December 8th, 2012

ROCKY ROADS

1 Comment, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Why do asphalt roads deteriorate? Sometimes the causes of road deterioration are easy to determine and sometimes the causes can remain a bit of a mystery.

Some common causes of deterioration include:

Traffic – heavy truck and automobile traffic causes wear and rutting over time.

Water – water that seeps under the pavement and makes the earth underneath soft. The freeze-thaw cycle causes damage when water seeps into the pavement, freezes and expands, then melts. Over time, the freeze-thaw cycle can break pavement.

Erosion – water can erode slopes and excavate under roads causing indentations and cracking.

Time and sunlight – UV light ages asphalt over time.

Researchers theorize that water vapor condenses underneath the paint leading to damage to the pavement.

Pavement preservation techniques, including surface treatments like slurry sealing, crack sealing, micro surfacing, and help preserve asphalt roads.

One less known cause of pavement deterioration is pavement markings. A UDOT Research project looked at 13 areas around the state, where pavement markings and deterioration had occurred together, to determine if the markings caused deterioration.

Researchers carefully examined each area, making note of all distresses. Pavement markings were found to be significant contributors to pavement deterioration in some cases.

Researchers theorize that water vapor condenses underneath the paint leading to damage to the pavement in the form of raveling or de-bonding. Cracking near the pavement markings also seem to indicate that paint causes stresses that cause cracks that can lead to more damage. Laboratory tests have not yet confirmed the theories.

Selecting the right preservation treatment for the right pavement condition, along with proper production and placement helps eliminate the deterioration that seems to be caused by pavement markings. UDOT has discontinued the use of some pavement treatments that allows water vapor to become trapped between paint and the pavement surface.

About 25 thousand 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.

A super load, being moved eastbound on 4oo North in Bountiful, stops briefly.

Read more about oversize loads here and see more photos of oversize loads on UDOT’s Flickr photostream.

December 7th, 2012

TERRIFIC TWEETS

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 were devising new ways to inform the public about how to avoid construction related delay.

This post is the second of two posts that 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. Missed the first post? Read it here.

“Our project communications team did an outstanding job in finding creative, innovative approaches to keep the public up to speed on the latest construction news related to the project,” says Nile Easton, Communications Director for UDOT. Social media, traffic reports and paid advertisements were used to inform the public about travel through the I-15 CORE construction zone. Two examples illustrate the success of the communication efforts in reducing delay during critical points in time.

No post-game problems!

BYU football games typically draw more than 60 thousand attendees to the campus. That influx of traffic creates delay on I-15 and surrounding streets and requires close collaboration among BYU, police and traffic signal engineers from Orem and Provo.

This graph illustrates how letting the public know about anticipated delay due to construction can affect driving behavior. The PI team asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to avoid a heavy influx of traffic. The red line represents an even flow of traffic entering the freeway.

PI and MOT teams anticipated heavy attendance at the BYU vs. Wyoming game that coincided with a ramp closure that eliminated one option for drivers leaving the game. Under normal circumstances, traffic peaks two hours following a game. With the additional ramp closure, PI and MOT team members worried that even more delay could occur. A goal of reducing traffic by 10 percent was set in order to keep traffic moving onto I-15 following the game.

The PI team devised specific messages to the public aimed at preventing traffic entering the freeway all at once after the game. The messages, delivered by Tweets and KSL traffic reports, asked fans to stay in the Provo area after the game to eat, watch a movie or shop. Traffic volume was reduced as a result of the communication effort.

After the game, BYU officials became “true believers” in the ability of the PI-MOT team to provide information and options to the public, according to Geoff Dupaix, a PI Coordinator on the project. “That’s a credit to this team.”

Practice makes perfect

After 60 closures, the PI-MOT team was accomplished in helping the public avoid delay. However, the last full closure posed an additional challenge. A full overnight closure of I-15 was needed to set a bridge girder. The only identified alternate route was a 7 mile detour. The PI-MOT team needed road users to avoid that area of I-15 or face delays.

Messages about the closure and alternate route were conveyed to the public, and PI-MOT team members monitored traffic flow and volumes. Within minutes before the closure, “volume disappeared,” says Eric Rasband, I-15 CORE MOT Manager. The public “became a true partner in our closure.”

Lessons learned

The level of cooperation and successful outcomes resulted in strategies that can be tailored for use on a project of any size:

  • Leadership should set PI and MOT goals, and PI and MOT requirements should be set in tandem.
  • Where possible, set up a mini TOC to monitor traffic moving through the project.
  • Establish a planning and approval process that involves all relevant parties, including project UDOT, the contractor and stakeholders.
  • Set realistic goals for reducing traffic volume and define expectations.  It may not be possible to eliminate all the inconvenience of road construction, but good PI strategies can make traveling through the construction zone much easier.
  • Ask four critical questions before each closure or traffic event: First, what are the current planned traffic conditions and challenges? Second, how do we want driving behaviors to change to meet those challenges? Third, what messages will most effectively affect that change? And fourth, what tactics can be used to communicate those messages, and who should be the target of those messages?

Stakeholder feedback indicates the PI-MOT communication strategies worked:

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.

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 Crashes, Injuries and 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.”