December 6th, 2012

TALKING TO TRAFFIC

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Innovation touched every aspect of the I-15 CORE project from construction to communication. While massive structures were built nearby then moved into place, communication experts devised new ways to inform the public about how to avoid construction related delay.

Today and tomorrow, two posts will detail how combining social media and traffic management tools helped keep traffic moving.  The posts are based on a presentation given by Geoff Dupaix, Public Involvement Manager on the project.

I-15 is Utah County’s only continuous north-south corridor and serves over 120 thousand trips per day. Keeping lanes open and minimizing delay through the corridor during construction was no small task.

Combining two important functions, maintenance of traffic and communication, helped keep traffic moving during I-15 CORE freeway re-construction.

MOT plans detail how traffic is managed during construction projects.  Keeping traffic moving through and around road construction is critical; drivers need clear signs and safe, easy to understand traffic control devices that delineate full closures, alternate routes and lane reductions.

Public Information experts communicate with road users about MOT, and suggest ways to avoid construction related delay. Close collaboration between the PI and MOT teams on the I-15 CORE project was an effective way to inform road users about construction and also keep traffic moving though the corridor.

Communicators on the I-15 CORE project have set new standards for keeping the public informed by using social media, especially Twitter, extensively.

I-15 is Utah County’s only continuous north-south corridor and serves over 120 thousand trips per day. Keeping lanes open and minimizing delay through the corridor was no small task. The project faced challenges including major planned events overlapped with full ramp closures.

Big public events, like concerts or football games, increase traffic volume that can cause delay, making PI efforts critical to maintaining traffic mobility. On a major construction project, good communication with the public can help prevent gridlock.

MOT and PI teams collaborated very closely throughout the project. The teams met often and well in advance of planed closures or big events to discuss and problem-solve. The two teams even moved into adjoining offices to make collaboration more convenient.

Using the proper tools

The I-15 CORE team accessed Traffic Operations Center tools to set up a mini TOC. Camera views specific to the project and traffic volume data gave PI and MOT teams the ability to observe traffic in real time. When crashes or other incidents occurred, help could be dispatched immediately. The PI and MOT team could also observe and direct traffic to less-busy corridors.

Camera views specific to the project and traffic volume data gave PI and MOT teams the ability to observe traffic in real time.

The PI and MOT teams used traffic volume data to set goals for reducing traffic volume during upcoming events or MOT changes. The PI team planned messages that informed the traveling public about anticipated delay and gave options to help road users make good travel decisions. For example, messages would suggest leaving early, taking an alternate route or using an alternate exit. Social media, especially Twitter, was used extensively.

Tweeting traffic information turned out to especially useful for road users. “We got it down to a science,” Dave Smith, Public Information Manager for the project. The PI team was able to affect behavior in a very short time and actually observe traffic divert to under-served corridors based on tweets.

“It was not the number of our followers,” that made the effort successful, according to Smith; traffic reporters who followed the I-15 CORE Tweets passed along that information to their followers as well.

How did the close collaborative effort work? Check back to see tomorrows post detailing two examples and feedback from stakeholders.

December 5th, 2012

LARGE LOADS

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

UDOT Motor Carriers Division has the responsibility of making sure oversize loads are routed properly. 

Thousands of times times each year, oversize loads travel on Utah highways and arterials. Routing big loads properly protects the traveling public and UDOT’s roads and bridges.

Routing big loads properly protects the traveling public and UDOT’s roads and bridges.

Some of the loads are so big that passing over or under bridges puts those structures at risk. UDOT’s Motor Carriers Division defines the routes for super-sized loads in order to protect those important assets. “Our mission is to protect and preserve the highway infrastructure, while enhancing safety for the motoring public” says Adam Anderson Supervisor for the Superload Coordination Team. Structures and highways cost millions of dollars to build, “we want to have them last a long, long time.”

The Motor Carrier Division utilizes an online permitting system that helps simple the application process for carriers and many permits are issued within minutes. These permits are issued by the Motor Carrier themselves or issued by Ports of Entry Agents throughout the states.

Permits are issued by category according to the size of the load. Extremely large loads, which exceed 14’ high or 14’6” wide or 105’ in length or 125,000 lbs, need to be adjudicated Motor Carrier Specialist, Loads exceeding 15’6” high, 17’ wide or 300,000 lbs needs to be processed by the MCD Super Load Team – Anderson heads the group that includes three other MCD Agents from across the state.

Carriers may also be required to hire pilot cars or police escorts. Oversize loads are also subject to hours of operation limitations to avoid peak traffic.

Routing super loads can be challenging. When construction closes a route to oversize loads, sometimes the defined route can be circuitous or hundreds of miles longer than usual. And, some routes have permanent restrictions due to narrow lanes or other features. New structures that can’t accommodate very tall loads can cut off access through a formerly used route. UDOT routes super loads on state roads first and county and city roads only if necessary.

UDOT Regions, responsible for carrying out road construction and permitting utility projects, also work with the Super Load Team to make sure loads are routed properly around projects. Contractors doing the work do their best to accommodate big loads by moving traffic control or opening lanes.

While simple permits take only minutes, a super big load permit may take up to 48 hours. Since the safety of the public and protection of structures is at stake, MCD Agents are very careful when routing the super loads, says Anderson. “We want to take our time to make sure things are done right the first time.”

Many carriers are familiar with the best routes and applicants can define the best way to get from point A to point B. For example, massive truck beds used in mining operations are detached from trucks and moved through the Salt Lake Valley many times each year to be repaired.

Often, carriers are very familiar with the cities and towns and are sensitive to the needs of the residents. Anderson tells about how a super load move was planned to avoid Raspberry Days in the Bear Lake area. The load was so massive, signals had to be removed and replaced as the big load moved along the route.

The move took place during early morning hours “before everybody lined up to get the raspberry pancakes,” says Anderson. “We had it taken care of pretty quick.”

Many carriers are familiar with the best routes since they move loads often. For example, massive truck beds used in mining operations are detached from trucks and moved through the Salt Lake Valley many times each year to be repaired. This photo, taken by Lita Madlang, was provided by Kennecott Utah Copper.

December 1st, 2012

SHIELDS

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Shield symbols direct road users to the right lanes near interchanges.  

Thermoplastic shields that show route numbers are meant to give drivers a recognizable symbol and advanced notice about which lane leads to the desired route.

Pavement messages that use numbers or letters to give road users information about school zones or other directional help for decades. UDOT is using a fairly new technology to apply thermoplastic markings in the shape of shields to direct drivers to the correct lane at interchanges.

Shields are easily identifiable symbols that drivers know to represent interstates.  The giant stickers are easy to see during the day and retroreflective for good visibility at night. Studies show that the shields are helpful and evaluations indicated the markings are also durable.

Pavement markings provide another visual clue to drivers besides signs.  Drivers who have difficulty interpreting signs may make sudden lane changes and those movements are known to cause crashes. The thermoplastic shields are meant to give drivers a recognizable symbol as further advanced notice about which lane leads to the desired route.

Research conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A and M University shows that road users prefer the shield or other symbol markings over plain numbers. Participants of the study, representing a broad cross section of road users, viewed photos of roadways with symbols or numbers representing freeway types and routes.

Ninety three percent of the participants preferred the symbol type of pavement marking, including shields, as opposed to number only markings. When asked, participants stated that the symbols were colorful, more easily identified and helped identify highway type.

UDOT installed the first shield pavement markings in September of 2008 under the direction of Dan Betts, Region Two Pavement Marking Supervisor. The markings were evaluated fourteen months later. Only minor chipping was found on the edges of the markings on the initial evaluation. Since northern Utah experiences several snow storms a year, pavement markings are subject to being scraped by plow blades. The first shields are still holding up well after several snow seasons.

The shield pavement markings will continue to be used where needed.

November 30th, 2012

COMMERCIAL DRIVER CHECK

No Comments, Zero Fatalities, by Catherine Higgins.

The UDOT Motor Carriers Division helps assure the safety of operators and the traveling public by monitoring carriers at Ports of Entry around the state.

Inspector Zaundra Carter conducts hundreds of vehicle inspections each year at the Perry Port of Entry near Brigham City, Utah. She has expert knowledge of how big rigs operate and knows what to look for during an inspection.

Inspectors at UDOT Ports of Entry conduct over 37 thousand vehicle safety inspections on commercial motor vehicles per year at eight ports throughout the state. When it comes to conducting inspections, ports focus on carriers and shippers that pose a risk to highway safety.

An automated transponder system called Prepass helps expedite that effort. Prepass allows prequalified carriers to bypass a POE. Some carriers may need to stop for an inspection.

Inspector Zaundra Carter conducts hundreds of vehicle inspections each year at the Perry Port of Entry near Brigham City, Utah. She has expert knowledge of how big rigs operate and knows what to look for during an inspection.

She checks every system on the vehicle to identify safety violations. Depending on the severity of a violation, Carter may stop the carrier from proceeding on the route or require the carrier to provide future proof that the safety hazard has been fixed.

Carriers may also need to undergo a paperwork check. Commercial drivers are required to meet many requirements to be able to operate in Utah. Some of the requirements for operating in Utah include:

  • A current, valid commercial license that includes all the appropriate classifications and endorsements specific to the vehicle being driven.
  • A medical examination and skills and performance evaluation certificate
  • A copy of the vehicle’s registration
  • A copy of the vehicle’s fuel permit
  • Proof of vehicle insurance
  • Driver’s daily logbook that shows information about hours of operation (drivers are required to take regular rest breaks)
  • Proof of proper operating authority, if operating for hire
  • A copy of your Uniform Hazardous Material Credentials, if handling HM that requires the vehicle to be placarded
  • A copy of your USDOT Materials Certificate of Registration or other document showing your Registration number
  • Proof of an annual inspection
  • Proper vehicle identification

UDOT’s highways handle a disproportionately high amount of freight for the entire country. Large trucks make up 23 percent of total traffic on Utah highways; the national average is 12 percent. That high truck volume makes UDOT POE’s critical to the safety of Utah highways.

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.