Monthly Archives: September 2011


Today, a guest post by Daniel Kuhn, UDOT Railroad and Freight Planner.

Interstate Highway 80 is one of the most strategic and important of all freight highways in North America.

I-80 is part of an interstate network

While most motorists know I-80 as the main route between New York City metro area and San Francisco via the Chicago area, Omaha, and Salt Lake City, to the trucking industry I-80 is a network of routes. All along its transcontinental route, I-80 has a variety of connecting roads that feed long-distance freight to and from the main highway. Here in Utah we are at the junction of two of the I-80 Network’s most important and busiest freight feeders, I-15 from southern California and I-84 from the Pacific Northwest. Northern Utah is literally the hub of the I-80 Network for freight.

Thousands of trucks use I-80 and its feeder network every day, carrying a myriad of products to and from destinations all over North America. Canadian trucks are a daily sight all along I-80 in the west, with many connecting to I-15 in Salt Lake City. Of all the freight carried on the I-80 Network, the movement of perishable freight, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, in refrigerated (“Reefer”) trucks is by far the most time-sensitive.

During harvest season here in the west, which usually runs from June through October, reefer trucks account for around 30 to 40% of total truck traffic along the I-80 Network, approaching 50% east of Utah on I-80 itself. A combination of factors, including regional geography, the undertaking of large water projects and agricultural developments across the west in the early 20th century, and advances in mobile climate control systems for semi trailers has led to Utah being the crossroads of perishable freight movement in the western United States. As a result of our crossroads status, a number of refrigerated trucking companies, including the nation’s largest, C.R. England, Inc., are headquartered in the Salt Lake Valley at the hub of the I-80 Network.

C.R. England Global Transportation photo used by permission

The majority of perishable freight passing through Utah is grown in California’s fertile Central Valley, which produces almost 25% of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. These time-sensitive products travel to Utah via I-15 or I-80, using I-80 and to a lesser extent I-70 beyond the Beehive State. As a result, Utah’s Primary Freight Routes, including several that are a part of the I-80 Network, are a strategic part of America’s, and Canada’s food transportation system.

Trucking moves what America consumes, and UDOT’s highway system plays a vital role in making the American lifestyle possible for many in the USA. The I-80 Network serves as the vital backbone of routes which move freight to, from and through Utah en route all across America and to much of Canada as well.

For more:

Wyoming Freight Study

Geography and Freight Fact Sheet

Refrigerated Freight Fact Sheet



Municipal primary elections are today — be sure to vote.  AND you can vote twice; UDOT’s 3500 South project is in the running for a people’s choice award.

The 3500 South Project was widened to include three travel lanes in each direction and a center-running dedicated lane for UTA’s Bus Rapid Transit line. The project was completed 7 months ahead of schedule and $6 million under budget. Early completion also saved the public $2.3 million in road user and safety costs.

Click here to vote.

After construction: Center running lanes for UTA's Bus Rapid Transit extend from 2700 West to Bangerter Highway.


A Smoother Road Could Lead to Energy Savings and Increased Safety

A road near Arches National Park.

This guest post is provided by Andrew Johnson, former employee of the UDOT Traffic Operations Center.  

The rising gas prices have had an effect on all of us, one way or another, and without any relief in sight, many of us are looking for ways to save money and improve fuel efficiency. When we think about ways to improve mileage and save money, the factors that usually come to mind involve aerodynamics, engine efficiency, and tire pressure, but recent studies suggest that there is at least one external element that could impact both safety and energy savings.

Dr. Richard Willis, an assistant research professor at Auburn University, reported that some simple improvements to the smoothness of road pavement could save a lot of money. He suggests that, in total, we could save 2.4 billion gallons of gasoline and 900 million gallons of diesel every year, which would lead to an estimated $12.5 billion.

The problem is from something called rolling resistance, which can be defined as the energy that is lost between the tire and road. The imperfections in the pavement, as well as the stiffness of the tires, directly affects how energy is lost and how much is required to keep the vehicle in motion. Of course, it shouldn’t come as a real surprise that the less time we spend bouncing around on roads and highways, the more efficiently our vehicles will run.

Understanding the Numbers

The numbers for the above study were broken down like this: In 2010 a study by Schmidt and Ullidtz showed that slight improvements in road smoothness could yield reductions in fuel consumption by 1.8 to 2.7%. Some other studies have actually suggested that this number could be much higher – as much as 4.5%. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, on the other hand, says that vehicles consumed 168 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel, which means that at an average price (according to AAA) of $3.66 per gallon ($3.93 for diesel) and a conservative estimate of 2% fuel reduction, we arrive at the $12.5 billion figure.

Driver Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that one third of all highway fatalities can be attributed to poor road conditions. Perhaps a little surprising is that most of these fatalities happen on two-lane, while the highways are comparatively safe. The combination of better road quality and better conditions (better visibility, wider lanes, etc.), actually seems to be more conducive to safe driving.

Utah’s Road Conditions

So how well has Utah done with providing smooth roads? According to the Federal Highway Administration – pretty good. The FHA released some statistics in 2008 that put Utah near the top for maintaining good roads. Of Utah’s roads, only 6.4% were considered to be in poor or mediocre condition, which is pretty good compared to states like New Jersey or Hawaii (48.6% and 44.4% of their roads, respectively, were considered to be in poor or mediocre shape).

More and more studies are showing us exactly how important it is to maintain our roads and look for ways to improve driving conditions. While there is a lot of internal factors that affect driver safety and energy usage (from engine efficiency to simply being a conscientious driver), a smoother road can have more impact than many of us think.

Image and information provided by Online Driving University and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


American Road and Transportation Builders Association, FAQs

National Asphalt Pavement Association, Press Release



Summer is spent getting ready for winter at UDOT’s Heavy Equipment Shop.

Rust holes in the side of a truck bed are gone. After a few coats of orange paint, this truck will be ready for winter.

John Walker, UDOT Equipment Shop Supervisor calls the employees who repair heavy equipment “talented craftsmen.” The before and after photos of the truck show the results of their careful work. This truck will be painted, and then be ready to be put back in service before the first winter storm.

Holes in the side of this truck were repaired.











Determining the strength of concrete is critical when it comes to getting traffic back on the road.

A concrete cylinder is checked for compressive strength.

Concrete pavement starts out looking like a muddy jumble of rocks and dirt. The mix contains water, cement, aggregate, fly ash and additives. When combined, a chemical reaction occurs, and concrete matures as water hydrates the cement. It’s the job of UDOT engineers, contractors, transportation technicians and lab workers to verify when the compressive strength of concrete has been reached so a road can be put in service or the next construction process can be started.

Determining the strength of concrete takes expertise, time and effort. Concrete can be damaged if the wrong assessment is made so before freeway traffic hits new pavement, or back fill is placed against a retaining wall, workers systematically test the concrete to make sure adequate strength is reached.

Traditionally, transportation technicians first take field measurements to check for consistency, air and content of the mix. Then, the concrete is poured into cylinders using the same mix used for the project. Cylinders are tested in pairs at set time intervals using a mechanized press that measures compressive strength.

The traditional testing method is time and labor intensive. Costs for the process can add up, especially if the predetermined testing interval falls on weekends or after normal work hours – technicians need to retrieve and transport the cylinders from the field to the lab and lab workers need to be on hand to run the test.

The UDOT Region One Materials Lab is using technology to predict compressive strength of concrete while saving up to eighty percent of testing costs.

A maturity meter and sensor

The method uses sensors placed in concrete and a maturity meter to measure time and temperature. The data, along with a math formula, can be used to chart a maturity curve specific to a concrete mix. The curve can be created using sample cylinders before the concrete is placed in the field. Or, meter readings can be done concurrent with construction. The maturity curve allows workers to predict when compressive strength is reached.

The cost for testing one batch of concrete multiple times using traditional methods can easily add up to a few hundred dollars. One sensor can be read multiple times and costs less than $50 for the same information.

“A maturity curve shows the progress of the chemical reaction,” says Scott Nussbaum, Region One Materials Engineer. “Using maturity meters helps reduce risk, save money and open to traffic as soon as possible.”

A maturity curve helps predict when compressive strength is reached.


A handful of innovative up-grades will improve safety and winter travel through Provo Canyon.

Station Supervisor Neil Lundell stands by new crash cushions in Provo Canyon.

US-189 through Provo Canyon is part of a Scenic Byway that follows the Provo River, crosses the Uinta National Forest and provides access to Sundance Resort, Timpanogos National Monument, and the Deer Creek Reservoir. The steep, winding road requires drivers to use caution year around. But during winter, Mother Nature ups the ante; deep canyon walls, weather conditions, and the Provo River make clearing ice and snow a challenge.

Sun angle is much lower in the winter, explains UDOT Meteorologist Scott Patterson. “The canyon is so steep that some sections of the road will see little if any sunlight to help melt the snow and ice.”  And the Provo River running along the road adds moisture that can lead to frost on these shaded sections of the road. Due to the orientation of the canyon, “in southwest winds, heavy snow can fall in the canyon” while nearby areas see much less snowfall.

A look at three years of crash data averages comparing the road to statewide crash averages shows that Provo Canyon’s conditions are atypical in Utah. Contributing factors for crashes are more likely to include conditions related to weather and visibility. “Drivers in Provo Canyon need to realize that this is a unique place…you can’t treat it like an average roadway,” says Scott Jones, UDOT Safety Programs Engineer.

Provo Canyon crash data compared with statewide data shows that weather conditions have played a greater than average role in crashes.

UDOT works hard to make all roads as safe as possible. As new technologies become available, UDOT can make changes and improvements. Some new road features and equipment in Provo Canyon will enhance safety year around and improve winter snow and ice removal. “We have a big bag of effective new tools and we’re pulling out the right ones out for this location,” says Lynn Bernhard, Maintenance Methods Engineer for UDOT.

Rebounding delineators survive vehicle hits: Delineators are devices with retroreflectors that give guidance to drivers at night and when visibility is low. Pole mounted delineators help drivers see the edge of the road when snow is deep. Provo Canyon will have a new type of pole mounted delineator that’s designed to rebound after a vehicle hit. The delineators stay in service longer and require fewer repairs – good news for motorists and UDOT crews.

Collapsible, easy to fix crash cushions: Attenuators, sometimes called crash cushions, are placed on fixed structures or gore areas on freeways to minimize injuries to motorists, absorb kinetic energy during a crash, redirect automobiles in a path parallel to the attenuator and minimize property damage to vehicles and the roadway. Most attenuators are one-hit wonders; they do their job well but need extensive repair or full replacement after a crash.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Attenuators with a very smart new design have been installed in Provo Canyon. The system is made of separate connected chambers that collapse when hit head on. When hit from the side, damage is limited to the impacted sections.  A hydraulic cylinder inside the chambers absorbs the crash. Repair is simple; maintenance workers simply re-expand and re-bolt the attenuator sections or replace the damaged sections.

“Two quarter-inch bolts and it’s back in service,” says UDOT Station Supervisor Neil Lundell. He estimates that repairs will usually take about an hour. The cost for repairing the new crash cushions is much less – from thousands of dollars to hundreds per crash when a section of the system needs to be replaced. When just the bolts need to be replaced, cost per crash is about .25.

Simple to switch triple-blade plow: Three culprits of winter road calamity – snow, slush and ice – each require a different plow blade. Provo Canyon’s weather system delivers spotty conditions along the roadway. In the past, plow operators had to go back to the maintenance station to switch blades. A new triple blade plow will let operators switch among blades while on the road.

The triple blade plow was developed by the Clear Roads organization, a group of public and private entities that study ways to maintain mobility and safety during the winter months. The triple blade plow is a non-propriety design that any manufacturer can produce.

An under-road system to combat winter frost: A de-icing system will be installed where moisture from the river causes frost to form. Sensors embedded under the pavement trigger the release of de-icing liquid before ice forms on the road. Many high mountain bridge decks have de-icing systems, but this pavement segment is the first road to get the special help.

A new solution for pre-wetting: Lundell says his crew will use “a different cocktail,” for wetting the road before a storm. The brine solution has ingredients that freeze at a lower temperature and help prevent ice from forming.

Safe driving in Provo Canyon

All together, the changes will help preserve mobility and safety. Motorists also need to do their part by driving safely. Jones stresses that “drivers need to be actively engaged in driving” not just in Provo Canyon, but on all roadways.

Lundell sees many crashes that happen when motorists drive too fast for conditions and the crash data above backs up his observations. Even when message boards warn drivers “they still just keep going too fast.” He urges motorists to always use caution. “Just because the snow is off, don’t speed up.”


Air quality as it relates to transportation is an important concern among citizens and policy makers in Utah’s metropolitan areas where population growth has placed an increased demand on our transportation system.  

A construction zone on Bangerter Highway

Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the nation.  Our transportation system will need to be made as efficient as possible to support that growth. Projects planned through year 2030 will improve mobility – will building those projects necessarily contribute to a decline in air quality?

UDOT works with other state agencies in “a continual consultation process to make sure we’re in compliance with federal air quality standards,” according to Elden Bingham, Air Quality Programs Coordinator for UDOT. Bingham participates in the compliance conformity process along with representatives from federal and state regulatory agencies and local Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

The federal government requires states to monitor and comply with National Ambient Air Quality Standards, and the Utah Division of Air Quality monitors air quality in Utah.  The EPA has designated six pollutants that are monitored by DAQ throughout the state – the pollutant of concern to transportation planners are ozone and its precursors hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxides (CO), and particulates (PM-10 or PM-2.5). These pollutants cannot exceed specified levels. When air quality does not meet federal standards, a non-attainment area can be designated. States with non-attainment areas are required to develop a Statewide Improvement Plan.

SIPs, which are approved by the federal government, must contain air quality goals and strategies to meet those goals. UDOT works with the DAQ to develop transportation strategies that meet the air quality improvement goals in the SIP. All transportation projects must conform to the SIP in order to receive federal funding.

Conformity to Utah SIP goals takes place on the regional and project level. Metropolitan Planning Agencies manage regional transportation conformity of projects on the Transportation Improvement Plan, a list of proposed projects. After modeling future traffic demand and determining the level of emissions expected to be produced, the MPOs issue an Air Quality Memorandum that confirms that the projects in the TIP won’t exceed goals of the SIP.

Project level conformity is the responsibility of sponsors, like UDOT, who build transportation projects.  Projects that receive federal funding or those that are regionally significant (including primary arterial roads, freeways or fixed guide-ways) must conform to goals in the SIP. On the project level,  sponsors conduct a Hot Spot Analysis to show that transportation projects don’t contribute adversely to the air quality in the area.

Planning studies done by the Wasatch Front Regional Council show that improved mobility can actually have a beneficial impact on local air quality. Idling and excessive stop and go traffic puts strain on automobile engines causing increased emissions. WFRC compared future transportation conditions in 2030 with and without planned projects. By eliminating traffic delay, vehicle emissions will be reduced by 285,000 vehicle hours per day – that equals 1.2 tons of the precursor pollutant nitrogen oxide.

Precursor pollutants contribute to the formation of other pollutants; nitrogen oxide produces ozone along with light and heat. Air quality standards are expected to be reconsidered in 2013.


Utah’s emissions inspection program and cleaner running cars have also helped improve air quality.

To learn more about air quality conformity, visit the Air Quality Planning page on the UDOT website.

UDOT’s TravelWise website suggests option for drivers who want to save energy and help roadways operate more efficiently.

The Hot Spot Manual gives project managers air quality analysis guidance.

WFRC has posted the 2012-2014 TIP and and Air Quality Memorandum.

The Federal Highways Administration produces a brochure that summarizes the air quality conformity process.
The Utah Division of Air Quality website shows current conditions.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality lists tips for individuals:  What You Can Do.

Tribune story: Salt Lake City and County officials ask parents to cut back on idling.