Monthly Archives: September 2011


FHWA has given UDOT and partner agencies an award for successful wildlife mitigation efforts on U.S. Highway 6.

First to be photographed at Beaver Creek Bridge

Beaver Creek Bridge on US-6

A diverse team of experts from federal and state government joined forces in 2005 to find better ways to help wildlife get across US Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Price, Utah. Members from the Wildlife Coordinating Committee, drawing from FHWA, UDOT, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Bureau of Land Management, Uinta National Forest Service, and Utah State University, collaborate to identify high wildlife-vehicle collision spots and make recommendations for improvements.

“Their efforts are showing measurable success,” says Brandon Weston, UDOT Environmental Manager and chairman of the committee. FHWA has recognized that success with a Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative Award.

The committee has been successful by studying wildlife habitats, building cross-agency partnerships and using innovative solutions backed by the best science available, according to Rebecka Stromness, past UDOT Environmental Manager.  Stromness wrote the nomination for the award, which points out that many past activities, including  construction of the original road and railroad, logging, fur trapping, livestock grazing, agriculture, and urban development, have served to eliminate or degrade wildlife habitat. “With the implementation of mitigation for each specific project, vehicle-wildlife collisions are being reduced and wildlife movement across the highway is gradually being restored.”

Professor Patricia Cramer, a wildlife research assistant professor with Utah State University, is tracking the success of crossings by placing cameras to record images of wildlife. Cramer joined the committee years before research started. Knowing UDOT was planning an ambitious and challenging effort to improve safety on US-6, she saw the potential for the highway to be the “crown jewel of wildlife crossings in Utah.” Her research started with a UTRAC grant and continues with funding from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Doug Sakaguchi, Habitat Biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, has served on the committee since 2005. The success of the committee in collaborating to reduce the number of wildlife killed is “exciting to me,” says Sakaguchi. His graph (below) shows a reduction in the number of carcasses before and after two bridges were replaced with new bridges that accommodate wildlife movement.

Before and after (click to enlarge). A new bridge planned at Mile Post 203 will allow wildlife to cross.

Weston, Cramer and Sakaguchi point to a railroad bridge replacement project at Mile Post 200 as an example of a successful outcome. The old structure, a three-span steel girder bridge, needed to be replaced. The new bridge that accommodates the rail lines limits the ability of wildlife to cross. Through the committee’s efforts, a wildlife crossing was added to the project just west of the new bridge. The new crossing allows over 800 Mule Deer each year to cross under US-6.

The committee provides a model that shows how agencies can work together to improve highway safety and reduce animal-vehicle collisions, explains Weston. The committee’s job with US 6 is nearly complete, but members will continue to meet to discuss research and wildlife mitigation efforts in other parts of the state.

“We are not starting from scratch anymore,” says committee member Ashley Green, UDWR Wildlife Coordinator for Statewide Projects. He is confident that other areas of the state can benefit from cross-agency cooperation even though wildlife crossing areas pose problems that are “difficult, complex and not easy to fix,” he explains. “We have seen some really awesome success.”

In addition to improving wildlife crossings, UDOT has added new bridges, general purpose and passing lanes, concrete barrier, guardrail, centerline and shoulder rumble stripes, warning signs and improved the road alignment on US 6.

Read more:


The first portion of the Mountain View Corridor opened first to runners, then motorists.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The first three-mile section of Mountain View Corridor (MVC) in Utah County opened to motorists at 2100 North in Lehi. Hundreds turned out for a charity 5K, Fun Run and community BBQ to mark the occasion. All proceeds raised at the event will support four local charities including North Point Elementary School, Hess Cancer Foundation, Boys and girls Club of Utah County and Anything for a Friend.


New pavement markings in Echo and East Canyons will improve visibility and safety at night and during storms.

This slide show provides a few images of work done this week in Echo and East Canyons. Click on the large images to see captions. Place your cursor in the bottom portion of the show to select another image.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

A past UDOT Blog post gives more information about how UDOT is testing beads and grooving pavement.


A Utah product could be the answer to more durable asphalt roads.

SR-121 near MP 29

Three thirty year old roads in Utah are aging remarkably well. While other asphalt roads in the area have been rebuilt, Randlett Road, the Bonanza Highway and SR-121, between Maeser to Lapoint near Vernal, Utah, show minimal wear and very few ruts and cracks compared to other roads that carry similar loads. What’s the difference? Pavement made from native asphalt excavated in Utah.

“It’s pretty stout,” says UDOT Engineer for Asphalt Materials Kevin VanFrank who has tested oil sands pavement with a Hamburg asphalt mix performance tester. After over 12,000 passes with the machine’s weighted wheel, the old pavement showed similar wear as compared to newer typical asphalt mix designs used on similar roads.

Old oil sands mix designs varied in the past. SR-121, Maeser to LaPoint was paved in road mix method using kerosene as a cutter to mobilize the oil sands. Randlett Highway and the Bonanza Highway were paved using a hot mix. To make use of oil sands today requires a standardized design that considers repeatability and durability.

Standardized design

Core sample of asphalt pavement made from oil sands

Oil sands, mined in the Uintah basin, are a source of natural asphalt that have been used in pavement for 80 years, explains Kimball Young, who is overseeing a project to put the product to work for the Uintah Transportation Special Service District with support from USTAR. Young’s project team has developed a non-proprietary design and placed oil sand pavement in test areas in Uintah County. Plant Mixed Oil Sands Asphalt uses un-processed oil sands along with the usual pavement components – crushed aggregate and hydrated lime.

The mix development process started with testing the old pavement. VanFrank worked with University of Utah researcher Pedro Romero on initial testing. Young worked with Tim Biel of CME Transportation group to continue the testing and development of a mix design that produces a stable mix and can be reproduced. Romero has maintained his involvement throughout the process.

All testing showed that pavement made from oil sands can produce high quality, durable pavement for light to medium traffic loads. The durability of oil sand pavement may be due to slower oxidation rates in natural asphalt as compared to asphalt from refined petroleum, explains Biel.

The mix design developed by Young’s team is composed of 35 to 40 percent oil sand containing  a minimum of 12 percent asphalt and 60 to 65 percent course aggregate. Young’s team is testing warm mix designs with and without hydrated lime.


New I-15 Sign in Cedar City, Utah

Interstate signs are updated to improve safety and provide better readability and directional help for road users.

New signs have been placed on Interstate 15 near Cedar City. The signs meet new Federal standards and the messages on the signs have better relevance to the local area.

As interstate signs age and Federal standards change, UDOT identifies interstate segments that could be improved by a sign facelift. Sometimes single signs need to be replaced due to fading or other damage, but replacing a sequential group, as exemplified by the Cedar City project, gives UDOT the chance to update a series of signs that work together to provide clarity and consistency for road users.

Evaluation of old signs is based many factors. Current Federal standards are outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Here are three broad areas engineers consider when prioritizing sign replacement projects:

Retroreflectivity: Light that bounces back to a light source instead of being generally diffused is retroreflective. “It’s right back at you,” says Wes Starkenburg, Sign Engineer at UDOT. Signs use sheeting and tape with prismatic reflectors that send headlight beams back to drivers.

Federal requirements determine the level of reflectivity of all signs on roads with public access. The level of retroreflectivity is evaluated by a trained sign inspector who visually inspects sings. Wear from weather and sun can decrease the level of retroreflectivity making signs harder to read. A trained eye taking a look at signs at night is a good start. Using a retroreflectometer allows an objective evaluation.

According to FHWA, approximately three times as many crashes occur at night, making retroreflectivity of signs an important safety feature.

Readability: Lettering used on interstate signs, sometimes informally called “Highway Gothic” is simple and easy to read. Spaces between letters, the shape and size of lettering are consistent from sign to sign which helps avoid confusion.  The number of words should be limited so signs can be read quickly.

Messaging: As cities grow and small towns become more urban, messages on signs can become outdated. To make sure a series of signs helpful to road users, UDOT works with local elected or transportation officials to develop new messages to provides good directional help.


A project to install new welcome signs around the state also gave UDOT a chance to use a new sign base.

The new Welcome to Utah signs gave UDOT a chance to use a new sign base.

Welcome to Utah signs placed last year feature Utah attractions and a breakaway type base that’s new to UDOT. A similar design has been used successfully in Idaho and other states for many years. The signs were placed in or near clear zones on interstates and at Utah Welcome Centers.

Clear zones are designed to allow errant vehicles a place to safely stop or re-gain control.    Signs that are installed in the clear zone are required by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to be protected by a crash cushion or have a breakaway design – that is, in a crash, the sign post should break away from the base and go over or under the vehicle.

It’s long been known that breakaway signs are safer for drivers than rigid signs.  In 1963, the Texas Highway Department, the Texas Transportation Institute and the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads cooperated when “Substantial miles of the Interstate System was under construction or scheduled for construction” and the need for safer sign supports was imperative. New sign bases were designed, tested and put into use. (Highway Research Record #174, Guardrails, Barriers and Sign Supports)

This interactive timeline on the TTI website shows that crash testing on breakaway sign bases was conducted at their facility in 1964, and the first known life saved as a result of a breakaway sign base was documented in 1965.

The new sign base has been tested according to Federal requirements, but UDOT Traffic and Safety wondered how well the sign base would hold over time. Since the signs are placed throughout the state and subject to all kinds of weather, the welcome sign project provided a good chance to find out how the base performs in high winds or heavy snow – so far, the sign bases are working well.

The posts on new base are secured to footings using couplings that break away in a crash leaving a very short stub. Joints on the posts also cause the sign to fold on impact. The design limits property damage to the road user and UDOT. After the base is damaged, repair is simple and inexpensive; posts can be re-bolted using conventional tools. “It is a matter of changing the hinge plates on the posts and couplings on the ground,” according to Customer Services Representative for the vendor. Because of the design, “usually the posts do not need to be replaced.”

Dave Skinner, Road Operations Coordinator in Region Three near the Wyoming State Line sees all kinds of extreme weather.  “You name it… cold, snow, rain, and very high wind,” he says. High winds regularly damage signs in his area. “Last year, the wind got a whole bunch of them,” he reports. But the new sign base has held up under daily windy conditions that range between 20 and 50 mph.

UDOT Traffic and Safety is looking forward to working with the UDOT Regions to identify other appropriate places to use the new sign bases.


UDOT and local charities will hold a fun run on a new portion of the Mountain View Corridor in Utah County.

Before the tire rubber hits the road, runners are invited to put shoes to pavement to celebrate the opening of the first section of Mountain View Corridor. Several local charities are working with UDOT to hold a 5K & Fun Run on Saturday, September 24, 2011. All proceeds raised at the event will benefit North Point Elementary School, Hess Cancer Foundation, Boys & Girls Club of Utah County and Anything For a Friend.

Visit the Mountain View Corridor website for more details or to register for the race.

This video shows an overview of summer construction progress:

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Heading to the big game on Saturday, September 17? I-15 CORE construction will cause traffic delay on I-15 that may make the trip up to twice as long. Leaving early is the best strategy for making the game in time for kickoff.

UDOT strongly encourages southbound drivers to use the Orem Center Street, 800 North and University Avenue exits. University Parkway is open but heavily congested. Northbound drivers are advised to use the University Avenue exit or State Street to 900 East.

One change drivers will need to plan for is in Provo, where the southbound off-ramp at Center Street is closed through November.

Here are some ways UDOT is helping fans avoid some inconvenience:

  • On game day, UDOT will be working with Orem and Provo to monitor traffic cameras and coordinate signals to help keep vehicles moving. UDOT will also send regular traffic updates to KSL Radio to keep drivers informed of the best routes for getting to and from the stadium.
  • Football fans can subscribe to the I-15 CORE text service for traffic updates. Text “i15” to 53535 for up-to-date construction information.
  • UDOT encourages drivers to stay informed about the latest I-15 CORE construction by signing up for regular email updates, or becoming a fan of I-15 CORE on Facebook or Twitter.



Researchers have some new insight on what happens to safety barrier systems on mechanically stabilized earth walls during a crash.

MSE walls are familiar structural elements on Utah's highways. How barriers on MSE walls perform in a crash is the subject of a recent study.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, approximately 10 million square feet of MSE wall is constructed every year in the United States. UDOT has a database of over 700 walls in use to support backfill around bridges and freeway ramps or for retaining walls along freeway corridors. MSE walls are relatively new features in the transportation world; UDOT’s oldest walls were built about 30 years ago. Useful life of the walls is expected to be 75 years.

Test MSE wall under construction

Because of the newness of MSE walls, research is needed in many aspects of design and construction. UDOT Geotechnical Engineer Grant Gummow recently participated in a TRB sponsored National Cooperative Highway Research Program study that focuses on concrete roadside barrier systems on MSE walls – that is, how the barrier system performs as a safety device and how the system can be designed to protect the MSE wall from damage.

MSE walls are built in lifts (layers) of fill with steel or geosynthetic reinforcement. Concrete panels or blocks are used as facing to retain the reinforced backfill. Facing materials are anchored using welded galvanized steel wire mesh, steel straps, or geosynthetic grids embedded in the retained backfill.

MSE walls barrier system design was borrowed from bridge design principles. Barriers are usually attached to a coping, which in turn is attached to a moment slab (footing) covered with overburden soil. The components of the system work together to avert a vehicle from tumbling over a wall, redirect the vehicle in a path that is parallel to traffic and to distribute the load over a wide area to limit potential damage to the internal structure of the MSE wall.

UDOT’s barrier systems, and across the country, seem to be working well. Without objective studies, “it’s difficult to know how conservative the design is,” says Gummow. “We don’t want to over-design.” Safety is paramount, but a design that’s too conservative wastes funding and resources.

Crash testing

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Researchers tested a variety of MSE wall reinforcements and two barrier types, Jersey and a vertical barrier, all representing current building and design practice. The MSE walls were built for the study and outfitted with strain gauges to measure the degree of deformation that occurs when pressure is applied.

Crash testing took place in stages. First, a jack was used to push against the barrier. Next testers used a bogie vehicle – a steel frame with weights to approximate a car – to crash into the barrier. The third type of testing was done with an actual car. The unmanned crash car was pulled by another vehicle using a cable and pulley system that released the crash car at the desired angle at a speed of approximately 63 mph.

Computer modeling

A Computer model was used to conduct a Finite Element Analysis. The model used a very detailed computer image of a standard sized pickup truck that showed, right down to minute bumper movements, what happens to a truck in an actual crash. The barrier in the model was set up to show how the components of the system, including steel reinforcement, are impacted in a crash.  By using computer modeling, the researchers were able to vary angles and speeds and then measure and assess damage to the truck, barrier system and MSE wall.

The results of the study provide the basis for new Load-and-Resistance Factor Design specifications for barrier systems on MSE walls.


Transportation officials from four states are looking for better ways to let road users know about travel delay on I-80.

East bound I-80 in Parley's Canyon

Stretching from I-101 in San Francisco to the Jersey Turnpike, I-80 is the longest interstate freeway in the United States and is a critical route for moving people and goods. California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska share a part of the route. Each state has areas that could be considered “mostly weather related” trouble spots, explains coalition member Rich Clarke, UDOT Director of Maintenance.

Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is an area where snow removal can delay travel for hours and sometimes days. In Utah, I-80 crosses the Great Salt Lake Desert, a long, straight segment where wind can also make travel treacherous. Parley’s Canyon in Utah closes in winter due to high snowfall and dangerous travel conditions. In Wyoming, I-80 is subject to winter and summer closures due to wind through the Wind River region. Nebraska experiences west-bound back-up when Wyoming closes, so coalition partners depend on Nebraska officials to let road users coming from the east know what’s ahead.

Informing truckers about delay

Keeping traffic moving through or around the trouble spots is good for road users and the local and national economy because travel delay has a real and measurable economic cost . The I-80 Coalition is an effort to keep traffic flowing and let road users, mostly truckers, know about traffic delay – and the earlier that notification takes place, the better.

“If we can tell a trucker in Sacramento that he’s going to run into problems when he gets to Parley’s, then he has a lot of room to make decisions,” says Clarke. “In the Salt Flats, his options have decreased but it is still better than waiting until he becomes stuck in Parley’s where he is not only out of options but has now become part of the problem. It is our hope that if he gets the word early he can take another rout or finds a place to lie over until the roads clear.”

UDOT Meteorologists

Two other UDOT people are also participating in the coalition. Leigh Jones, Weather Information Systems Program Manager and Daniel Kuhn, UDOT Railroad and Freight Planner. UDOT’s weather gathering system is cutting edge, and meteorologists provide information to surrounding states. Kuhn is an expert on truck traffic and the trucking industry.

Whatever it takes

The Nevada Department of Transportation is the lead agency for the coalition. Members meet biannually and communicate often between meetings. While the group also deals with safety issues, like chain-up laws, the I-80 Coalition is largely a communication effort, explains Clarke, with the number one priority being serving the public by keeping traffic flowing. Last year, the group used snow storms as a communication exercise. Members teleconferenced and “went through the process of talking to each other about what was happening in other states.” The exercise helped to build communication links between states.

When it comes to communication platforms, the coalition is looking at all available options, including Variable Message Signs, Highway Advisory Radio and using weigh stations. “Websites, social media, tweets, whatever is available out there,” says Clarke. Truckers typically have laptops in their cabs. Informing motorists, especially truckers, about delay will keep traffic flowing and goods and people moving along the critical route.

How important is I-80 to interstate commerce? A post by Daniel Kuhn provides an interesting perspective on the importance of I-80 to the United States and Canada.