March 21st, 2012

STRONG MOTION

No Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Placing instruments that measure strong motion can help departments of transportation design and build bridges that can withstand an earthquake.

A researcher places downhole instrumentation for monitoring seismic activity. Placing and maintaining monitoring equipment is expensive, so researchers working with UDOT have identified the best and most cost effective sites for other potential locations.

It’s important that bridges on interstates withstand a potential earth quake – experts agree that Utah “is a seismically active region”  with the potential of experiencing a major earth quake some day. The primary threat from earthquakes is the intense shaking that can cause structures, including bridges, to collapse. UDOT has taken that eventual future event into account in and has built structurally sound bridges and retrofitted existing bridges. Standards for bridge design and construction are based on past research using data collected from actual earthquakes.

Research can help provide more information about how to design and build bridges that can withstand earthquakes. UDOT has one seismic station in the I-15 spaghetti bowl. The protected equipment is monitored to make sure it continues to be in working order. Placing and maintaining equipment is expensive, so finding the best and most cost effective sites for other potential locations is important.

UDOT has identified a process for determining the appropriate location of other stations, if funding is identified,  in a report just issued by the Research Division. Research Project Manager David Stevens explains that having a method to select the best sites is important “so that the information is useful, not redundant.”

Researchers place instruments on bridges– including accelerometers and other equipment – designed to collect data on how quake motion can affect bridges. A new UDOT Research Division report identifies criteria to consider when placing equipment:

  • Proximity – Bridges to be instrumented should be chosen based on close proximity to an identified fault line. However, placing the equipment near another instrumented bridge near the same fault line could mean the two sites collect essentially the same information, so the data could be redundant and not useful.
  • Importance – Three factors help identify how critical the bridge is to the transportation system. ADT measures are easy to come by and a good indicator of public dependence on the bridge. The number of viable alternative routes and the current value the bridge also point to the relative importance of the bridge.
  • Structural form – For initial data collection, a simple structure is best “to lay a foundation of strong motion behavior knowledge” and then progress to collecting data from more complex bridges. Researchers describe a simple bridge as one with no skew, one span, two girders and no curvature.
  • Local soil – Seismic events affect soil types differently, so bridges chosen for instrumentation should be distributed among different soil types.
  • Age Older bridges that are due to be replaced are obviously not good candidates for instrumentation.

Continuing research in Utah and other states can help contribute to the body of knowledge about how bridges react during a major seismic event. For more about UDOT’s Strong Motion Instrumentation Plan, including details about a decision-making process and also types of equipment that could be used, read the report.

The UDOT Research Division currently oversees and maintains downhole instrumentation and equipment near the I-80 to SR-201 flyover bridge.  UDOT Structures Division and UDOT Research Division “work together to keep it ready for recording strong motion, as well as to explore near-term research uses for the instrumentation,” according to Stevens.

March 20th, 2012

UDOT U

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

UDOT University is a collective effort to bring all training offered at the department under one organizational umbrella.

A trainer tests pre-ride skills at the Trans Tech Academy, part of the Transportation Education Program. Courses offered through the TEP can be found through the UDOT U website.

Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, over 400 courses are offered.

The public face of UDOT U is a website, but the organization represents all of UDOT, with over forty people working together to create an inventory of existing training and also expand opportunities. Richard Murdock, UDOT University Administrative Vice President, says organizers are not looking to take over training functions from agency divisions, just create a clearinghouse of opportunity so employees can look across disciplines to find what they need. UDOT U Provost Richard Manser says the effort will make training at UDOT more systematic, organized and easier to find.

UDOT U is organized and operated similar to a regular university with five colleges, 32 schools, a course catalog, registration and a calendar. Although UDOT U is still in the development stage, with over 400 potential courses, enough is offered there to take a good look. Topic wise, “we cover just about anything the dept does,” says Murdock. UDOT is one of only 5 departments of transportation in the United States organizing training in a similar way.

A good example

Training has long been a main focus at UDOT; many divisions have developed comprehensive training programs, much offered on-the-job, to meet specific needs. For example, UDOT’s Transportation Education Program is an excellent and nationally known program and Murdock hopes the TEP can be used as a template for other UDOT U training opportunities.

The TEP prepares Transportation Technicians to perform maintenance and construction tasks – many move back and forth between maintenance and construction by driving a snow plow in the winter and working in a construction spring through fall.  Skills needed for the job include operating front loaders and road sweepers, repairing safety features like guardrail and road delineation markers and gathering and testing construction materials.

The TEP makes use of a wide variety of community based and in-house training opportunities. For example, the Salt Lake Community College teaches Math and in house experts teach how to collect materials for inspection and testing.  The TEP has prepared hundreds of workers to perform the core duties, allowing UDOT to use people-power effectively and efficiently throughout the year.

UDOT U’s future

More courses will be added to UDOT U soon; by July 1 2012, each of the colleges will add 32 new courses. Eight presentations from the last UDOT Annual Conference are also online now, and next year, more sessions will be offered.

Another goal according to Manser is to “have a ladder or a flow chart for every position title at UDOT.” Defining a training “pathway” for each position will promote the development of competency and help employees maintain expertise.

Online access to records is in the works. Murdock and others are working with the Utah Department of Human Resources Management to piggyback on their record keeping system. That way, students can check records online to produce proof of required training or supervisors can see what training employees have taken.

Murdock is looking forward to improving UDOT U by expanding training opportunities and website functionality. He wants all employees and others who work with UDOT to be aware of UDOT U, visit the site and see what is offered there. Manser says with improvements, the system will be easier to use, and more people will access it. “The system is going to grow and get better.”

March 16th, 2012

UDOT SPEED STUDY

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

In the right location, Variable Speed Limit signs can narrow speed differential and reduce crashes.

Wyoming has had success with placing a VSL signs on a 45 mile section of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie. The signs are connected to an Intelligent Transportation System that feeds speed and weather data to Wyoming’s Transportation Management Center in Cheyenne. Other locations have used VSL signs, including Washington State’s Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, and have seen improved safety as well.

VSL signs allow engineers to monitor the traffic on the road, determine a speed that’s safer for conditions, and then change the posted speed on electronic signs. Engineers at UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center are preparing to evaluate I-80 through Parley’s Canyon as a location that may be appropriate for the signs.

Speed and fiber

Although all locations are different and need to be evaluated individually, like I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie, many of the crashes that do occur in Parley’s are due to high speeds and weather, explains engineer Scott Jones who will manage the operation of the VSL system for UDOT.

Lowering the posted speed limit has reduced the speed differential on I-80 in Wyoming. (Click to enlarge)

Conditions through the canyon can change quickly due to winter weather, and sometimes “in winter conditions, some people are not slowing down,” says Blaine Leonard, ITS Program Manager at UDOT.  When some motorists slow down and others maintain high speeds, that differential “creates very unsafe conditions,” says Leonard.

WYDOT’s experience with the VSL sign system has shown that lowering the posted speed limit reduces the speed differential. Engineer Ken Schultz with WYDOT also reports that the department is seeing fewer crashes, fewer closures, and improved travel time reliability. Plans to expand the system to other locations in Wyoming are in the works.

Since VSL signs are part of an Intelligent Transportation System, “we need good fiber to connect to the signs and operate them efficiently,” says Leonard. Fiber optic cable buried along the freeway would allow the system to tie in with UDOT’s ITS system already in place.

UDOT is very early in the process of looking at placing the VSL signs, but indications are that the system may help improve safety through the canyon.

March 15th, 2012

RAILROAD INTERMODAL FREIGHT SERVICE IN UTAH

1 Comment, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A guest post by Daniel B. Kuhn, UDOT Railroad & Freight Planner

One of the most impressive sights in the diverse world of freight transportation in Utah is that of a lengthy Union Pacific Railroad double-stack container train speeding along at 60 MPH or more. These trains have been a common sight on select Utah railroad lines since the mid-1980s when transcontinental double-stack operations began. Known as intermodal trains in railroad parlance, these special trains carry domestic and international cargo containers two high on specialized rail cars that reduce weight and fuel consumption by being articulated into sets ranging from three to five cars in length.

Providing good highways to move the truck freight is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

Intermodal freight transportation combines the best of highway and rail service, combining trucking’s speed and flexibility with railroading’s fuel efficiencies and economies of scale when moving mass quantities of containers. Trucking will continue to dominate freight movement across North America inasmuch as most freight moves short distances or requires speedy delivery which railroads cannot match. However, while Utah’s primary freight network highways are in superb condition, the freight highway routes in many states are not. This combined with the fact that trucking is usually more expensive than intermodal is diverting a growing amount of freight to the railroads.

One key advantage railroads have with intermodal freight service is their ability to run longer trains with the same number of crewmembers. Here in Utah UP intermodal trains have grown from 80 to 100 cars in length to as much as 200 cars. The use of environmentally-sensitive, high-efficiency diesel-electric locomotives placed at strategic locations within a given train, and operated via computer-aided radio control from the lead locomotive, has made these huge trains possible. This practice, known as Distributed Power Units (DPU) is also used on other types of freight trains running in Utah.

Most of the freight carried by Union Pacific’s intermodal trains is passing through Utah en route to and from west coast seaports and Midwestern and eastern cities, Salt Lake City is also home to one of Union Pacific’s largest intermodal freight terminals. The Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal (SLCIT) is located on the west side of the city along 5600 West (State Route 172) between the S.R. 201 freeway and Interstate 80. SLCIT’s location gives trucks serving that facility quick access to the primary freight network highways that link the Wasatch Front with the rest of the Mountain West region.

Utah is already the crossroads for long-distance trucking in western America, having the highest truck traffic percentage (23% of total traffic on Utah highways is large trucks) of all 50 states. Providing good highways to move the truck freight heading to and coming from Union Pacific intermodal trains at SLCIT is one way UDOT supports Utah’s economy and business community, and the growing intermodal freight business sector here in the Mountain West.

UP intermodal trains serve SLCIT every day en route to and from the Midwest and southern California, with the facility averaging around 500 containers and truck trailers, the later known as Piggyback when carried by train, being handled each day. On average from 900 to 1200 trucks arrive and depart SLCIT on a daily basis, with weekends being the busiest times. Utah’s highways are critical links in SLCIT’s ability to serve as the regional hub for intermodal rail and truck freight service. Containers and piggyback trailers are trucked as far distant as Montana, Idaho and Wyoming from SLCIT.

Northern Utah sits at the crossroads of two major UP intermodal routes, with trains bound for northern California and the Port of Oakland passing through Ogden and crossing the famous Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake, while southern California trains serve SLCIT and then head southwest via Milford and Las Vegas to the Los Angeles Basin. East of Ogden, the trains of both routes use the historic Overland Route mainline across Wyoming and Nebraska, which was part of America’s first transcontinental railroad. Double-stack trains do not use UP’s former Rio Grande mainline over Soldier Summit en route to Helper and Denver as the tall container stacks will not fit through the many tunnels along that route.

According to the Association of American Railroads, the major Class 1 rail carriers in the U.S. and Canada carried 13.7 million trailer and container loads in 2010. While this amount sounds large, truck freight on our highway system was between four and five times that amount. However, rail intermodal is expected to grow at a rate of around six percent each year through 2022 according to the American Trucking Association. Depending upon future economic conditions, the sight of those long and colorful double-stack trains will continue to be an increasing part of the Utah transportation scene, further reinforcing Utah’s status as the freight and logistics Crossroads of the West…

March 15th, 2012

WYDOT SPEED STUDY

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Variable Speed Limit Signs have helped reduce crashes on a 45 mile section of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie in Wyoming.

I-80 in Wyoming -- wind and snow can cause low visibility and slick roads.

Photo courtesy Tom Kelly Photography. See the link below for more images.

Driving on the stretch of roadway can be treacherous when wind and snow combine to make for slick roads and poor visibility. “That’s our biggest challenge,” says Ken Schultz, WYDOT State Maintenance Engineer. To help motorists deal with road weather and improve safety, the Wyoming Department of Transportation studied the area and then placed speed VSL signs that can be changed according to conditions.

This WYDOT Traffic Camera photo shows I-80 between Laramie and Rawlins.

The signs, along with RWIS stations and speed detectors are connected to an intelligent transportation system that feeds data on speed and weather to Wyoming’s Transportation Management Center in Cheyenne. Online cameras let engineers and motorists see the conditions. Before speed is adjusted, engineers monitor traffic and weather to establish a pace speed more in line with conditions, and also consult WYDOT maintenance workers and highway patrol troopers in the area.

The protocol for reducing speed that uses weather, speed and experiential data has worked well,   says Schultz. “Everybody is really tuned in to it.” Speed sensors show that drivers are responding to the lowered speed on the VSL signs. Since the signs have been placed, fewer crashes have occurred. Schultz also believes that a switch to better de-icing chemicals have also played a role at improving safety.

While winter weather makes winter driving challenging, speed differential also contributes to unsafe conditions. When some vehicles are driving slowly and some are driving very fast, crashes are more likely to occur.

According to NCHRP Report 505, “studies show that regardless of the average speed on the highway, the more a vehicle deviates from the average speed, the greater its chances of becoming involved in a crash.”

Schultz believes the VSL signs, along with warning signs  and online cameras, have provided better information that “does help folks to make decisions about their travel,” including driving slower or even delaying travel until conditions improve.

UDOT is preparing to evaluate I-80 through Parley’s Canyon as a location that may be appropriate for VSL signs. Although all locations are different and need to be evaluated individually, like I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie, many of the crashes that do occur in Parley’s are due to weather and speed differential.  

For more:

  • Read an article by Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune
  • See more photographs of I-80

March 14th, 2012

EIGHT HONORED AT UDOT

No Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

Mechanic Ron Grundy is the 2012 Employee of the year.

Employee of the Year Ron Grundy speaks to a UDOT audience while Exemplary Employees and guests look on.

Eight people named Exemplary Employees and their guests met at the Calvin Rampton Complex to share lunch and conversation with each other and to be honored for their service by UDOT Director John Njord and Deputy Director Carlos Braceras. “We have tremendous employees at the department of transportation.” Hard working, dedicated employees at UDOT make the organization vibrant, responsive to customers and help the organization to continually “change into a better place to be.”

This year’s Exemplary Employees are:

  • Pam Wilcock – Region One
  • Shane Bushell – Region Two
  • Jacob Merryweather – Region Three
  • Ron Grundy – Region Four
  • Kim Banks – Operations
  • Denis Stuhff – Project Development
  • Penni Taylor – Administration Group
  • Daniel Kuhn – Systems Planning and Programming

Njord honored each employee individually and then presented the Employee of the Year Award to Ron Grundy. A Roving mechanic for UDOT, Grundy is a self starter who consistently performs above expectations and serves as a great mentor and trainer for other employees and mechanics.

Grundy’s dedication to always keep up with an increasingly more complex and technical work environment has made him a valuable resource. Grundy is well trained through taking advantage of offered courses and spending many hours studying.  He is always in high demand by his customers who have confidence that his work will be completed quickly and correctly. A top notch diesel and heavy equipment mechanic, Grundy is proficient at repairing hundreds of pieces of equipment.

Grundy also focuses on fostering teamwork. The Chip-seal teams, which provide important cost-saving maintenance, count on him to be on-hand to provide quick repairs to maintain productivity.  Grundy is always available to problem-solve when tough mechanical issues arise. He also has great personal work relationships with everyone he serves.

March 13th, 2012

HIGH MAST UPDATE

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Lighting maintenance on I-15 in Salt Lake County is nearly complete and nighttime drivers should notice that the freeway is brighter.

A worker raises the high-mast light fixtures after completing maintenance.

One of the most common reasons people call the UDOT main office is to express concern about freeway lighting. Appropriate lighting is important to safety. According to numerous studies (see NCHRP Project No. 5-19, P. 73)  night time crashes can be reduced by over 20 percent at some locations by adding lighting. System to system interchanges and other places where the freeway is complex having many directional signs indicating interchanges or exits benefit from good lighting. For example, on the I-15 to I-80 interchange in Salt Lake County, lighting helps assist state-to-state motorists head in the right direction.

Work on high-mast lights on I-15 is almost complete.

UDOT has been working hard to replace centerline lighting on I-15 through the Salt Lake Valley.  High mast fixtures, ballasts and fuses need to be replaced about every four years. Starting from 106th South and proceeding north, crews have been working on Sundays to re-lamp the freeway.

Good news – the work is nearing completion. “There are a few poles along there with circuit problems, but we will get that addressed soon,” according to Richard Hibbard, UDOT Traffic and Safety Signal and Lighting Engineer. “The I-215 South Interchange gore areas still need some work as well.”

Shane Killen with Black and McDonald of Sandy, Utah has been managing the project. “It’s been a pretty routine process,” says Killeen, who has been working with crews on successive Sundays to avoid heavy traffic. Other than a few snow days and some underground power issues, the work has gone well. Killeen anticipates that the work will be completed before the end of March.

UDOT’s Estimate Support Team scrutinizes all associated project costs for better pre-bid estimates. 

The team also lends expertise to project teams to appropriately price change orders. The process, called cost-based estimating, is a departure from using average historical costs. Project costs, such as materials, can be subject to fluctuation due to market forces and project location, so an average of historical costs may not provide a good representation of specific project costs. Estimates that are close as possible to market costs allow UDOT to:

  • Allocate funds more wisely – high estimates leave money on the table when bids come in lower than expected. Better estimates mean funds can be shifted to other projects an average four months sooner.
  • Minimize re-advertizing – pre-bid cost estimates that are too low result in bids that may not be subject to approval. Re-advertizing is costly and delays improvements to the transportation system.
  • Be wise stewards of public funds during construction – pricing change orders correctly keeps the construction budget under control and allows UDOT to get the most out of every project dollar.

Chris Wilson, Abdi Fatemi, Jason Henrie and George Lukes are the Estimate Support Team. The team's cost based approach is producing estimates closer to the expected bid amounts.

Since June 2011, the UDOT Estimate Support team members George Lukes of UDOT and Jason Henrie, Abdi Fatemi and Chris Wilson of Stanley Consultants have been integrating with project teams. The team’s cost based approach is producing estimates closer to the expected bid amounts — the percentage of estimate funds awarded at bid opening jumped from 77 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2011.

Working together

Estimating project costs is more than just taking a look at market values. Estimators need to be experienced in the contracting world – “It takes a long, long time to be a good estimator,” says Fatemi. He has over three decades of experience working as a contractor and pricing projects.

Randall Taylor, UDOT Region Four Constructability and Environmental Engineer, has been working with the team since September 2011. He appreciates Fatemi’s extensive background and thinks cost based estimates give project teams “greater confidence that the budget is sufficient” and that the bids will come in near the expected range.

Fatemi knows the contracting world and Taylor knows the characteristics of region projects and local material sources. “We make a good team,” says Taylor. The two have come up with ways to save costs. For example, a Region Four project will re-use milled off tailings where possible instead of purchasing new material  – “energy savings and savings to the project” will result explains Taylor.

Taylor believes the present approach is an advantage. “We’re getting better estimates. We know better where our costs are going to be and we’re in a stronger position to negotiate change orders.”

March 8th, 2012

LET THERE BE LIGHT EMITTING DIODES

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

LED fixtures installed near the Salt Lake International Airport will provide low maintenance, energy saving bright light.

Mike Bishop with UDOT's Light and Signal Crew holds one of the new fixtures.

UDOT crews will install LED fixtures on highways in Region Two, starting with fixtures on the I-80-Bangerter Highway Interchange near the airport. LEDs emit white light that “Produces far more color within the color spectrum” which allows drivers to see roadway objects more clearly at night, explains Richard Hibbard, UDOT Traffic and Safety Signal and Lighting Engineer. LEDs have been installed in several locations along the Wasatch Front, including Foothill and 7th East in Salt Lake City, on 13th East in Sandy City and on 6200 S in Holladay.

The more efficient, long lasting fixtures will save costs. A typical 400 Watt HPS fixture costs UDOT about $10 per month. Considering that Region 2 alone has about 1,000 400W fixtures on the Rocky Mountain Power grid, anticipated savings could be as $5 thousand per month. LED fixtures are expected to last 20 years or longer with no maintenance at all. Standard fixtures need to be replaced every five years.

High mast fixtures are still in development. “When manufacturers begin producing viable, cost-effective LED fixtures for high-mast, then we will begin a replacement program for that system,” according to Hibbard. “I don’t anticipate that happening for at least two to three years.”

March 7th, 2012

GOOD TIP

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

Planners at the Wasatch Front Regional Council are finalizing the 2012-2017 Transportation Improvement Program or TIP, a six-year program of highway and transit projects for Salt Lake, Ogden and Layton.

Projects included in the program will help meet the transportation needs of the area. Updated yearly, the systematic process of putting together the TIP is designed to be continual, comprehensive and cooperative. WFRC works closely with UDOT, the Utah Transit Authority elected officials and the public to finalize the TIP.

The program lists priority projects for the Wasatch Front region that are developed and approved by the WFRC Board and local elected officials, and presented for public review and comment.

The process starts in the fall of each year when WFRC invites project sponsors to submit letters of intent. WFRC planners evaluate each project and determine conformity to the air quality standards. The Technical Advisory Committee, Councils of Governments and the Transportation Coordinating Committee and WFRC planners approve and rank projects.

The projects are incorporated into UDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program  after approval by the UDOT director as the governor’s designee. The STIP is also submitted to Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration for approval and adoption.

The projects listed in the TIP are incorporated into UDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program