July 3rd, 2012

NOW PLAYING

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

In a world where road users get I-15 CORE information on the big screen…

This summer, theater patrons in Utah and Salt Lake Counties will see a trailer with roads that appear, bridges that move and messages that inform viewers about Utah’s biggest-ever road construction project. It’s not a trailer for an actual movie, but a research-based video that delivers an important message – the end is near.

I-15 CORE Communications Director Dave Smith says the trailer pairs an entertaining presentation with a carefully crafted message. His team conducted market research to discover road-users’ perceptions before making the video.

Doing market research up front is important because of the nature of UDOT’s work. Road construction impacts people daily as they travel to work, to the store or to entertainment venues. “Not every company affects every day life – UDOT is one of those,” said Smith.

“We found out that people don’t have a good understanding of when the project ends,” continued Smith. He set out to find an amusing way to let road users know that the end is approaching with a prompt to encourage people to visit the I-15 CORE website to get more information. To accomplish that task, his communication team used a creative approach based on an ancient idea.

Archeological discoveries have identified Mayan calendars with the last date occurring in December 2012 – the same month and year I-15 CORE ends. Some believe the Mayans expected an apocalyptic end. Since the Mayan calendar has been in the news, “the end is near” message resonates with viewers.

The final product is a fast-paced video with the look and feel of a movie trailer– including a deep-voiced narrator who provides a stereotypical sound as well. People tend to like clever humor and Smith thinks the witty but informational message delivery will change public perceptions.

The video is running in the theaters, on UDOT’s Youtube Channel and links to the video have been tweeted.

A new UDOT website lets the public see how tax money is spent to build and improve state roads.

Nearly all UDOT projects designed and built during the last 5 years along with future STIP projects are included in UDOT Projects, a new website.

Three years in the making, the new UDOT Projects website provides easy access to information about projects, including location, purpose, status, total budget and funding source. UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras had the original vision to create a site where the public could see project funding and costs in as close to real time as possible – not a small order explains UDOT Projects Project Manager Stan Burns.

Building UDOT Projects meant that databases containing project information needed to be automatically fed into the website. The Utah Department of Technology Services found a way to seamlessly link internal databases,which include hundreds of projects, to UDOT Projects. As project information is added to databases, those additions are automatically uploaded to UDOT Projects.

The website presents information  for everyone – from the general public to policy makers.

Tabs representing UDOT’s four strategic goals, including Preserve Infrastructure, Optimize Mobility, Improve Safety and Strengthen the Economy, categorize projects by main purpose. Projects in the design, construction or substantially complete phase are placed on a map so citizens can find projects close to home or along a commuter route. Clicking on a project produces pop ups with links to information about budget, costs and status.

Another tab labeled Information Warehouse lists nearly all UDOT projects designed and built during the last 5 years along with future STIP projects. UDOT projects are primarily funded by the Utah Legislature and gas tax revenues which are directed into four funds, and the Information Warehouse Tab gives the status of each fund. On the Project Map tab, an Interactive Project Report tool for queries and analysis lets users sort, view, print and export data.

Altogether, the map, query tool, budget and funding information provide a lot of utility for the public and those who work with UDOT.  End users can easily find and display what ever information is desired. “If you want to know how much we’ve spent on pavement preservation, you can see that,” says Burns.

June 29th, 2012

WILD APP

1 Comment, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A new smart phone app is helping UDOT and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources work together to improve safety.

Mule deer pass under a bridge on U.S. 6. This photo was taken by an onsite motion activated camera placed by Wildlife Researcher Dr. Patricia Cramer with USU.

The new Utah Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reporter is a tool that helps track and categorize animals that are hit by vehicles on state routes. The app is for use on GPS enabled smart phones that are used by UDOT contractors who pick up carcasses from state roads. UDOT and DWR both need the information to identify where improvements, such as wildlife crossings and fencing, are needed.  “It’s the single most important data set we use,” says Ashley Green, UDWR Wildlife Coordinator for Statewide Projects.

Habitat Biologist Doug Sakaguchi with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has helped track high wildlife-vehicle hit areas since 2005. Data shows fewer hits have occurred in areas where new wildlife crossings and fences have been installed over the past seven years. Crossings and connected fencing work together to direct wildlife through crossings.

In the past, Green says that staff spent many hours entering data. Sometimes, important data was lost, forgotten or duplicated. Eventually, Green realized that a better system was needed so UDWR employees could spend less time entering data “and have more time to analyze data to make recommendations on making wildlife mitigations.”

The app was the idea of a graduate student at Utah State University who is conducting research at several locations around the state. He proposed the idea for the app to UDOT and UDWR –employees at both agencies thought the idea was worth pursuing. With funding from UDOT, AGRC programmers designed the app, which works on Android and iPhone systems.

Paul West, UDOT’s Wildlife Program Manager makes recommendations for improvements aimed at protecting wildlife or threatened or endangered species for every UDOT project. He analyzes the data for “hot spots,” which represent an increase in wildlife hits. Those kinds of data spikes indicate where new crossings or fences are needed “now or in the future to correct that situation,” says West. Installing crossings and fencing needs to be done strategically in order to provide help where it’s needed most. Better data means better decisions about wildlife crossings can be made.

UDOT Engineer for Maintenance Methods Lynn Bernhard put together the contracts that require vendors to use the app. “Wildlife data is captured immediately at the exact time and place that the carcass is picked up and automatically transferred into the Division of Wildlife Resources database,” says Bernhard.

Using the app eliminates a lot of errors and simplifies the work of UDOT’s contractors. Workers who use the app only need to enter a few bits of information about the animal. The app populates the rest of the information, including mile marker, state route, UDWR region and other details, based on the GPS location.

UDOT and  UDWR will continue to work together to make roads safer by reducing the number of vehicle-wildlife crashes, explains Bernhard, “and that’s what it’s all about, eliminating crashes.”

For more, view an AGRC presentation about the development of the app.

June 27th, 2012

INTERSECTION UPDATE

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

New safety features will get the attention of motorists.

An auto-activated warning tells motorists on SR 202 that SR 201 traffic does not stop.

The location where State Routes 201 and 202 meet near Rio Tinto has been the site of two recent fatal car crashes; the last one occurred in January. “Rio Tinto has been so concerned with this intersection that they prohibit all Rio Tinto employees from making through and left turn movements at this intersection,” according to Brandon Weight, Rotational Engineer with UDOT Central Traffic and Safety.  Weight designed the improvements to the intersection, which have now been installed.

After the last fatal crash, concern for the safety of motorists prompted UDOT Region Two Traffic Engineer Robert Miles to look for ways to improve safety at the location. He assigned to engineer Alex Fisher, an intern at UDOT, to research some options and propose changes.

The speed disparity on the two routes provided the challenge. SR 201 traffic tends to be fast and motorists have a long stretch of highway with few stops required between Tooele and Salt Lake. SR 202 is slower, and motorists entering SR 201 may not realize that oncoming traffic is traveling fast. Conversely, motorists traveling on SR 201 might not anticipate slower moving traffic entering the roadway.

Since the intersection does not meet all the criteria for a signalized intersection, Fisher proposed an auto-activated warning and stop signs. Read about her proposal in a previous blog post.

Weight found the designing the improvements very satisfying. He worked under the direction of UDOT Traffic and Safety Engineer Larry Montoya.

Design challenges

According to Weight, the most challenging part of the design was placing the radar detection and signs in a location that allows adequate stopping sight distance for semis. Other challenges included designing the raised island to allow adequate site distance for vehicles stopping on SR 202 and the minimum turning path for semis entering the refinery.

Very few changes to the design needed to be made during construction. “Once construction started, the conduit placement and wire call-outs needed to be adjusted,” according to Weight. “All changes were adjusted in the final as-built drawings.”

The procurement contractor was Cash Valley Electric under the direction of Eric Ward. The contractor provided a high quality finished product. The system was turned-on by David Mount of Region Two on Monday, June 18, 2012, “Rio Tinto has told me they are happy with our efforts to improve the safety at this intersection,” says Weight. UDOT will monitor the improvements to make sure the improvements function as intended by design.

Utah’s all-inclusive transportation plan for state and local roads and transit is one of a kind in the United States.

Bangerter Highway at 7800 South

The Unified Transportation Plan: 2011 to 2040 is a comprehensive project list that includes urban and rural transportation improvement projects from UDOT and Utah’s four Metropolitan Planning Organizations – Wasatch Front Regional Council, Mountainland Association of Governments, Dixie MPO and Cache MPO.

Engineers, elected officials, planners and citizens collaborate for years to produce the list that also includes “planning time horizons, funding and growth assumptions, and modeling approaches,” according to Andrew Gruber, Executive Director of WFRC.

The Unified Transportation Plan “allows us to speak with a unified voice to our legislature about our transportation priorities and needs” says UDOT Transportation Planner Walt Steinvorth. Having one plan means that transportation projects are prioritized and funded in a coordinated manor.

Transportation has a critical role to play in economic growth and mobility. “The significant investments that the Legislature, local governments, and voters have approved have not only created thousands of private-sector engineering and construction jobs, but they have also allowed us to keep pace with the rapid growth Utah has experienced,” according to Gruber.

“One of the reasons that Utah’s economy has been strong and has outperformed most other states is the solid investment we have made in transportation infrastructure – both roads and transit, and increasingly, bike and pedestrian infrastructure.”

And the fact that Utah is the only state with a Unified Transportation Plan has earned national attention and praise. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited Utah recently and called the plan a model for the nation. Janet Kavinoky, Director of Transportation Infrastructure for the United States Chamber of Commerce has called attention to the plan in an article for the Eno Center for Transportation.

June 25th, 2012

TRANS TECH INITIATIVES

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

From Kevin Griffin, UDOT Director of Maintenance and Rob Wight, UDOT Engineer for Construction: Over the past year our District Engineers have been working hard to address issues that had been identified with our Transportation Technician program.  The District Engineers have done a great job in addressing these issues and we felt it was important to identify what they have been working on.  Some of the issues with the Transportation Technician program that they have addressed are:

Better Communication/ Career Development

Training

Workload exceeds Resources

Project Specific Training

Geographic Challenges / Mentoring

Efficiency of using internal inspection

Identification of Cost Efficiencies

The District Engineers will be working closely with their staff at each region to explain the details of these initiatives and how the initiatives will improve the Transportation Technician program. We would personally like to thank all of the District Engineers for their efforts here.  The hard work they have done will have a lasting impact to the Transportation Technician program and to the department.

UDOT will use an innovative hybrid bridge system that combines the durability of concrete with the strength of Fiber Reinforced Polymer.

The system, called Bridge in a Backpack, uses stiffened FRP tubes that are shaped into aarches and filled with concrete. While design of the brides varies, the arches are typically attached to a concrete footing and covered with corrugated decking then covered with compacted soil. The new bridge, which is being designed, will be built in Ogden Canyon on SR 39 near Huntsville.

Hundreds of the tubular structures have built in the United States, although the building method is fairly new. The arches were developed by the University of Main. FHWA has developed an implementation strategy and is funding part of the construction costs of the new bridge.

Advantages of the Bridge in a Backpack system include:

  • Fast construction which benefits the driving public.
  • Light weight components that can be transported easily.
  • Potentially lower maintenance costs over the life of the bridge – FRP is not susceptible to road de-icing chemicals as is steel.

UDOT has used FRP in other structures. UDOT’s Beaver Creek Bridge on US-6 near Soldier Summit has a deck that is reinforced with FRP bars. The bridge is instrumented with sensors that measure strain. Researchers are collecting data that will show how the deck holds up under traffic.

UDOT will also build a bridge with hybrid-composite beams near Beaver. The design uses an FRP box to with a concrete arch inside that gives the beam compressive strength. More than just a covering, the box “provides shear strength and encapsulates the tension and compression elements,” according to the HCB Company website. The arch structure inside the beam is surrounded with low density foam core. A prestressing strand provides additional strength and steel shear connectors provide stiffness. Along with being very strong and durable, the beams are also light and easy to lift and place.

June 21st, 2012

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

It’s a decision that drivers face every day when approaching an intersection – to slow down and stop upon seeing a yellow signal or to maintain speed and risk running a red light.

Signal Systems Engineer Mark Taylor monitors dilemma zone detection online.

The dilemma zone is the space before entering an intersection where drivers make that sometimes tough call to stop or keep going. On a high-speed roadway, the decision needs to be made in seconds, and the wrong choice can be dangerous.

Intersections are complex configurations where two roadways intersect. Many of the most important driving skills – such as maintaining an appropriate speed, staying attentive and alert, and using good judgment – come into play all at once. The crash types that are common at intersections include rear-end and T-bone; both can cause serious injury or death.

To improve safety at intersections, UDOT has installed dilemma zone detectors. The detection equipment uses radar to see cars as they approach an intersection. Software used with the equipment is programmed to extend the signal phase to allow cars more time to get through the intersection.

Deciding when extra time is needed based on scientific studies that show how most drivers are likely to behave, explains UDOT Traffic Signal Operations Engineer Mark Taylor. Traffic signal engineers use those studies to define three fields drivers cross before entering an intersection. Drivers in the field closest to the signal usually always go through the light. In the field farthest from the intersection, most cars stop.

The middle section is the dilemma zone “where drivers realize ‘I’ve got a decision to make,’” says Taylor. Cars entering that dilemma zone at a pre-determined point in time trigger the system to extend the signal phase, eliminating the dilemma and also the potential for an un-wise decision. While the system is backed up by science, Taylor uses some engineering judgment as well. “I put logic in with that radar,” he says.

“UDOT’s policy is to install Dilemma Zone Detection on every approach that is 40 miles per hour or higher,” says Taylor. Over five hundred intersections in Utah have been equipped with Dilemma Zone Detection.

For more: Read this article about how Dilemma Zone Detection can show a twenty percent reduction of cars exposed to the yellow signal and 70% reduction in red light running.

The 2012 Research Workshop held on May 10 brought transportation experts together to present, discuss, and then prioritize potential research opportunities.

The UDOT Maintenance group prioritizes problem statements at the Research Workshop

At the workshop, transportation professionals meet to prioritize problem statements in order to select the ones most suitable to become research projects. The workshop serves as one step in the research project selection process and involves UDOT, FHWA, universities, private sector firms and other transportation agencies.

Good communication with all parties is essential before, during and after the workshop. “Success depends on a continuous dialog with UDOT’s technical experts and industry researchers to help determine transportation challenges to solve,” says UDOT Research Director Cameron Kergaye. Recent changes in the project selection process have been aimed at improving that ongoing internal conversation in order to produce:

High-value research – UDOT Senior and group leaders help select technical areas where the benefit-cost ratio is highest.

Timely preparation of statements – sending problem statements to  participants ahead of the workshop helps participants to be prepared for discussions.

Problem statements that address UDOT’s priorities – UDOT staff vote during the prioritization process, and UDOT division leaders also prioritize the problem statements based on organizational needs and available funding.

More research projects – After the workshop, the UDOT Research Division Staff works with division leaders to identify additional funding.

Before the workshop, UDOT Research Division solicits problem statements. This year, six focus areas were identified: Structures and Geotechnical, Environmental and Hydraulics, Construction and Materials, Maintenance, Traffic Management and Safety and Pre-construction. This year, the workshop enjoyed good support from the research community; fifty-two projects were submitted – 7 more projects than last year.

During the Workshop, participants divide into groups to prioritize problem statements. This year, three voting criteria were used:  importance of research, relevance to UDOT, and likelihood of implementation.  All attendees participated in the statement discussions and UDOT staff voted during the prioritization process.

After the workshop, UDOT Research Division staff reviews prioritization and funding for each problem statement with division and group leaders. The outcome of the 2012 workshop is that 17 projects will receive funding; ten projects will be funded through the Research Division, six will be funded by other UDOT divisions and UDOT Research will fund one pooled-fund project solicited  by another state.

Research Project Manager Kevin Nichol who coordinated the workshop explains that the projects enjoyed broad support. “We were excited that a number of projects received funding from other sources.” Many UDOT divisions including Maintenance, Planning, Traffic and Safety and the TOC contributed funding along with University Transportation Centers.

The additional funding support shows that UDOT divisions see the value in the process, according to Kergaye. He believes the strong show of support is a result of problem statements that are more carefully constructed and more closely aligned to UDOT’s priorities.

“We’ve got some good projects,” says Nichol. “Some are extending the scope of existing research and some new projects that are just coming about.”

To see details on the list of final projects, visit the UDOT Research Division website.

June 18th, 2012

EQUIPPED FOR EFFICIENCY

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

New lanes and interchanges are not the only improvements coming to I-15 in Utah County.

April 2012, Lehi Main Street

The I-15 CORE Project between Lehi and Spanish Fork wraps up this December. But the wider freeway and 63 rebuilt or improved bridges are not the only features that will help ease traffic flow. Equipment — cameras, signs, fiber-optic cable and ramp meters — will put five systems into operation and help UDOT traffic engineers keep traffic moving efficiently. Here’s an overview:

The project will add a network of cameras, 37 in all, between the Point of the Mountain to Spanish Fork. UDOT uses the cameras to monitor congestion and to identify crashes and other incidents. If needed, the Utah Highway Patrol can dispatch an Incident Management Team to help clear the crash to keep traffic moving and prevent secondary crashes.

Forty-nine Traffic Monitoring Stations will be installed. TMS systems use radar to detect volume and speed. The data collected by TMS units feeds to the UDOT Traffic website. Road users can then view maps with routes marked in green, yellow and red representing real time traffic volume. The TMS data lets UDOT engineers see where backing is occurring on a similar password protected map. Some of the TMS units also have cameras.

Four overhead Variable Message Signs will be installed along the project corridor.The TMS data gathered also feeds to the VMS, giving road users travel times and notification of incidents ahead that are causing delay.

New Express Lanes in Utah County will help UDOT manage traffic flow throughout the freeway corridor.

The I-15 CORE project will also add Express Lanes to help UDOT manage traffic flow throughout the freeway corridor. Free for carpools, motorcycles and C-plate vehicles, solo drivers can use the lanes with an Express Pass. UDOT adjusts the price of using the lanes according to traffic conditions — so when traffic is heavy drivers will pay little more. The system allows maximum use of all lanes with the Express Lanes maintaining a speed of 55 mph during peak travel times.

Express Lanes in Salt Lake and Davis County have been popular with road users.  Over 10,000 people have purchased an Express Pass. Until the I-15 CORE project is complete in December, the Express Lanes will function as a carpool lane throughout the project. To learn more about Express Lanes, visit the website.

A total of 22 ramp meters will be installed at all interchanges help UDOT regulate traffic getting on and off of the freeway. Ramp meters help traffic flow by minimizing speed differential on the freeway – when all traffic is moving at a similar speed, traffic flow is more efficient and fewer crashes occur.

In all, 26 miles of fiber optic cable buried along the corridor will provide a data-moving artery that supports cameras, TMS, VMS ramp meters and the Express Lanes and lets UDOT communicate in real time. UDOT leaders have charged managers at the Traffic Operations Center with creating a world class Advanced Traffic Management System. Expanding the fiber optic system is an important part of reaching that goal.