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.

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.