January 17th, 2012

GET THE MESSAGE?

1 Comment, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

New air quality messages on overhead freeway signs will prompt road users to make smart travel choices.

The UDOT Traffic Operations Center uses variable message signs on freeways to provide helpful information for road users. Messages about travel times, crashes or other unexpected events and air quality all take turns on the limited but highly visible real estate above the freeway. Limited space means TOC Operators, who have primary control of the signs, need to provide messages that have good utility to road users.

New signs will prompt action on the part of motorists. When DAQ makes the call to notify the public about an upcoming red alert day, UDOT will post messages that are designed to give motorists the chance to adjust travel plans the following day.

 

UDOT has used the VMS to alert the public to air quality conditions since Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics. The alerts are based on data posted on the website Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality. Utah’s air is monitored by the DAQ – air monitoring stations around the state measure pollutants and that data is compiled to rate the quality of air as yellow or red.

When DAQ makes the call to notify the public about an upcoming red alert day, UDOT will post messages that are designed to give motorists the chance to adjust travel plans the following day. UDOT has evaluated the phrases used on freeway VMS with an eye to providing a useful message that targets commuters and encourages road users to make a decision about how they travel.  The new messages will read in part “For Better Air” followed by an action phrase such as “Avoid Rush Hour Tomorrow.”

Drivers have an array of choices when it comes to travel. UDOT’s TravelWise website is a good source of information for people who want to select appropriate alternatives. TravelWise strategies such as carpooling, tele-commuting, taking public transportation or flexible work schedules can help reduce traffic volume on red air days, as well as help motorists avoid traffic delay and get around more efficiently.

January 13th, 2012

MORE HUMAN

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

The nation’s only human Traveler Information Meteorologist keeps his eyes on the roads.

Traveler Information Meteorologist Justin Connolly uses sophisticated weather tools and knowledge of location specific weather patterns to forecast weather for road users.

Meteorologists that forecast weather for maintenance or construction activities have been helping UDOT work more efficiently since the mid 1990s. The department has recently added a Traveler Information Meteorologist to focus on weather that affects road users. “UDOT is likely the only state in the U.S. that employs a human traveler information meteorologist, and we are far more successful as a result.” says Weather Information and RWIS Manager Leigh Sturges.

Having a Traveler Information Meteorologist “has greatly improved the quality and quantity of road weather information we provide to motorists,” says Sturges. “The traveler information meteorologist is not only more cost-effective than other strategies, such as automated forecasting systems, but it is also more accurate, because you have a human interpreting and relating weather impacts to motorists, rather than a computer,” says Sturges.  Accurate weather forecasts are most useful during incoming storms, for road users in rural areas and for road users traveling on mountain summits or in rural areas.

UDOT’s Traveler Information Meteorologist Justin Connolly uses sophisticated tools and knowledge specific to the region to forecast weather. Roadway Weather Information System stations spread around the state collect information about air temperature, road temperature, humidity and solar radiation. Some RWIS stations have remote controlled cameras. Mobile stations can be strategically placed where needed. Connolly also uses computer generated probability models that use current weather data to show how weather conditions are trending.

Connolly’s also uses his knowledge of location specific weather patterns to forecast weather all over Utah but especially in high traffic volume areas, canyons and mountain summits. For example, the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons get the most snow when northwest winds cause storm air to “ride up over the mountain.”

Connolly concentrates on pinpointing the time and duration of “road snow with storms, high winds and cross winds” which are the conditions that affect travelers the most. Road weather forecasts are available for the public on UDOT’s CommuterLink website, the UDOT Traffic app for smart phones, and are sent by tweets. The forecasts provide plenty of reliable information so road users can make good travel decisions.

January 13th, 2012

BUCKLE UP FOR THE ONES YOU LOVE

7 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT, the Utah Highway Patrol, and Zero Fatalities are encouraging people to buckle up not just for themselves but also for their loved ones.

The Zero Fatalities team kicked off the year at its annual press conference by announcing that Utah’s traffic fatalities are at the lowest point they have been since 1974 with 233 fatalities. While the numbers have gone down, the stats are still no where near reaching its goal. This past year, Utah had an 89.2 percent seat belt usage rate—yet the 11 percent who did not buckle up accounted for more than 30 percent of the traffic fatalities alone, and more than one in three traffic fatalities over the last five years.

The conference also highlighted a young girl Ashli Hendricks who was devastated when a tragic car crash took her father’s life in 2001. A video of Ashli’s story was shown which spoke to parents who don’t wear seat belts and are putting their families’ futures at risk.

Based on a focus group conducted by UDOT, drivers say that their motivation for buckling up is if their family members tell them to. Speakers emphasized to drivers the importance of thinking about others, especially their loved ones, when driving on the road and not wearing a seat belt.

“It may not be the most important thing to you,” said Ashli. “But it is the most important thing to [your family].”

This guest post was written by Monica Hasebi. Monica is an information specialist in the UDOT Communications Office.

January 12th, 2012

KEEPING UTAH AWESOME

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Governor Gary Herbert’s vision for achieving long term, sustained economic growth includes transportation.

Governor Gary Herbert spoke to transportation professionals this week. “There is correlation to what you do and successful economic outcomes,” he said.

Thursday January 12, Herbert spoke to members of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, a professional organization that focuses on ways to optimize transportation mobility and safety. To grow the economy and expand the state’s tax base, the state’s chief executive advocates a broad approach that includes job creation, a better educated work force and a well maintained transportation system that can support mobility.

Herbert explained that choosing between education and transportation is a false dichotomy. “You can have both and you need both” in order to sustain economic growth.

Herbert opened his remarks by reading a letter written by a grade school student. “I think people need jobs,” wrote the would-be staffer, who also congratulated Governor Herbert for helping to keep Utah awesome. Transportation projects support job creation and sustain the economy beyond construction, explained Herbert, who sited some examples of how improvements have benefitted the local and regional economy beyond the orange barrel stage.

An uphill passing lane was added to U.S. 89 in Severe and Sanpete counties recently, and the project reduced delay for road users. The new lane is not just a “quality of life” improvement, Herbert explained. Better mobility on U.S. 89 now supports better movement of vital goods through the area.

Business owners from the area have told the governor how the improvement has “helped their businesses be more successful.” A better transportation system allows businesses to expand to more customers and “enjoy a better bottom line.”

Herbert related the experience of a business owner near the newly constructed South Layton Interchange. The florist, who is located in the area locals call Old Town, is “doing quite well” after experiencing a lull in business before construction. “People had a hard time gaining access to that part of town,” said Herbert. The local area which seemed to be “dying before” is now being considered as a location for a new shopping center because of the interchange that “opened up that sector of town.”

In addition to supporting local businesses, transportation mobility also attracts companies that seek to put down roots in the state. In Utah “we can still get around town,” as opposed to other metropolitan areas that have slow commuter traffic.

Herbert shared the credit for keeping Utah awesome with the transportation professionals to whom he addressed his comments. “There is correlation to what you do and successful economic outcomes,” he said.

January 11th, 2012

NEW I-15 CORE VIDEO

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

A new AASHTO video released today showcases UDOT”s cutting-edge solutions to deliver a 24-mile, $1.725 billion interstate improvement faster, safer, and cheaper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yt2LFVr7vaQ

January 11th, 2012

CIR STUDY

2 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT is working to improve specifications for Cold In-place Recycling, an important cost saving option for resurfacing roads.

The CIR process rejuvenates old asphalt into a new road.

Cold In-Place Recycling is a way to reuse asphalt on site. The process uses a long train of equipment to pulverize and add binder to old asphalt, then compact the rejuvenated material a new road. CIR is a cold process, so the energy used to heat Hot Mix Asphalt is also saved. There are also many CIR processes and uses, which gives contractors and engineers at UDOT options for bidding and designing good solutions for maintaining roads.

At about one half to one one-third of the cost of new asphalt CIR is a cost effective process when used in the right location. In order to gain more knowledge about the process UDOT is working with researchers and contractors to identify the best types of emulsion and understand the curing process.

Knowing more about emulsion used with CIR will ultimately help UDOT achieve a more durable product. The curing process is critical since prematurely putting traffic on the new road will cause rutting.UDOT puts a premium on getting traffic back on the road, so understanding the curing process will help engineers pinpoint the right time to open the roadway.

Knowing more about the process is a “big benefit for everybody” in the local transportation industry, says engineer Tim Biel of CME Transportation Group. Biel and other contractors are working together to find out more about the cost-saving process. The contractors have a vested interest in “being part of the solution” so CIR can continue to be an effective tool to rejuvenate UDOT’s roads.

January 10th, 2012

TOC AWARD

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Smart staffing changes have improved efficiency and provided better customer service at Traffic Operation Center.

Making a few smart, customer focused changes has helped improve efficiency at the UDOT's Traffic Operations Center

The UDOT TOC is the nerve center for managing traffic flow across the state. Operators view real-time traffic cameras and computer models that show traffic movement and how signals operate. When problems arise, operators make quick and important decisions to prevent delay, un-snarl traffic and improve safety.

Making a few smart, customer focused changes in the way the group operates has helped improve efficiency at the TOC and in turn, helped reduce delay and improve safety for the traveling public. For improving the TOC, managers Glenn Blackwelder, Chris Siavrakas, Michael Evans have earned a WASHTO Award.

UDOT Director John Njord congratulates TOC Managers for making the TOC more customer centered and efficient

First, managers decided to staff the control room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so customers can always reach someone an operator. Managers also defined very precise hand-off procedures to maintain communication and consistency from shift to shift.  “By instituting shifts with defined hand-off procedures, we created small, cohesive groups that were selected to work well with each other,” according to Blackwelder.

Managers also increased the number of operators working each shift to three instead of two. With more operators insures that there is always someone to take action – like posting a warning message on the freeway signs – during a crash or other incident that causes delay. One of the three operators is an engineer/operator that helps out with operator tasks as needed but also does engineering work.

“We made the system work better,” says Blackwelder. Making the TOC Control Room work better has helped increase capacity by managing traffic during incidents, and helped improve safety by getting more effective warning messages out to the public more quickly.

January 6th, 2012

HEBER’S SMART SIGNALS

No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Signals that communicate with each other and adapt in real time are improving travel time in Heber City.

Called ACS Lite, traffic signals in Heber City are optimized in real time as traffic patterns change. Travel times have improved by 7 percent.

Adaptive traffic signals were installed in Heber City, Utah this summer. While most signals are synchronized by time of day with an internal clock and operated through UDOT’s centralized Traffic Operations Center, the new computerized signals adjust automatically to real-time traffic demand. The sophisticated system is providing a corridor with less delay for road users.

Called ACS Lite, traffic signals on the system are optimized automatically as traffic patterns change. Signals at each intersection communicate with each other electronically to provide more green light time or other adjustments as needed. As the system detects more or less traffic, changes are made gradually so road users can benefit from improved travel time in the peak travel direction.

Before installation, traffic on the corridor was over capacity at peak times with waits of 7 to 10 seconds but those wait times have decreased. “It’s almost surprising” to get this degree of improvement in travel time, explains Jamie Mackey, Assistant Signals Engineer for UDOT.

The corridor was working fairly well before the system was installed – signals were adequately spaced and optimized. But data shows that travel time on Main Street (U.S. 40) “has benefited by about 7 percent in every time period” without drastically hurting the cross streets. “A 7 percent gain is pretty impressive,” says Mackey.

The project received funding from FHWA as part of a program to provide systems that improve signal operation and travel time. UDOT is learning from operating the system to gain experience to possibly use ACS Lite for other appropriate locations.

This is a follow-up to a previous post.

January 5th, 2012

TEAM SIGNALS SUCCESS

1 Comment, Optimize Mobility, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

The hard working Signals Maintenance Team took on increased responsibilities and has delivered improved safety, efficiency and value to UDOT customers.

Region One Signals Team

WASHTO lends support to transportation agencies that have a quality improvement program. Each year, state agencies choose winners according to how those employees support the mission of the agency. UDOT has a committee that judges nominations and selects the team or employees that are most deserving.  UDOT’s program is called Achieving Great Performance. This week and next, blog posts will highlight award winners.

The four-person Signals Maintenance Team from UDOT Region one has responsibility for optimizing and maintaining 325 signals and traffic sensors in the northern part of the state. Keeping signals optimized and operational is demanding and important work. Signals that are not operating correctly can cause delay, inconvenience and sometimes confusion for road users.

Despite the important responsibility to take care of nearly 30 percent of all signals statewide, the Region One Signals Maintenance Team took on the additional responsibility of replacing or updating lighting on all Region One interstates. By performing both areas of responsibility expertly, the Region One Signals Team has earned a Quality Award.

A bright idea

Because of team only consists of four members, a strategic approach was necessary. Team members too stock of the talents and abilities of each group member and executed a divide-and-conquer approach. Two team members took on lighting and two tackled signals. Each service call was handled strategically as well. In order to provide the best use of time per call, team members took care of immediate needs first and then performed additional work if warranted and if time allowed. By taking thoughtful, deliberate approach, team members eliminated a backlog of signal and lighting work.

Darin Fristrup, Region One Traffic Operations Engineer nominated the team. Fristrup points out those team members “spent over 766 hours on the lighting issues, replaced or repaired 256 luminaires and other lighting hardware, and pulled nearly 15,000 feet of copper wire.”

“They did all this while continuing to be on call to repair, replace, or maintain Region One’s 325 traffic signals, and provided numerous hours of assistance to local government agencies in the maintenance of their signals, as needed,” said Fristrup. “There is no group more dedicated to their responsibilities than the Region One Signals Maintenance Team, who is highly deserving of this award.”

Congratulations to team members: Dale Lake, Scott Harris, David Townsend, Jereme Fullmer

 

January 4th, 2012

I-15 CORE FINAL STRETCH

2 Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

This post is based on a press release written Leigh Dethman, I-CORE Public Relations Manager.

UDOT’s I-15 Corridor Expansion Project will be completed in December.

This new Diverging Diamond Interchange near 500 East in American Fork is one of 10 interchanges being rebuilt or replaced as part of the I-15 CORE project.

I-15 CORE, the largest highway project in Utah history, has entered the final year of construction and is on schedule for completion.

“We’re delivering a complete reconstruction of the freeway that will meet traffic demand through the year 2030, while at the same time we’re using innovation to minimize delays for the traveling public,” according to Todd Jensen, UDOT I-15 CORE project director. The project adds two additional lanes in each direction from Lehi to Spanish Fork, extends the HOV lane from University Parkway to Spanish Fork, rebuilds or replaces 63 bridges and 10 freeway interchanges and places new 40-year concrete pavement throughout the project.

“Construction crews are out working hard every day in order to wrap this project up in an unprecedented 35 months,” said Todd Jensen, UDOT I-15 CORE project director. “Although the end is in sight, there is still a lot of work left to do and we appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Plenty of work has been done already. As of Nov. 30, I-15 CORE crews had:

  • Excavated and placed 6.3 million tons of fill dirt — enough to fill 12 BYU Marriott Centers
  • Erected 420,000 square feet (or 31,000 linear feet) of sound wall — enough to build a wall around The Gateway, Energy Solutions Arena, the Salt Lake Convention Center, Temple Square and City Creek Center — or 11 whole Salt Lake City blocks
  • Poured 249 lane miles of concrete pavement — enough to construct a two-lane highway from Provo to Logan.
    Painted more than 6 million feet of temporary striping and roadway markings (roughly 1,100 miles) — enough to paint a line all the way from Provo to Houston
  • Installed 40 miles of drainage pipeline — more than 1.5 times the length of Utah Lake

Crews will be busy in the coming months. The section of I-15 CORE between Lehi and Lindon is scheduled for completion in early June. Interchanges at 1600 North, 800 North and Center Street in Orem are being reconstructed. A new I-15 overpass at 500 West in Provo is nearing completion. A Continuous Flow Intersection is being constructed at University Parkway and Sandhill Road in Orem and two pedestrian undercrossings are being completed near Utah Valley University.

Drivers can stay informed about I-15 CORE construction activities by signing up for weekly email updates, following the project on facebook.com/i15core and twitter.com/i15core and receiving text updates by texting “i15core” to 53535.