since the project team delivered the requirements of the project efficiently and ahead of schedule. The taxpayers owe the contractors a “debt of gratitude,” said Lockhart.

Speaker Lockhart acknowledged that elected officials have a lot of tough decisions to make when it comes to balancing all the needs of the state. By working together she is confident that decision makers “can make Utah the best place to live and play.”

The UDOT Conference is an annual event that brings employees, contractors and researchers together to share way to improve the transportation system.

October 25th, 2012

2012 ZERO SUMMIT

No Comments, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

The annual Zero Fatalities Safety Summit provides common ground for safety professionals from different areas of expertise.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

UDOT traffic engineers and emergency medical technicians are all about staying safe, but members of the professions look at safety issues from different perspectives. UDOT Traffic Engineer Brad Lucas thought the Zero Fatalities Safety Summit was helpful because of the idea-mixing encouraged at the event. “We all promote safety.” For example, “I got the perspective of emergency personnel and how they deal with traffic accidents,” he explains. Lucas will take that knowledge with him as he performs his job at UDOT.

The partnering that takes place among a variety of safety-promoting agencies is not new – UDOT has been working with community partners for more than six years. Zero Fatalities is a combined effort of law enforcement, safety educators, engineers, health educators and emergency responders.

The outcome of the partnership has resulted in several ambitious and successful programs, all of which seek to achieve the goal to achieve Zero Fatalities by taking aim at the five top behaviors that kill people on Utah roads: drowsy distracted, aggressive and impaired driving and not buckling up.

This year, over four-hundred people attended the summit – more attendees than ever before. Forty-eight workshops were presented over the three day event. Specialty areas included Engineering, Emergency Medical Services, Child Protection Services and Education.

The pre-conference activities focused on high school drivers’ education and raising awareness of safety issues specific to teens. At the end of the conference, attendees honored some of the individuals and organizations that take special effort to help get Utah road users closer to the Zero Fatalities goal. Some of UDOT’s finest received awards for the fine work they do.

Kristy Rigby, Program Manager from UDPS was happy to see a jump in attendance this year. She’s committed to boosting that participation more in future years, and believes that when more people join in, the result will be safer roads and fewer crashes.

October 24th, 2012

CLOSING GAPS

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Wasatch Front transportation agencies are studying how people connect to transit.

The Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study – is a comprehensive project that will look at ways to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections to major transit lines and lay the groundwork for an urban network of bicycle routes along the Wasatch Front – and anyone can participate.

The first step to using public transit is getting to an access point such as a Trax station or a bus stop. Many transit users count on active transportation – walking or cycling – to reach that connection.

UDOT and the Utah Transit Authority, in cooperation with Wasatch Front Regional Council, Mountainland Association of Governments and Salt Lake County have just launched an effort to identify difficulties walkers and cyclists face when getting to transit hubs. UCATS – the Utah Collaborative Active Transportation Study – is a comprehensive project that will look at ways to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections to major transit lines and lay the groundwork for an urban network of bicycle routes along the Wasatch Front – and anyone can participate.

The study team is using an effective and dynamic web-based in-put mechanism.  An online forum allows users to create a profile and dialog with other users about connectivity issues.

The UCATS website allows easy direct public input, according to Evelyn Tuddenham UDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator, because participants don’t need to attend a public meeting or wait to be called to contribute. And the process facilitates dialog – UCATS participants can even collaborate online to solve problems.

The study team is encouraging a wide range of participants including “people who like to ride bikes but don’t,” says Tuddenham. “We need to hear from them… not just from the people who are comfortable riding on the road.”

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.” For UDOT, one outcome will be bicycle plans for UDOT Regions One, Two and Three.

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

October 20th, 2012

SNOW ARSENAL

1 Comment, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Tow plows are one way UDOT improves the efficiency of snow removal to keep roads clear during the winter.

UDOT has over 500 trucks that are used to plow roads during winter. Eight of those trucks are equipped with tow plows. When deployed, tow plows swing from the back to the side of the truck and double the amount of snow that can be plowed. Tow plows require trucks with larger motors and tag axles that are capable of handling the large piece of equipment.

UDOT’s fleet is valued at about $200 million dollars – a significant investment of taxpayer money.  UDOT Central Maintenance puts a lot of emphasis on taking care of equipment to make sure trucks and plows work efficiently and have a long useful life.

Many of UDOT’s operators attended a training recently to practice skills and to get a review of how take care of towplows.  The slides below show some of the operating systems on tow plows.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

In addition to adding tow plows to its snow removal arsenal, UDOT has improved the efficiency of feet vehicles by adding wing plows to most of the existing 10 wheeler fleet, by using sanders for spreading de‐icing materials, and by using brine, high performing salts and other liquid anti‐icing agents. Wetting the salt is a much more effective approach for keeping roads clear since dry salt can bounce or blow off the road.

UDOT’s strategic goals, briefly stated, are to preserve infrastructure, optimize mobility, improve safety, and strengthen the economy. Known as the Final Four, the goals provide guidance in all agency departments by articulating the responsibilities UDOT has as to the public.

By maintaining roads and highways, UDOT’s equipment and fleet meet all of the Final Four goals. By preserving infrastructure, UDOT provides a quality transportation system that helps bring industry to the state, which also strengthens the economy. By plowing roads during winter storms, and making repairs that keep roads functioning smoothly, UDOT’s fleet helps optimize mobility and improve safety.

October 19th, 2012

CROSSINGS AND SAFETY

1 Comment, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

Research on improving wildlife connectivity has helped improved safety on state roads.

This post is third in a series about how research supports innovation at UDOT. Many in the transportation community and the general public are familiar with UDOT’s method of building bridges off-site and then moving them into place. Other important innovations garner less attention. See the first post about fish-friendly culverts here and the second post about pre-cast panels here.

UDOT has been working with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and researchers to track the success of wildlife crossings. The research has helped both state agencies to meet the important goals of making roads safer for people and wildlife. As more knowledge is gained about what makes a wildlife crossing accommodating to wildlife, UDOT and DWR have improved crossings by adding additional features.

This photo shows the original fencing and white lines that show Cramer's suggested location for moving the fencing to better accommodate deer.

A new I-80 bridge over the Weber River provides an example of how UDOT, DWR have partnered to improve an important wildlife crossing. Part of the bridge project included pathways for people and wildlife along with wildlife exclusion fencing to direct animals to use the path.

Dr. Patricia Cramer, Utah State University Researcher Assistant Professor began monitoring and tracking wildlife passage by placing motion activated cameras to capture images of wildlife using the path. While placing the cameras, Cramer noticed some of the fencing blocked the crossing and she made suggestions for a new configuration.

UDOT and UDWR agency representatives met and planned two escape ramps would be constructed on the fence line on the west side of the highway on both sides of the river.  Cramer monitored the crossing before and after the escape routes were constructed. Before the ramps, fifteen deer were recorded near the ramp but only 2 used the crossing successfully. After the escape ramps were constructed, cameras recorded seventy nine deer approaching the ramp and fifty seven deer successfully using the crossing.

Research at the site is showing that the passage rate of mule deer is steadily improving. Cramer has studied many crossings in Utah, and her research was originally funded by UDOT’s Research Division.  UDWR is funding Cramer’s research and UDOT and UDWR will continue to work together to plan and improved effective crossings by using Cramer’s research.

For more about how UDOT and crossings:

Read an article on the USU website about Cramer.

Read a blog post about how UDOT partnered with UDWR and won an award from FHWA.

Read a blog post about a high-arch crossing and how elk are beginning to use the crossing.

 UDOT’s first radar activated signal for cyclists is providing safer access to Mountain View Corridor.

A newly completed seven mile portion of the Mountain View Corridor also includes bike lanes and multi-use trails from Porter Rockwell Blvd at 16000 South to Old Bingham Highway. Cyclists were invited to celebrate the opening by participating in a race on October 13.

A newly completed seven mile portion of the Mountain View Corridor also includes bike lanes and multi-use trails from Porter Rockwell Blvd at 16000 South to Old Bingham Highway. “I would think Mountain View Corridor will be busy bike route with the beautiful scenery and trails,” says UDOT Traffic Signal Operations Engineer Mark Taylor, who is also a cyclist.

The new road segment includes a bike lane and trail access point at Porter Rockwell Blvd. Anticipated high traffic volume and speed in the area prompted traffic engineers to find a safer way for cyclists to reach that access point from busy Redwood Road.

UDOT has installed radar detection and a signal specific to cyclists turning left from Redwood Road onto Porter Rockwell Blvd. The signal improves safety for motorists and cyclists.

This video gives a good overview of the signal:

Cyclists sometimes use the left turn lane along with automobile traffic. However, due the T intersection configuration where Porter Rockwell meets Redwood road, “there is not a concurrent vehicle movement cyclists can use,” explains Taylor. The signal stops traffic so cyclists can turn left on Redwood Road, then travel west on Porter Rockwell Boulevard to the Mountain View Corridor bike lanes and multi-use trails.

To activate the signal, cyclists need to stop in the designated area on the right north-bound shoulder of Redwood Road.  Radar detection picks up the presence of cyclists, stops traffic with a red light, gives cyclists a green light, and provides enough time to cross Redwood Road.

UDOT chose radar detection over other alternatives including inductive loops and video detection. Modern bicycles don’t have enough metal to disrupt the electromagnetic field created by inductive loops. And, video detection does not work well at night or during storms.

UDOT uses radar detection often, however, is the first use of the technology for a signal specific to cyclists.

October 17th, 2012

TOWING THE LINE

2 Comments, Optimize Mobility, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

Operators of UDOT tow plows recently got a chance to practice driving skills.

Three tow plows practice driving skills on a course that simulates intersections, car lined streets and on-ramps. When deployed, the tow plow swings sideways to clear twenty five feet.

“They’re different,” than regular plows, explains Chris Scribner who drives a tow plow for UDOT during the snow season. A tow plow can startle drivers because “it looks like it’s jackknifing,” he says. When deployed, the tow plow swings sideways to clear more of the roadway – a total of twenty five feet, to be exact. A truck with a tow plow takes the place of two trucks. Scribner is one of about thirty plow operators who attended a training to practice driving the unusual plow that helps UDOT improve the efficiency of snow and ice removal.

Curtis Sanchez, Equipment Safety Trainer at UDOT, organized the training “to make sure the operators are as comfortable as possible,” he explains. The training includes classroom time focusing on safety and the pre-ride check and then driving on a course set up to simulate intersections, car-lined streets and on-ramps.

Dirk Richards, a trainer from UDOT Region One, help set up the course. He says it’s important that drivers learn to be aware of their surroundings, and how the equipment will deploy. “So when they are working, there are no surprises on the road.”

Driving the plow is not for rookies. “We’re choosing the best operators in each shed” to be tow plow drivers, says Sanchez.

Driver Mark Prows says tow plow operators need to be acutely aware of the roadway environment and the movement of the plow that’s operated by a complex hydraulic system — all while driving. He compares it to playing the piano. “You have to keep your fingers moving and your eyes on the sheet music… if you’re a little bit off of your game, things can go bad fast.”

UDOT acquired the first tow plows after Heavy Equipment Manager Steve McCarthy saw them at a conference. “I thought it was an idea we needed to explore,” he says. UDOT is one of only a few states that use tow plows. Eventually each shed along the I-15 corridor will have at least one. UDOT currently operates eight tow plows.