June 30th, 2010

Interim report

5 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

 

Lion guarding Utah’s Capitol

Called Interim Session, monthly legislative committee meetings on Utah’s Capitol Hill allow time for Utah Legislators to study issues and gather information.

The Utah Legislature meets once per month (with the exception of July or August) outside of the regular legislative session that starts in January. Unlike regular or special sessions, no official bills are passed during Interim Session. Instead, committees meet to explore issues.

On Wednesday, June 23, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) representatives testified at the Transportation Interim Committee  to present information and answer questions about delayed projects and road transfers. A recording of the interim committee meeting can be found on the legislature’s website.

Here is a synopsis of those issues from Linda Toy Hull, Director of Legislative and Government Affairs:

Delayed projects:

During the last regular legislative session, House Bill (H.B.) 438 reduced sales and use tax revenue dedicated to the Centennial Highway Fund/Transportation Investment Fund from 8.3% to 1.93%  for Funding Year (FY) FY2010-2011, equivalent to a $113 million reduction in the state’s construction budget for new highway capacity projects.  The Transportation Commission and UDOT were tasked with the responsibility of balancing the state’s highway construction program based on the new budget.

Three limiting factors drove which projects in the construction program were considered for delay:

  1. UDOT identified all projects that weren’t yet under a construction contract, these are the projects considered for delay by the Transportation Commission.  Note: Projects that were already under a construction contract weren’t considered for delay because of the cost of delaying projects already under contract.
  2. Since funding cuts had to be made for FY2010-2011, only projects with funding programmed for those years could be considered.
  3. Since General Funds were cut, only projects funded with General Funds could be considered.

Utah Code requires the Utah Transportation Commission and UDOT to use a written, weighted project prioritization process (§72-1-304) for highway capacity projects.  Accordingly, the commission previously developed a process and weighted criterion that uses extensive traffic and safety data collected by UDOT.  The prioritization process was subject to public input through Rulemaking and was reviewed by the legislative Transportation Interim Committee prior to finalization of the commission rule in 2006.

Under that process, the factors used to prioritize highway projects are:

  • Total traffic volume on a daily basis
  • Truck traffic volumes to account for important freight routes
  • A roadway’s level of congestion
  • The “functional classification” of a road, which measures a road’s importance (high volume roads versus low volume roads)
  • Safety (the rate of crashes on a road and the severity of injuries in those crashes)
  • Projected growth in traffic

Based on data, a score is developed for each factor with a final total score on each highway project.  That score is used by the commission and UDOT to prioritize projects. From the list of prioritized projects, the commission selected which projects would be affected by the budget reduction and the amount of funding to cut from each project to bring the program in balance with the reduced construction budget.

Based on current anticipated revenues and cash flow, funding will not be available until 2015 for those projects affected by the budget cut.

To minimize the impact to projects, UDOT identified more than $28 million in savings from other projects statewide mitigating the $113 million budget reduction, which enabled the Transportation Commission to reduce the total amount of funds that had to be cut from projects.

The Transportation Commission and UDOT are still committed to the delayed projects.  However, under the current budget and revenue projections, funds will not be available until 2015.  If economic conditions improve over time, a future legislature can consider restoring the $113 million budget reduction, which would allow funding to be restored to affected projects and begin construction earlier than currently projected.

Route Transfers:

 

Utah law requires that UDOT report to the legislature in June 30 and November 1 about ongoing and completed discussions of state roads that are being transferred to local governments. During the regular legislative session, a bill that reflects all transfer agreements is passed making those transfers part of the Utah State Code.  Discussions with local government on possible transfer of state roads are underway.  These discussions may or may not result in transfer agreements involving the following routes:

Transfers from state to local control:

  1. SR-107 (from SR-108 to State Street)
  2. US-89 in Ogden (Washington Blvd.)
  3. SR-48, realigned portion in West Jordan
  4. SR-73 and SR-197 in Utah County
  5. SR-212 Telegraph Road, St. George
  6. SR-8, in St. George

Transfer from local to state control:

North County Boulevard in Utah County

NOTE: In an ongoing effort to provide legislators with information about how to take care of Utah’s State Roads, an upcoming interim committee meeting yet to be determined, UDOT representatives will present and discuss maintenance and preservation needs.

June 28th, 2010

Beauty marries function

2 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

The elegant Colorado River Bridge, under construction in Southern Utah, is designed to improve the transportation system as well as blend into the red-rock desert landscape.

The Colorado River Bridge is located near Canyonlands on U.S. 191 in Southern Utah

Stan Johnson, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) Bridge Planning and Studies Engineer visited the project last year and sent this great narrative about his visit. Be sure to click on the links in the text to see images of the bridge. Thanks, Stan!

A visit to the Colorado River Bridge construction site:

There I was in the doghouse, two hundred miles from home, and more than a stone’s throw off the ground. As I climb up the small, wooden ladder leading deeper into the structure—into what could be a claustrophobe’s nightmare— however, I’m actually rather excited: I’ve been invited to see the progress being made on the new SR-191 bridges over the Colorado River in Moab.

I’d seen the artist’s vision on paper—the calm, flowing curves designed to match the famous Landscape Arch; the rich earth toned skin of the structure groomed to naturally mesh with a world-famous milieu that includes the nearby Arches National Park.  But right now, I’m in the hard, gray guts of what amounts to a concrete stick in the mud; and it’s no more beautiful than the old bridge it’s meant to replace (which, perhaps ironically, had won an “honorable mention” in a competition for “most beautiful bridges built in 1955.”)

A view from inside the "dog house"

The nerd in me didn’t care about that. In fact, the long, green fingers of rebar jabbing out at the pale Moab horizon practically scream “photo op!” Being inside the large, concrete box set on the center pier (known colloquially as “the doghouse,” and built specifically to allow inspectors access to the bridge’s interior) makes me feel more as though I am being let in on some great secret rather than just being caged by reinforced concrete. Besides, it affords very real shelter from the August sun.

As I move around the manmade cave, I listen to the chatter from the other engineers, inspectors, and contractors as they talk about how they will raise this behemoth over the river. It will be done the same way you eat an elephant: piece by piece.

The contractors needed to purchase a pair of large, million-dollar chunks of equipment known as “form travelers” in order to get the job done. The form travelers would carefully “see-saw” their ways out from the central pier, slowly crawling towards other supports that aren’t yet more than a few steel piles still being hammered into the river bed from what I can see, carefully adding new segments to the bridge. It’s going to take a while.

Suddenly, nearly a year has passed, and I’m sitting safely in my office, my Moab confinement only a pleasant memory. I click a link, and in an instant (or at least what passes for an “instant” with my computer), I can see the naked-but-complete first structure on my screen. Another click, and I watch months fly by in time-lapse. One moment, the old structure is there, the next moment, it’s gone, revealing its sleek, new replacement. And I think it looks fantastic.

Not everyone shares my “inner geek,” but the folks at FIGG really know how to design a bridge that’s worth looking at; and there will be two of them over the river by the time it’s all said and done.

The new structures aren’t just pretty faces, however. They’ll better serve the public by doubling the number of traffic lanes (and for those who know Moab, you’ll know what a bottleneck the old bridge was), and adding safety features for motorists and pedestrians. Beyond the bridge improvements, upgrades to trails will enhance an already “adventurer-friendly” environment.

To top it all off, the whole job is being done in as “eco-friendly” a manner as possible, ensuring a minimal impact to the Colorado River and the surrounding world-class scenery.

I may not be a jeep nut, but now I’ve got one more reason to go to Moab. How fitting that the reason would be a few new arches.

June 23rd, 2010

Adding lanes, one direction at a time

4 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

5400 South Flex Lanes will reduce rush-hour delay for west-east drivers

Adding lanes to a busy road can be cost prohibitive, especially during lean economic times. Nevertheless, traffic delay is frustrating and expensive for commuters and drivers who move goods and services.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has an innovative solution that will ease the commute on 5400 South between Redwood Road and Bangerter Highway.  Rather than building more lanes, UDOT will change the direction of some lanes to benefit commuters during peak travel times.

Change is good

Clearly marked lanes and overhead traffic lights will make the road simple to navigate. See UDOT’s Flex Lane video for a preview of what 5400 South will be like after the project:

Flex Lanes are part of  a coordinated effort by UDOT to improve west-east travel in and around the Taylorsville, Utah area.  See other innovative projects on the WE GO! website.

WE GO! Project representatives will be at Taylorsville Dayzz this weekend. Be sure and drop by to ask questions or get more information.

June 22nd, 2010

Planning made simpler

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A new tool that combines layers of information  in a web-based application makes planning  transportation options much easier.

Director of Asset Management Stan Burns, seated, asks GIS Analyst Frank Pisani some questions about UPlan. "We show our assets on this thing," says Stan.

Called UPlan, the new system allows users to “see so much information at the touch of a button,” says Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) Planning Director John Thomas.

UPlan is a web based map that allows the user to choose individual elements in the natural and built environment. Features, such as parks, utilities, and wetlands, pop into view on the map as the user checks a box.

“It took a huge effort to get it to this point, ” says John. UPlan has been in development for about three years.  Now, the system is providing a lot of utility to UDOT planners who use UPlan to see the potential impacts for projects including future or expanded transportation facilities.

Many agencies have contributed to UPlan, which is an “open architecture” system where no one entity owns or controls the information, says John.

Advantages

Before UPlan, UDOT planners would have to get information from other agencies, and then view that information in many different forms. It was problematic to see, for example, if a planned road crossed wetlands, utilities or archeological areas by viewing many different maps or descriptions.

While using UPlan does not eliminate the need to do on-site investigation, it does reduce a lot of guess work which can save time.

UPlan is also easy to use, so its use is growing among people in other specialties areas at UDOT and at other state agencies.

John does not consider UPlan to be “the” system, but it’s certainly a great start to “building a library and knowledge base of what our needs are.”

June 21st, 2010

Spiffying up the Alpine Loop

4 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

The Alpine Loop is a road with a view. Here, Mt.Timpanogos is seen snow covered on a crisp, clear afternoon in June.

UDOT Maintenance workers, left to right: Mike Cole, Brian Allen and Ron Prestwich

At over 8,000 feet, the Alpine Loop is too high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range to stay open all winter. Snow, ice and wind cause crews to shut gates on either end of the popular scenic route between fall and spring.

To close the road, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) crews check the area and lock the gates. Opening the Alpine Loop requires some housekeeping, even though it’s one of the easier of the high country roads to maintain.

Most of the work consists of clearing rocks and fallen trees from the road. But a few years ago, crews quickly replaced a failed culvert.

SR-92, or the Alpine Loop which connects American Fork Canyon and Provo Canyon. The road is a popular scenic route in Utah.

Neil Lundell, Provo Canyon Station Supervisor for UDOT, stands by a culvert that keeps water off the road. This culvert had to be replaced two years ago. UDOT maintenance workers completed the job, which included re-directing the creek, in less than a week.

Lots of trees, broken from the weight of the snow, are found on the road in the spring. UDOT workers remove the trees before the road opens.

Forest Service buildings are pictured above. The U.S. Forest Service workers often help with the clean-up work to open the road. UDOT also coordinates when to open the road with the Forest Service.

A stunning view of Mount Timpanogos is a good reason to take this scenic route.

June 16th, 2010

Rate this blog

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A skyward view from inside a steel cage used to reinforce concrete drilled-shafts

How do you like the UDOT Transportation Blog so far? If you have not done so already, please read through a few posts and check out the images. Then, take a survey and tell us what you think.

Thank you!

June 15th, 2010

UDOT’s not distracted

7 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

A new report shows that Utah is among states that are increasing efforts to stop distracted driving

Distracted driving includes many dangerous practices, including texting behind the wheel

Today the Governor’s Highway Safety Association released the first comprehensive study showing how states are enacting laws, developing public education programs and tracking accidents in order to halt distracted driving.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), in partnership with other agencies, has been fighting distracted driving using a variety of efforts, many of which are mentioned in the report.

“The furor over distracted driving as we know it came about with the availability and widespread use of cell phones in America. Ten years ago, if you were behind someone on the road who had trouble staying in their lane or swerving, you assumed they were driving drunk. Today, many people assume they are driving distracted,” states the report.

UDOT has collaborated with many agencies to fight distracted driving. Some of UDOT’s partners in the effort include the Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah Department of Health, local law enforcement, Utah Safety Council, AAA of Utah, Penna Powers Brian Haynes and others.  Some key Utah efforts mentioned in the report:

  • Distracted driving has been included in Utah’s  Strategic Highway Safety Plan since 2007
  • Utah has collected data on the number of crashes involving distraction of any kind as a contributing factor since 2002
  • Traditional media (television and print) and Social media (Twitter and Facebook) are used  by UDOT to educate the public about distracted driving
  • Educational efforts directed at teens, who are most likely to drive distracted, has been developed and presented in Utah schools

Additionally, the Utah Legislature recently enacted a law banning texting for all drivers.

Links and video:

Curbing Distracted Driving: 2010 Survey of State Safety Programs

Zero Fatalities

June 14th, 2010

IT’S UDOT, NOT THE FREEWAY FAIRY

No Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

Have you recently driven along a familiar stretch of freeway that seemed to become smoother over night?

Concrete, not pixie dust: damaged pieces of I-15 are removed and replaced with new pre-cast panels.

If so, your now less-bumpy ride may not be a figment of your imagination. UDOT is improving sections of freeway while commuters sleep using new pre-cast concrete panels.

Damaged sections of freeway are cut out and replaced by new concrete.  The process is fast, produces great results and prolongs the life of the roadway.

First, the damaged area is measured and a slab is manufactured. Workers cut out the damaged area of pavement and prepare the base.

Holes for steel rebar are drilled in the existing concrete freeway. The new slab is placed, and grout is poured through holes in the top of the slab to hold the new piece of freeway in place. After only three hours, the new surface is ready for traffic.

Workers place a scrim as part of the process to prepare the base. Making sure the base is level is important. Any rocking or shifting could break the new panel.

This week, UDOT is placing pre-cast panels between Bountiful and Farmington, Utah. Hundreds of panels will be placed this summer.

A worker checks to make sure the base is the correct depth. The new panel is shown in the background. Slots in the new panel fit over steel rebar that reinforces the concrete panel through the tire path. Once the new panel is placed, grout is poured through the holes in the top.


June 14th, 2010

Attention, walkers!

3 Comments, Uncategorized, by Catherine Higgins.

United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recency blogged about distracted walkers who text, listen to music or talk on cell phones while crossing streets.   There’s no doubt, pedestrians who don’t pay attention pose a safety risk to themselves and others.

“And, it’s not just cars and trucks that pedestrians are ignoring,” writes LaHood. ” …Pedestrians distracted by cell phone calls and text messages also risk deadly encounters with the transit buses and commuter trains around them.”

The Federal Transit Administration is promoting Operation Lifesaver, a safety campaign that shows the dangers of distracted walking around trains.

Maybe we should have payed more attention in kindergarten. Remember the song “Stop, Look and Listen?”  Here’s a video to share with little walkers:

The Census collects information about population, which plays a fundamental part in predicting road use

Walt Steinvorth works in Transportation Planning at the Utah Department of Transportation. He doesn't wear a turban like the Great Carnack, but he does have an "all knowing" look about him, don't you think?

Walt Steinvorth calls himself  “the firm’s fortune teller” but he doesn’t use Tarot Cards or a crystal ball. Steinvorth depends on “a lot of science” to predict the number of vehicles expected to use an existing or future transportation facility using a traffic demand model or TDM. Census information is a fundamental ingredient of a TDM.

UDOT gets population numbers from demographers at the Governor’s office of Planning and Budget who look at historical trends, employment, birth and death rates to predict future population. Transportation planners use these population forecasts as inputs to the TDM to predict future highway and transit demand.

The Federal Government requires the departments of transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop long range multi-modal transportation system plans for 20 years into the future. TDMs are used to determine where and when to expand highway and transit systems to meet future demand.

During long range transportation planning, UDOT and the MPOs uses a TDM to test various transportation alternatives. When planning future improvements for existing roads, a TDM is used to determine if more lanes are needed, and if so, how many. TDMs also provide information about pedestrian and bike use.

April 2010: Eleven-year-old Henry Johnson attaches the completed census form to the mailbox after watching his mom fill in the blanks.

NOTE: UDOT is an ARE (acronym rich environment).  MPO and TDM are a few acronyms that see frequent use here at the DOT.  Click this link to see a list of other commonly used transportation acronyms. Then, impress your friends and family by using ATMS, LOS, or MUTCD with confidence. Your mom will be so proud.