November 30th, 2010

TAKE IT SLOW

6 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Many people still don’t take conditions into account when driving in ice and snow.

With two storms past and more on the way as the season progresses, drivers need to be prepared for winter weather.

Slow down

“Driving slowly in snowy weather, or cold and icy conditions is probably the best advice,” says Derek Miller, Program Specialist with the Highway Safety office in the Department of Public Safety.

Driving too fast caused the tragic loss of a single mother of three young boys on Sunday.

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

Derek Miller checks wiper blades for wear

Buy your car a present

Derek also suggests preparing your car. “Things like worn wiper blades and tires may be overlooked to save a couple dollars.” Drivers may be scrimping on the family car to buy gifts during the holiday season .  ”But it’s not worth it.”

All systems should be working too.  ”Also the heater (defroster) and rear-window defogger should work well. Washer fluid tanks should be maintained and kept full of ‘winter’ anti-freeze washer fluid.”

CommuterLink — it’s not just a great place to check traffic conditions

For more information, including how to prepare your car and how to stay safe around snow plows, visit the CommuterLink website for a list of tips to help drivers navigate through snow and ice.

November 30th, 2010

THE PEOPLE LOVE TIE FORK!

12 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT’s Tie Fork Rest Area is the People’s Choice in the American Institute of Architects annual recognition of beautiful buildings.

Tie Fork

With over 400 votes, Tie Fork won in an online competition hosted by the Salt Lake Tribune that let readers vote for their favorite building.

Thanks all who voted for Tie Fork!

For more information about the building, see two previous blog posts, one about online voting and one about the community effort behind the project.

KSL coverd the story about the award too:

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

November 29th, 2010

A METERED APPROACH

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Ramp metering has been used during commute times for years, but not all drivers understand why traffic flow is helped when cars stop before getting on the freeway.

Cars stop at 500 South in Davis County, Utah

To non engineers, the concept seems counter-intuitive…UDOT helps traffic mobility by making cars stop briefly before getting on the freeway?

Metering works by breaking up bottlenecks, smoothing out surges and diverting some traffic to other ramps or nearby arterials. In other words, it keeps traffic on an even keel.

In a recent metering study done in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, the most significant benefit was shown to be travel reliability. Traffic engineers Mark Taylor and John Haigwood explained the results of the study at UDOT’s Engineering Conference.

Some Minnesota law makers decided that ramp metering should be discontinued because of perceived public discontent. The situation provided a good chance to conduct a before and after study of metering.

Reliability is the measure of the expected range of travel times allowing for crashes or excessive congestion. The Minnesota study showed a 91 percent decline in reliability.

Freeway speeds were also much slower. And, traffic volumes were reduced, probably as a result of declined efficiency. ”It was not very long before the public said ‘turn the meters back on,’” said Taylor.

John Haigwood

The study also showed that metering improves safety. Haigwood explained:

– Stop and go driving behavior is reduced, resulting in fewer rear-end collisions.

– Platoons are broken up, resulting in fewer side-swipe collisions.

Metering worked in Minnesota, and it works along the Wasatch Front, too. ”We hear about it when they go off,” says Haigwood. UDOT has studied data to evaluate metering, but has not done a complete before-after study resembling Minnesota’s.

UDOT engineers continually evaluate ramp metering to make sure that commuters see a benefit. “We are trying to help the public the best we can,” said Haigwood.

November 23rd, 2010

HELICOPTER NEEDED LIFT

6 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

An AirMed helicopter needed a lift after a wind gust caused a tailspin.

From UDOT Region One’s man on the street, the one and only Vic Saunders:

An injured rotor grounded an AirMed helicopter on Monday.

On Monday, November 22, an AirMed helicopter from a Salt Lake City hospital responding to a run-off-the-road crash on westbound I-84 near Riverdale, got a big surprise when, just as it landed, a wind gust blew its tail rotor into a roadside delineator post. That collision shattered the carbon-fiber tail rotor and instantly grounded the helicopter, sending the crash victim it was to transport to Salt Lake to an Ogden hospital by ambulance instead.

Meanwhile, a flat-bed semi truck and crane were dispatched on Tuesday, November 23, to transport the chopper from the scene back to a repair facility in Salt Lake.

A crane and flatbed truck were dispatched to the scene.

Once the crane arrived, it took on a few minutes to get the air ambulance “airborne” again, before setting it down gently on the back of the tractor-trailer, for a quick trip to the repair facility.

The helicopter needed help to get airborne again.

Strapped in, the copter soon headed for the helo-hospital.

November 23rd, 2010

GOOD FOR YOU

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A good public meeting facilitates information flow between UDOT and stakeholders.

Does this bug you? Evelyn Tuddenham organized a training on how to avoid holding a bad public meeting. The boards were bad on purpose, especially this one featuring the Mormon Cricket.

Showing how not to receive public comments, Angela Linford of Wilkinson Ferrari holds a bowl full of torn pieces of paper.

In a calculated attempt to show what not to do, a team of UDOT communicators took a cue from a 90′s rock and roll song and decided to be “Cruel to be Kind” with a training that imitated a bad public meeting.

Attendees stood in a long line, saw vague and confusing project posters, and then were ignored or given incomplete or conflicting answers to questions by fake project staff.

After the fun but frustrating demonstration, a panel discussion and question and answer session set everyone straight about how to avoid a public meeting fiasco.

The outcome of the training is a list,Public Meeting Dos and Don’ts, with tips from attendees and panel members who are experts at organizing public meetings the right way.

November 17th, 2010

IT’S THE YOU-DOT WEBSITE

4 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

New tools gives users a custom fit!

UDOT Deputy director Carlos Braceras introduced the new site at the Engineering Conference Wednesday. Website users “don’t want a sales pitch,” says Braceras. They want information that’s cold, factual and timely. The new website give users “better tools for savvy consumers” who want quick, customized information.

Two Quick Links buttons, one in the upper left-hand corner and one on the bottom of the home page, allow users to choose which links appear each time the site is opened. The traffic camera views on the right side of the home page show the areas with the most congestion. By clicking on the “options” tool, users can sort camera views by traffic speed or zip code.

Building the new UDOT website started with asking customers what they want. Some asked for lots of traffic and a little weather. Some wanted calendaring information and project updates. Almost everybody requested traffic camera views that show where delay is occurring. With so much information available, and lots of users with different needs, a one-size-fits-all approach would have been UDOT’s old site dressed in pretty colors.

The new website is beautiful, but it’s the “guts” behind the site that make it work well. “We really are all things to all people,” says Programmer Monty King who, along with Programmer Amy Young, did to code work to make the site function. “My Quick Links allows you to prioritize pages. Basically, users can customize the homepage to fit individual needs.”

Try it out!

 

Amy Young and Monty King get the credit for making the new site function as a customizable tool for getting traffic, weather and road construction information.

November 17th, 2010

BEFRIENDING BICYCLISTS

4 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Recent federal policy changes prompt transportation agencies to give bike advocates equal access to the transportation playing field.

According to UDOT’s last annual transportation survey, two percent of commuters ride a bicycle daily. “That’s huge,” says Evelyn Tuddenham, UDOT’s new Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. She presented informationat the UDOT Engineering Conference on Tuesday about changes that favor enhancing transportation facilities for cyclists.

To some automobile commuters, cyclist seem rare because the total number is spread over the entire state system. But clearly, “we’ve got a lot more people on bicycles,” says Tuddenham. And that number will probably continue grow as more people choose cycling to save resources, get fit or just enjoy the ride.

National policy is moving in the direction of supporting cyclist-commuters in the planning process. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood recently enacted a new Complete Streets Policy that is intended to give people who value bicycling equal footing when it comes to transportation planning. Two local agencies, the Utah Department of Health and Utah Transit Authority agree and officials are currently studying ways to make the transportation system more accommodating to skinny wheels.

UDOT, Utah’s premier transportation agency, is in a great position to lead this effort. And with thirty years of experience as a communicator and a well-earned reputation as an innovator, Tuddenham is a great person to point in the right direction. As a start, she suggests:

  • Linking systems to transit so cycleists can ride to a bus stop
  • Improving communication between UDOT and the cycling community
  • Integrating planning with construction projects at each of UDOT’s four regions
  • Coordinating with other transportation agencies
  • Educating cyclists and drivers about how to safely share the road

Giving cycling advocates equal consideration does not mean that all roads need to be immediately painted with bike lanes; clearly some facilities are not safe or appropriate for cyclists. But, building a system where goods and services can be reached by pedestrians, cyclists and transit would be a great benefit to many Utah citizens.

“This is a new way of looking at things,” says Tuddenham.

When road construction and ancient ruins coincide, much care is taken to locate and preserve artifacts.

Archeologist Sonia Hutmacher holds a recovered artifact. UDOT preserved thirty ancient structures and over 3,000 artifacts at the Dixie Drive Interchange construction site. She gave a presentation today at UDOT's annual Engineering Conference.

The Puebloan Ancestral People lived in the Four Corners area of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. Elegant examples of their adobe homes draw tourists to sites like Hovenweep National Monument on the border between Utah and Coloradoor Mesa Verde National Monument in Colorado.

Remnants of that ancient civilization were recently found near the UDOT’s Dixie Drive Interchange construction site in an isolated spot near the confluence of the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers. UDOT Region Four Archeologist Eric Hansen and AMEC Archeologist Sonia Hutmacher executed a recovery effort as part of the construction team.

Hansen and Hutmacher initially thought that the recovery effort would be minimal. The site had been leveled by heavy equipment and two giant billboards had been constructed nearby. Accumulated modern trash was also evidence of human activity. At first glance, it seemed like no cultural deposits would be found.

It only took a couple of days to find out that the “entire surface was covered in artifacts” and had 30 residential structures. Most of the structures were rectangular, similar toLost City dwellings which have been reconstructed in Nevada. Sadly, many had also been looted and partially destroyed. UDOT archeologists pushed forward in recovery mode.

Working in the area was hot, dusty and time consuming. The recovery team screened dirt bucket by bucket and eventually recovered approximately 3,000 artifacts and was successful at preserving the structures located by Hansen, Hutmacher and team in the UDOT right of way.

Success was due to having a “people oriented project team,” says Hutmacher who stressed that cooperation among team members and with other agencies was paramount during the effort.

Another reason for success was the way the archeologists were completely integrated as members of the construction team. Hutmacher advised that to provide the most help, archeologists need to “get on board right away” and be involved in the project planning stage to “keep on schedule and help hold costs down.”

Hutmacher is glad that the recovered artifacts have been preserved by “UDOT’s Right of Way caretakers” so the objects can help archeologists understand how pit structures were formed and shaped.

November 15th, 2010

GOOD, BAD AND UGLY PUBLIC MEETINGS

1 Comment, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Providing the public with reliable, accurate information about road construction is a key function of a UDOT project team.

With good information, road users and affected property or business owners can make decisions about travel options or how to maintain a customer base during construction. The public meeting is a standard tool in the project team’s bag of communication resources.

Good public meetings allow stakeholders get important and relevant information, a chance to ask questions or make comments, and a resource for ongoing information as the project unfolds.

What happens when meeting organizers are not adequately prepared? Things could get ugly!

UDOT will show an example of what not to do at a training offered at the Engineering Conference on Wednesday, November 17 at 8 a.m. in room 200D.

Evelyn shows a name tag for the fake public meeting. Nothing says credibility like hand-drawn hearts.

Why the round-about approach? Says trainer Evelyn Tuddenham: “We’ll be bad so you don’t have to!” Evelyn and her team have invented a fake project to drive home the point.

Because a bad public meeting should never happen in the real world, the end result of this exercise will be a list of real guidelines so project team members will know how to plan and execute a beneficial public meeting.

It may be unrealistic to turn a public meeting into a stairway to heaven, but UDOT can always avoid a highway to heck when it comes to providing good reliable public information.

November 10th, 2010

UDOT LIFESAVER GETS A SWEET AWARD

7 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Robert Hull has Zero tolerance for traffic fatalities.

As UDOT’s Engineer for Traffic and Safety, Hull has spearheaded many ambitious and successful programs to improve roadway safety in Utah. For working hard to save lives, the American Association of State Highway Officials has given Hull its top honor: the Alfred E. Johnson Achievement Award.

Robert Hull stands in front of the plaque given to him for winning the Alfred E. Johnson Achievement Award

The recognition is intended for middle management leaders who make an “outstanding contribution to his/her department in engineering or management.”

Brent Wilhite with Penna Powers Brian Haynes has worked closely with Hull. “Robert is skilled at getting other people to catch his vision of creating a culture of safety, ” says Wilhite.

“His efforts to promote traffic safety have set Utah as the model for other states. Members of AASHTO, FHWA and individual states have sought his counsel and guidance in their safety programs. Utah drivers are fortunate to have Robert as UDOT’s Engineer for Traffic Safety.”

Buckle-up for safety

Chief among those efforts is the Zero Fatalities public information campaign that aims to eliminate the five top behaviors that kill people on Utah roads: drowsy distracted, aggressive and impaired driving and not buckling up.

Media coverage has helped increase public awareness of safety issues

Zero unites the efforts of law enforcement, safety educators, engineers and emergency responders and has received numerous local and national awards.

A team approach

Hull also formed the Safety Leadership Team with leaders from UDOT, Utah Department of Public Safety’s Highway Safety Office, Federal Highways Administration, Utah Highway Patrol and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

In 2004, these cross agency experts joined forces to develop Utah’s Comprehensive Safety Plan before such a plan was even required. The massive effort caught the attention of FHWA and led to Utah’s designation as a model state.

Safety for kids is the focus of SNAP

Safe routes for kids

SNAP is UDOT’s effort to coordinate safe routes to school for elementary and junior high students. Hull pioneered development of software that uses Google Maps to take inventory of features like sidewalks, traffic signs, and roads to determine the safest route to walk to school. Over 300 Utah schools have participated in the SNAP program, and 64 percent of schools use the software.

Spend and save

Knowing that Federally funded Highway Safety Improvement Program monies save lives when well spent, under Hull’s direction, those improvements, like cable barrier or rumble strips, are programmed as quickly and as systematically as possible.

And, Hull makes sure every safety project is evaluated using an evidence based approach to get the most benefit for each precious taxpayer dollar. UDOT’s focus on efficient project delivery ensures traffic safety funding results in projects that help reduce fatalities.

Congratulations to UDOT’s safety guru, Robert Hull!