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.

November 8th, 2012

MOVE FOR SAFETY

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

Moving away from traffic lanes after a fender-bender is safer than staying put.

imt

Incident Management Trucks have been employed by UDOT for years to help clear crashes quickly. Now, some of those trucks will have special equipment to move disabled cars.

Drivers who stay with their car are creating a risky environment for themselves, for state troopers who respond to the scene and for other motorists. A crash scene creates a distraction that prompts other drivers slow to take a look or change lanes abruptly. That unpredictable driver behavior cause a traffic flow environment where secondary crashes can occur more easily.

“When people get into a minor crash, they need to call 911 and go to the nearest exit,” says UDOT spokesperson Tania Mashburn. “But moving after a crash is not something drivers may be used to doing.”

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

Incident Management Trucks have been employed for years to help clear crashes quickly. Now, some of those trucks will have special equipment to move cars.

The new equipment is installed under the truck so there’s no trailer to make maneuvering through traffic complicated. The equipment deploys quickly and easily so IMT workers can get disabled cars to the nearest ramp or the safest place to wait for help.

UDOT is committed to safety first in the case of a crash. The new equipment on Incident Management Trucks will help motorists involved in fender-benders move off the freeway and preserve the safety of troopers and the traveling public.

The Federal Highways Association has launched new initiatives aimed at making every construction day count.

Utah’s FHWA Administrator James Christian gave an overview of EDC2, an effort to assist states with adopting proven ways to improve the safety, operation and longevity of transportation systems, at the recent UDOT Conference.

EDC2 will promote 13 innovations to transportation agencies and construction and design industries for the next two years. Specialists from FHWA will be deployed to explain and implement the benefits each of the innovations has to stakeholders across the country.  UDOT has already participated in some of the innovations, and is a leader in some as well.

High Friction Surfaces use an epoxy binder and a non-polishing aggregate to improve skid-resistance. Several states have used HFS and realized an immediate reduction in crashes.

One innovation, Intelligent Compaction, was demonstrated in Utah recently.  IC systems are similar to regular asphalt pavement compactors but equipped with GPS.  As the compactor makes passes over the newly installed asphalt, stiffness measurements are integrated with the GPS information on a display that gives the operator a comprehensive near real-time picture of the compaction process.

The system creates an animated, color-coded online map so the compaction process can be monitored. Although the process measures pavement stiffness, the intent of the project is to correlate stiffness with pavement density using traditional coring testing methods. Density is critical when it comes to longevity of the pavement.

FHWA is reaching out to UDOT and other states to promote another EDC2 innovation, High Friction Surfaces. HFS, usually consisting of an epoxy binder and a non-polishing aggregate, improves roadway skid-resistance in places where motorists need help to brake more effectively. UDOT has applied HFS in two locations in Utah, one in Payson and one in Logan Canyon.

Several states have used HFS and realized an immediate reduction in crashes. Before and after studies that look at crash data, skid resistance, and other factors, will provide the basis for an objective assessment in Utah. UDOT will also monitor how the HFS tolerates weather extremes, traffic and snow plows.

UDOT is an internationally known leader in Accelerated Bridge Technology, one of the EDC2 innovations. Design Build and Construction Manager/General Contractor, contracting methods included in the EDC2 list have been used by UDOT to build high quality projects more quicly and efficiently.

To see a list of all 13 innovations and read more about each, visit the EDC2 website.

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.