May 24th, 2011


10 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT’s Risk Manager Tim Rodriguez is the Insurance Professional of the Year, according to the Insurance Professionals of Salt Lake City, the local branch of the National Association of Insurance Women.

Tim Rodriguez

Timothy M. Rodriguez, CPCU, ARM-P, CRIS, AIS, has been the Risk Manager for the Utah Department of Transportation since February 2010. He came to UDOT from Salt Lake City where he was the Risk Manager for the previous 5 years.  He started out in Risk Management in 1998 as the subrogation specialist for the Utah Transit Authority.  He moved up the Loss Control Specialist in 2001 and was involved in the safety, security and emergency management for the Transit Authority during the Olympics in 2002.

Tim is a past President for the Utah Chapter of Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters (CPCU) and current Past President of the Utah Risk Management Society (RIMS) Chapter. He has also taught insurance classes for the local CPCU Chapter.

As the UDOT Risk Manager, Rodriguez is tasked with identifying and minimizing risk on the project level. Each Project Manager at UDOT is charged with completing a safety checklist during the pre-construction phase. Rodriguez reviews each item on the list to make sure projects are compliant. (See a link to the list below)

Rodriguez manages the Owner Controlled Insurance Program for projects that have a budget of $20 Million or more. UDOT procures the insurance policy through the OCIP rotating fund and “we don’t rely on the insurance of the contractors or the subs” for these big projects, some of which include Mountain View Corridor, I-15 CORE and the Black Ridge project on I-15 in Region Four.

In order to manage all his duties effectively, Rodriguez puts in some serious steel-toe-boot-time at project sites. “That’s always been a priority of mine – to get out in the field.” In addition to site visits, he meets with region safety managers quarterly. He appreciates region safety managers who do a great job and has learned a lot from them.

To UDOT workers and private sector partners who build and maintain UDOT roads, Rodriguez has a message: “Take your safety roll seriously.” Minimizing risk is about making work life safer for everyone on the job. “It’s like the Workers Compensation Fund saying…we want you to go home at night.”

For more:

Tim Rodriguea has a long history of involvement in the insurance industry. Here’s a partial list of  Tim’s accomplishments.

The  UDOT Project Risk Assessment Checklist is filled out by UDOT Project Manager — before using this list, check to make sure this is the most recent version.

This PD Connect Webinar has a presentation by Rodriguez — fast forward to his portion about 21 minutes into the recording.




May 19th, 2011


3 Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT recently offered guided tours of archaeological sites near a southern Utah transportation project.

Archaeologists are working to preserve artifacts from the Ancestral Puebloan people.

An Archaeology team working with UDOT is investigating part of a future construction corridor in order to preserve artifacts from Ancestral Puebloan People, prehistoric agriculturalists who lived along the Virgin River over 1000 years ago. The public saw a close up of the investigation at one of many sites as part of Utah Archaeology Week.

Archaeology team members use brushes to uncover artifacts.

Archaeology team members use brushes to uncover artifacts.

Aubry Bennion, who coordinated the tours for UDOT, said that over 100 visitors “walked away with a better appreciation for the process and consideration the state puts into building a road.  Even afterward, we received numerous thank you letters from folks who expressed gratitude for the invitation to be a part of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Plans to let the public see archeology in action started months ago. During team meetings, Bennion participated in discussions about the data recovery process as part of an effort to preserve cultural resources. But once on-site, the process really came alive for her.

Throughout the day, the archaeology team made slow and steady progress.  “The crews chiseled away, beginning with trenching with a back-hoe, then shovels transitioned to hand trowels, and eventually brushes were used to uncover their finds.  They collected the unearthed dirt into buckets, which were then shuffled through a screen – even the smallest shards of pottery or miscellaneous artifacts were recovered through the archaeologists’ process.”

from William Self, Inc. explains the methods Archaeologists are using to investigate the site.

Bennion was most impressed with the systematic way the team carried out the work. “Their precision was the most incredible thing. the number of staff, the steps of the process, the horizontal and vertical measurements they took of each piece they uncovered to document their exact locations…all of it demonstrated a level of respect for the history of the land and that all possible mitigation measures are taken by the state to preserve what they can.”

Seventeen archaeological sites are near the future construction zone of the Southern Parkway, but only portions of the sites have the potential to be impacted by road construction. Archaeologists are investigating to “determine the extent of site boundaries and the types of structures and features that lie below the ground surface,” according to John Ravesloot, an Archaeologist with William Self Associates, Inc.  The investigations being conducted currently will contribute to the body of knowledge about former residents of the region “and the ways in which they adapted to this rugged and beautiful basin.”

To learn more, read this:  Utah archaeology week handout May 10.


May 17th, 2011


No Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

This post is second in a series about UDOT and FHWA’s Every Day Counts Innovation Initiative.

A “lite” way to operate signals offers many advantages of a full-blown adaptive system without the high cost.

Heber City signals will get an update this summer

Adaptive traffic signals will be installed in Heber City, Utah this summer. The new computerized signals will adjust automatically to real-time traffic demand. To understand adaptive signals, it’s helpful to first understand the current signal control system, says Mark Taylor, Signal Systems Engineer for UDOT.

The current state wide traffic management system is operated through a centralized Traffic Operations Center. The signals, usually within one-half mile of each other, are synchronized by time of day with an internal clock, explains Taylor.

Each signal can operate using multiple signal coordination plans that correspond to traffic needs – for example, signals can be programmed to allow more green light time in the peak traffic-direction during morning or afternoon commutes. Signal operators can program several coordination plans per signal that switch from one plan to another automatically throughout the day.

TOC signal operators can also make manual adjustments to help traffic during major incidents or events, such as a crash that blocks travel lanes or a football game.

With 1200 signals to synchronize statewide, creating plans for each signal takes a lot of time and effort. First, an on-site vehicle count is completed at each intersection. Data from that count is analyzed and engineers draw conclusions about traffic flow. From the data and conclusions come basis for each coordination plan.

While the current plan works well, there are some inherent disadvantages:

  • Every three to five years, traffic engineers need to review or redo coordination plans. “Time plans can get stale when a new development is built,” says Taylor. When plans go stale, engineers need to manually alter the plans or get new traffic counts, “and that’s a time intensive process.”
  • Special events throw another complication into the traffic plan mix. “The current system does not deal with atypical events” like holiday shopping, sports events or an incident like a crash that blocks travel lanes.
  • As plans switch from one coordination plan to another, that change is abrupt while actual traffic changes are gradual. “The current system gets the heart of the peak well but not the sides well.”

Adaptive Traffic Control Systems respond to traffic in real-time.

“There’s no library of plans to pick from,” says Taylor. “Actual time plans don’t get stale; they stay current and are optimized on a real time basis.” Changes are made gradually as signals at intersections communicate with each other electronically to provide more green light time or other adjustments as needed.

Adaptive signals have been operating in Summit County for five years.

An ATCS has been operating effectively in Park City for five years. The system works well in the resort town because traffic is seasonal and weather sensitive, so coming up with defined traffic coordination plans is difficult.

As with the current system, ATCSs also have inherent disadvantages. The systems are signal detector heavy, and those detectors need to be working correctly for the system to work. “Some systems are smart enough to ignore some bad data,” but when too many detectors fail, “it sends the system bogus data,” says Taylor. ATCSs are also expensive and sophisticated and require initial calibration, fine tuning and active maintenance. Plus, ATCSs do not link up well with the current system.

Adaptive Control Software Lite

The system being installed in Heber this fall is less complicated than regular ATCSs. Taylor says the algorithms are simpler and the system is less expensive. “Full blown systems are $25 to $30 thousand per intersection.” While ACS Lite doesn’t do as much as its high-end relative, “it should do well to accommodate the needs of Heber City” at half the cost. Plus, the Heber system allows integration with a central management system.

Like Park City, Heber City has “seasonal variations to traffic demand.” With events like Swiss Days and the Cowboy poetry festival, and the draw of Strawberry Reservoir as a popular recreation site, “during the summer, traffic gets busy in Heber.”

Taylor is on an EDC technical advisory committee working to define specifications for ACS Lite. The EDC backed effort aims to “help to create a system that is simpler to use and operate and integrate effectively with the systems currently in place.”  Through the EDC initiative, FHWA is sponsoring and funding part of an effort to help the nation’s departments of transportation, cities and towns procure systems that will effectively reduce delay.

Should ACS Lite signals be installed in every intersection? “It’s not a magic bullet,” says Taylor. “Funding and capacity issues can’t be solved easily.” UDOT will evaluate ACS Lite in Heber and look at other appropriate sites for ACS Lite or similar systems in the future as funding allows.

Read more about adaptive signals as part of the EDC Innovation Initiative.


May 12th, 2011


2 Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

A federal innovation initiative is helping state departments of transportation employ proven technologies.

The FHWA Every Day Counts Innovation Initiative is aimed at encouraging state transportation agencies to be faster, greener and safer. According to the EDC website, “taking proven, and market ready technologies and getting them into widespread use” can help DOTs to be more efficient and effective when doing business.

FHWA Administrator for Utah James Christian talks to Pavement Engineer Travis Ackerman about Safety Edge, an EDC initiative.

UDOT uses and even leads the nation in many technologies promoted by EDC – for example, many Utahns are familiar with Accelerated Bridge Construction, which involves building a bridge off site, then moving it into place. ABC reduces project duration and saves money and time for road users. UDOT has moved more bridges than other state transportation agency.

Now through June, blog posts on four EDC areas of focus – prefabricated bridge elements, Adaptive Signal Control Technology, Warm Mix Asphalt and Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil – will show ways UDOT is making every construction day count and improving Utah’s transportation system for road users.

Prefabricated “LEGO” bridges

UDOT has constructed many bridges out of prefabricated elements. “Lego” type ABC construction is another way UDOT saves road users time and money, since very short road closures are necessary

Tucker Bridge

Tucker Bridge

The Tucker Bridge is located on U.S. – 6 at Mile Post 204 in Spanish Fork Canyon. With a 120 foot span and a 25 degree skew, the bridge is “a simple bridge” by design, says Ray Cook, Structural Designer for UDOT. Precast elements were designed to simplify the fabrication and construction as much as possible.

Though the bridge is on a curved alignment, the deck edges were designed to be straight and parallel to simplify the fabrication and construction of the precast deck and approach slab elements and to minimize the number of unique precast panels. The uniform pieces also saved the precast yard crew time and money during set-up.

The Tucker Bridge is UDOT’s second fully precast bridge supported on drilled shafts, required to support the wing walls as well as abutments. Each abutment consists of four precast segments, which were placed over the reinforcing steel cage extending from the drilled shafts. Each abutment was placed in less than a day, with the second abutment being placed in less than four hours.

Mile Post 200 Bridge

Mile Post 200 Bridge on U.S. 6

Mountainous geography and a geometrically complex Union Pacific Railroad crossing made the Mile Post 200 Bridge on U.S. – 6 a challenge to design. The old structure, a three span steel girder bridge, needed to be replaced on a new alignment. UDOT’s new bridge, which resembles a giant box culvert is “definitely different,” says Design Engineer Michael Romero.  “There are not a lot of structures like this around.” Romero liked the complexity of the project which involved “doing things that haven’t been done before.”

U.S 6 and Union Pacific Railroad cross at a sharp angle with a skew of approximately 60 degrees.  Additionally, the roadway superelevation is reversed in the middle of the bridge.

Taking all potentially conflicting conditions into account, Romero designed an extra wide, single span bridge with the U.S 6 traffic alignment running skewed across the deck.  Granular borrow was placed on the structure to achieve the changes in superelevation.  Asphalt is used as the pavement surface.

Because the structure is large, with a 107 foot long span and 303 foot width, over 480 total precast parts were required by the design.

Benefits of ABC

Through using ABC methods UDOT and road users have benefited from reduced project duration resulting in:

  • Saved user costs – Reducing the duration of construction also reduces the duration of traffic delay, which has a real measurable cost to road users because of increased time spent in traffic.
  • Improved safety – fewer accidents related to construction occur because project duration is reduced and construction is limited to off-peak travel times. Road users and construction crews have less exposure to risk.
  • High quality – Construction of structures or superstructures in a controlled environment off-site gives workers “time to build these elements correctly,” says Doehring.  Better workmanship can happen when construction takes place out of the pressure of working in live traffic.

For more:

Beaver Creek Bridge was built with prefabricated elements and also as a deck made out of Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete. See HEAVY TRAFFIC CAUSING STRESS?

UDOT used oscillation-drilled shafts on the EXPRESSLink project on I-15.


May 10th, 2011


2 Comments, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

A cold process that grinds up and re-uses old asphalt is restoring some UDOT roads.

Cold In-place Recycling was used on U.S. 491 near Monticello, Utah.

Old asphalt roads have basically the same content as new asphalt roads – aggregate and bonding agents. The difference between the old and new is that Mother Nature and traffic loads have taken their toll, and the old roads can become cracked and rutted. One budget-smart way UDOT rejuvenates old asphalt is by using a Cold In-place Recycling process to give new life to what was purchased long ago. Where appropriate, CIR can be used to re-surface roads or create a new road base.

The CIR process is accomplished on-site with a long train of equipment and a multi-step process. The exact process can vary from contractor to contractor and from project to project, but the core steps are:

  • Removing and pulverizing – The old asphalt is milled off and pulverized. New aggregate can also be added if needed.
  • Adding binder – Depending on the mix design, an emulsion or Portland cement binder is added to the mix.
  • Spreading asphalt — The rejuvenated asphalt is placed on the road where the old material was just removed.
  • Compacting – The newly placed material is compacted to the right density with a roller or other machine.  CIR can also be used to create a road base for a new wearing course.

Advantages and disadvantages

The CIR process was recently used on S.R.-191 near Bluff, Utah. This photo was take by Steven Anderson, UDOT Pavement Design Engineer.

The main advantage of CIR is the cost savings. Compared to a typical roto-mill and overlay process, CIR is about one-third the cost, according to UDOT’s Engineer for Asphalt Materials Kevin VanFrank. Since the process takes place on-site, the old material does not need to be hauled off and “all of that trucking is saved,” says VanFrank.

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.

But, “it’s not HMA,” says Van Frank about the disadvantages of using CIR. HMA is stronger than a CIR asphalt road. CIR is more susceptible to the freeze-thaw cycle, and not a good wearing-course choice in cold climates. CIR is also not the best choice on high volume roads or roads used by trucks carrying very heavy loads.

HMA, a familiar and often used product,  is also more predictable than CIR, which is subject to many variables, such as original mix design and aggregate size. Those variables make the characteristics of the final product a challenge to predict.

Maintenance of Traffic is also a problem with CIR since the process requires a long train of machines that can stop traffic. UDOT places a premium on keeping traffic moving during construction, so CIR is not used in high traffic urban areas.

UDOT will continue to use CIR. “It’s an effective way to grind up a surface that has no value and make use of it,” says VanFrank. CIR will continue to be an option when it comes to keeping UDOT roads in good shape.

For more information:

Contact an expert: UDOT Engineer for Asphalt, bituminous buff Kevin Van Frank

For a post about FDR, another way to re-use old asphalt, see URBAN UPGRADE.

Pavement Interactive is an online wiki for the pavement community that is loaded with good information that is fun to read, and includes this article about Cold In-place Recycling. Pavement professionals can also interact with each other online and collaborate to solve problems, seek more information or share knowledge by contributing to articles.

About the project in the photo above:

The project was 9 miles of 6” deep cut to remove the wide transverse cracking existing on the before recycle.  The cracks were 14’ to 16’ spacing for the length of the project.  The work operation consisted of numerous milling machines to cut the first 3” of recycle and haul to station mixing point for the top 3” of CIR.  Behind the first cut of 3” a second 3” cut was performed and recycled with the mixing train of sizer, lime slurry tanker, solvent-less emulsion tanker, asphalt pickup machine and asphalt paver. — From a construction report written by Barry Sharp.

May 5th, 2011


1 Comment, Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

UDOT’s “good roads” strategy is a budget savvy, holistic approach that also helps road users save money.

Interstate 70

UDOT maintains nearly 6,000 centerline miles of roadway, an investment worth tens of billions of dollars. And while UDOT only has responsibility for 13 percent of all roads in the state, those roads carry a lot of traffic. Using Vehicle Miles Traveled – the measure of the total number of vehicles that travel a specific road segment over a given period of time – sixty-eight percent of the state’s traffic is on roads maintained by UDOT.

Ralph Hilsman of UDOT seals cracks on an asphalt road

Once built, roads and bridges need regular up-keep in order to serve road user’s needs for the intended length of time. For example, a concrete road is designed to last approximately forty years. Some of the planned maintenance activities for concrete roads include joint sealing, grinding the surface to restore smoothness and repairs to chipped areas.

Asphalt roads are designed to last up to twenty five years. During the life of asphalt roads, thin surface treatments and pothole and crack repair can keep the top in good shape and less susceptible to weather. “Temperature changes from hot to cold really stress the material and break it down,” says UDOT Pavement Maintenance Engineer Gary Kuhl. As asphalt roads reach get older, thicker and more aggressive maintenance surface treatments will be needed.

By applying surface treatments to roads before major damage occurs, UDOT can maintain and preserve our roads at a comparatively low cost.

For each road segment, UDOT engineers develop a pavement preservation plan that takes into account the type of road, the amount of traffic and the expected life of the roadway.  Each surface maintenance treatment is tracked, and the next optimal treatment is planned. When it comes to road maintenance, timing is everything. Applying the right treatment at the right time prevents serious damage. A seriously damaged road will need costly major rehabilitation or full reconstruction sooner than anticipated.

The right maintenance surface treatment now can extend the life of the roadway. This graph shows how dollar for dollar, preservation costs less than rehab or reconstruction.

Good roads cost you less too.

A long term pavement performance study shows the benefits of good roads to road users. Based on a ten percent improvement in ride quality, when roads are smoother, road users consume less gas, produce less air pollution, and sustain less vehicle damage.

New processes in construction and maintenance, such as improving the chemistry of asphalt to make it more durable, are being used. But, keeping pavement in good condition in the first place is still the most effective and least costly way to prevent deterioration and extend pavement life. Over the long haul, good roads cost less for UDOT and taxpayers and road users.

For more:

DELAY DEFEATED — Capacity projects reduce delay and save road user costs.

FILLING POTHOLES — UDOT is using new ways to repair potholes.

FIRST, DESIGN TO LAST — Your newborn may have teenagers by the time I-15 CORE concrete needs to be replaced.


May 3rd, 2011


2 Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Public transit can make a big difference in small communities.

Citizens, public officials and UDOT Transit Team members open the new BTA line.

It doesn’t always take a big program to make a big difference. Case in point: UDOT’s Public Transit Team – a staff of five, who assist with planning and obtaining federal funding for small, locally operated transit providers in Utah. “The programs, for as small as they are, do a lot for the state,” says Leone Gibson, Director of Transit Plans and Programs at UDOT.

The citizens in the Uintah Basin are the latest recipients to benefit from the team’s efforts. The Basin Transit Association’s new fixed-route line circulates around Vernal, between Vernal and Duchesne and connects to an existing route operated by the Ute Indian Tribe. BTA hosting agency, the Uintah Basin Association of Governments, recently joined with the UDOT Transit Team, local residents and elected officials to celebrate the start of the new line.

Busses on display at the open house in April

UDOT’s Transit Team has been involved in the efforts to bring transit to the area for four years. “To see it come to fruition is wonderful,” says Tracy Young, Rural Public Transit Program Manager for UDOT. “Local officials have been supportive and involved from day one.” Planning for the new BTA line started with a public feed-back process including a feasibility study showing that citizens would use and benefit from a fixed-route transit line.

Transit systems are often taken for granted in metropolitan areas. But small towns often grow into the need for transit. As rural communities get bigger, new employment centers, higher education facilities, medical services and a larger and more diverse population converge to increase the need for more transportation choices. Transit systems can offer a good solution for that need, especially for the elderly, persons with disabilities and low income populations who don’t have access to other transportation modes.

“For a lot of people, it’s the only way they have to get around,” says Richard Wallace, the Mobility Manager for the Uintah Association of Local Governments. Wallace wears many transit hats — he is also the BTA Director, part-time dispatcher and substitute bus driver. Because the route circulates among three communities with Vernal as the hub, many people will have an easier time shopping, going to the doctor or to work, he explains. And persons with disabilities and the  elderly can maintain independence instead of always relying on friends or relatives.

The challenge in adding a new transit program is to make it sustainable. The new BTA has been awarded Federal Transit Administration funds and has a high degree of community support so it’s getting off to a great start!

For more about the new BTA line and the UDOT Transit Team:

April 28th, 2011


2 Comments, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

The Utah Transportation Research Advisory Council Workshop is an important step in selecting  research projects that help UDOT stay innovative.

The Construction and Materials Group discusses proposed research topics at the UTRAC Workshop

Research helps UDOT adopt innovations — many new technologies and practices at UDOT have an origin in research. UDOT’s Research Division’s UTRAC Workshop is aimed at narrowing the field of potential research topics that will ultimately help UDOT improve standard practices and incorporate innovations. “UTRAC’s purpose is to prioritize needs for the department,” says David Stevens, Research Project Manager who coordinated the event. “Most of the research we do comes out of the workshop.”

Cameron Kergaye

In April, UTRAC gave experts from UDOT, FHWA, university researchers, private sector partners and other transportation agencies a chance to meet, network, share solutions and most importantly, prioritize research topics. Having a broad range of participants makes a strong process – each brings a different point of view or expertise to contribute.

The Research Division is working hard to make the product of research “responsible, relevant and accessible,” says Director of Research Cameron Kergaye in introductory remarks he gave at the event.  Kergaye and his division are looking for new ways to present that information about research to end users – the people who will benefit from the knowledge gained by researchers.

FHWA Administrator for Utah James Christian (left) and UDOT Director of Systems Planning and Programming, Cory Pope

The event also features a keynote address – this year James Christian,  FHWA Administrator of the Utah Division, spoke about the Every Day Counts initiative, a USDOT effort to prompt departments of transportation to adopt practices that contribute to safe, quick project delivery. UDOT is a leader in many forward-looking transportation practices.

The Research Division solicits topics by inviting participants to submit well thought-out problem statements each year the UTRAC Workshop is held.  Problem statements are grouped into similar topic areas and posted online for participants to read before the event.

Participants divided into groups to consider problem statements and then vote on priorities for each topic area. 2011 topic areas included Construction/Materials, Maintenance, Traffic Management/Safety, Geotechnical, and Structures. Each group had a leader to direct discussion. The next step in the research selection process is to present the prioritized list to the UTRAC Council, a five member board representing groups and regions at UDOT.

To learn more:

About UTRAC, see the UDOT Research Division website.

Blog posts that give information about 2009 research topics:



April 28th, 2011


1 Comment, Optimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.

Once a year, the UDOT Research Division presents a Trailblazer award to someone who makes a long-time contribution to the success of research. Blaine Leonard has been both face and voice of the Utah Transportation Research Advisory Council Workshop and the research selection process at UDOT.  His expertise as an engineer, communicator, motivator and leader has benefited the research process at UDOT for nine years.

Leonard is a “practical engineer with a very curious mind,” says Cameron Kergaye, UDOT’s Director of Research. Leonard sees the value in trying a new approach to solve problems.

Blaine Leonard and David Stevens at the UTRAC Workshop

Along with his problem solving expertise, Leonard is a great communicator. His ability to communicate results goes to the heart of what makes research successful: transmitting knowledge to others.

Motivating others to keep making incremental advancements in technical knowledge is a Leonard strong suit. He inspires people to keep trying and sees the value in making continual progress. “That kind of discovery process helps us,” says Kergaye, who presented the award at the 2011 UTRAC Workshop in April.

Leonard has led at UDOT and nationally as the past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “He has worked beyond the bounds for our engineering profession,” says Kergaye. As the former Program Manager in the Research Division, he contributed to the UTRAC process by improving the workshop format, providing workshop instructions, and program overviews for participants, and he has helped frame research for workshop breakout sessions.

According to Leonard, research fuels innovation. “All the new things we do have a research component.” He truly deserves thanks and recognition for his role as a Trailblazer.

Leonard is the Intelligent Transportation System Deployment Engineer at the Traffic Operations Center in Salt Lake County.

Area specific, accurate and timely weather forecasts make UDOT more efficient thanks to the weather team forecasters and Road Weather Information Stations.

Roger Frantz stands near an RWIS


For the average weather watcher, TV or internet news does a good job – knowing the expected temperature or probability of rain or snow means leaving earlier for work, wearing a jacket or taking an umbrella. UDOT Maintenance crews need more detailed information, such as road temperature, air temperature, and the exact hour a storm will hit a specific area of the state. That detailed information helps workers make better use of equipment, manpower and chemicals (including salt water, other anti-ice compounds and buffering agents that minimize corrosion) that prevent ice formation on roads.

RWIS provides that information to weather UDOT forecasters who email information to maintenance crews. “We totally rely on weather reports to do our job, that’s for sure,” says Roger Frantz, Parley’s Canyon Maintenance Station Supervisor for UDOT. Knowing the weather is the first step in scheduling shifts during winter months,  spring storms and also during summer. “The weather people understand the elevations and where our station boundaries are located,” and that specific knowledge is paramount to Frantz and his crew who plow and maintain roads from 700 East through Parley’s Canyon, and from the U of U campus to 3300 South. Crews work round-the-clock shifts during winter to keep roads open and extended hours as needed during the rest of the year.

Time and temperature

RWIS stations spread around the state record air temperature, road temperature, solar radiation, humidity and some detect chemicals on the road. Some RWIS stations have remote controlled cameras to view the surrounding areas. If needed, mobile stations can be placed at a location near a maintenance or construction project.

“The further out the forecast and the more accurate that forecast is, the better I can plan,” says Frantz. Knowing that a storm is coming a week in advance helps managers schedule time so a minimum amount of overtime is used.

During a storm, knowing the air and road temperature determines how much chemical is needed. Chemicals can bring the freezing point down to 6 degrees below zero, but Frantz aims at using just enough chemical to keep the precipitation from freezing. And, if the road temperature is warm enough, chemicals may not need to be used at all – Frantz estimates that his crew now uses one-third to one-half of what was used before detailed weather information was available.

Parley's looking east on a not-so-clear day

Using too much chemical can be bad because of the endothermic reaction, explains Frantz. Salt reacts with the energy in the road to prevent ice from forming. Too much chemical can drop the temperature of the road so “you’re better off to use the bare minimum…you just want to keep the road from freezing.”

Area specific

Knowing where and when a storm will arrives helps Frantz get work done ahead of time. If valley locations stay snow-free during a storm, he may be able to borrow equipment to get more work done in a limited window of time. During summer months “we’re working and they’re watching the weather,” so crews can finish paving or doing other work before a summer storm arrives. Frantz remembers a paving project at the U of U two years ago –“we finished paving at 1:00 and it rained at two.”

Frantz also likes to check the history of a specific location to compare how crews handled a weather event. Reports from plow operators record conditions, temperature and how much chemical was used. Knowing that history means “we can tweak our program” to save time and money, says Frantz.

For more information:

Motorists can make use of weather information from the RWIS system on the CommuterLink Website. RWIS stations are indicated on a map – click on the “Road Weather” tab at the top (in the green stripe). Move the cursor over each station to see specific information.

Internal UDOT staff can request a mobile RWIS station by contacting Leigh Jones, UDOT Road Information Systems Manager.

See a previous blog post: STILL RAINING