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PennDOT Hosts Virtual Innovation Days

December 14, 2021 12:00 AM
By: PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

​Reflecting its 50 years of embracing and pursuing the latest in transportation innovations, PennDOT hosted a Virtual Innovations Days event in early November.

Twelve sessions were held virtually over three days between Nov. 2 and 4, drawing nearly 850 participants, which included PennDOT and Pennsylvania Turnpike employees as well as federal and municipal government, local planning partner and public transportation agency representatives.

Session topics focused on making roadways and bridges last, technology and project delivery, maintenance equipment, techniques and materials, enhanced design and construction approaches, multimodal transportation planning and tools to reduce traffic congestion and enhance safety.

In addition, a Virtual Exhibit Hall was featured during the event, showcasing nearly 100 innovative equipment, tools, materials, applications and technologies that have been implemented at the state and local levels.

In her welcoming remarks, PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., noted that since its founding in 1970, the agency has grown leaner and more efficient.

"The reality we must deal with every year is the struggle to deliver the very best in transportation while coping with chronic underfunding," she said. "From some, we have heard the refrain that we must become more efficient before additional resources will be provided. The sessions over the next three days will show we have taken innovation and efficiency responsibility very seriously."

Secretary Gramian also paid tribute to the late George McAuley, PennDOT executive deputy secretary, who had a 32-year career at the agency.

"He was passionate about our mission of innovation and setting us on a positive course during these challenging times with an eye on the future," she said. "His influence was felt far beyond PennDOT."  

Keeping pace with the ever-changing digital landscape, PennDOT showcased programs it has underway to embrace this new technology to save money and improve efficiency.

PennDOT's vision is that by 2025, all construction projects will be bid using 3D technology rather than paper-based construction plans.

"The key to success will be managing the pace of change," said Allen Melley, P.E., the digital delivery lead in the Bureau of Project Delivery. "We can't go too fast or too slow."

PennDOT has established a three-phase strategy to start to implement 3-D technology over the next four years. In Phase 1, PennDOT will refine its strategy first adopted in 2020 and reach out to industry and consultant partners on the best way forward while doing several pilot projects. In Phase 2, more pilot projects will get underway and in Phase 3 in 2024, procedures and standards will be updated.

A roadway modeling requirement will be adopted in 2022, while bridge construction modeling will follow in 2023 and 2024 will see drainage and advanced asset management projects incorporated into the new processes.

Other topics during the Digital Delivery session focused on the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or drones to assist with collecting data for inputting into digital software. Examples of UAS deployment covered a bridge replacement and roundabout project in Allegheny County, according to John Myler, assistant construction manager in PennDOT's District 11.

Augmented reality headsets are helping with design of bridge, culverts and other infrastructure features, and new technology has been applied for remote visual inspections and ultrasonic testing of bridge elements on Interstate 95 in southeastern Pennsylvania. The headsets mean cost savings, reduced travel times for inspectors, instantaneous communications and enhanced safety by reducing the need for inspection staff at work zones, said Nicholas E. Shrawder, senior civil engineer in the Bureau of Project Delivery.

PennDOT received funding from the Federal Highway Administration in 2021 to test the Simulated Location and Mapping (SLAM) system, an easily transported LIDAR system for collecting physical characteristics along project routes. One benefit is to save time and enhance safety by not having individual inspectors going out to collect the data in person, said Stephen Moore, PLS, chief of PennDOT's photogrammetry and surveys section.      

Keeping pavements smooth is an ongoing, challenging goal for PennDOT and municipal governments, and Innovation Days presenters reviewed the ways that challenge is being tackled.

The choices are myriad, with periodic preservation the most viable approach that can save more than $1 million a mile in costs. PennDOT is weighing the benefits of such innovations as Highly Polymerized Modified asphalt, fiber reinforced concrete and geotextile fabric overlays as part of repaving projects.

Faced with severely constrained funding, PennDOT is counting more on more aggressive asset management strategies to stretch scare dollars even further, according to Justin Bruner, P.E., bridge asset management section chief.

"Lower cost treatments earlier in the life cycle makes the asset last longer," he said during the Making Bridges and Roadways Last Longer session.

He said PennDOT is focusing more on such bridge deck life extenders as epoxy and latex treatments that cost $25 and $75 per square foot compared to $250 a square foot for a full rehabilitation.

Without such measures, PennDOT could again lose ground on the state of bridges. Efforts over the last decade cut the number of structurally deficient bridges from 6,039 to 3,280. But with constrained funding, the percent of the roughly 25,000 bridges on the state system in poor condition could again rise to more than 50 percent by 2046, Bruner said.

At the same session, Tim Carre, P.E., PennDOT assistant chief bridge engineer; Bryan Miller, P.E., assistant bridge engineer for design in PennDOT District 3 based in Lycoming County, and Shane Szalankiewicz, PennDOT District 11 (Pittsburgh region) district bridge engineer, reviewed various innovative bridge deck overlay applications.

"We must find ways to make bridges last longer," Miller said. "The only way to go is to invest in low-cost preservation work."

Coordinated by PennDOT's Bureau of Innovations, other event presentations covered the following innovation advances:

  • A fall 2019 project streamlined traffic signal management agreements and updated signal policies to improve traffic signal operations and keep traffic moving smoothly. The project made the agreement process more efficient and further ensures municipalities are operating their signals according to permit specifications. Roughly 100 municipalities have enacted a new Traffic Signal Maintenance Agreement to date.
  • The development of smarter work zones by using new technologies to monitor traffic flow and anticipate problems to keep work zones safe for employees while minimizing congestion impacts. 
  • Opening of 62 roundabouts on state routes and another 15 on local roads with 20 more under construction and 30 in design. Use of roundabouts has resulted to a 100 percent reduction in intersection fatalities at the installed locations, a 67 percent reduction in injuries and 22 percent cut in crashes.
  • Improvements in the FindMyRide application process have been made to help transit providers and riders more efficiently take applications for shared ride services and allow riders an online process for booking rides. The system is in place for 64 of the state's 67 counties.
  • Development of a new management tool that helps PennDOT better manage more than $500 million a year in Multimodal Capital projects. The web-based, dynamic and interactive system connects multiple users and facilitates communications between PennDOT and its partners.
  • Assembling of a Trail Crossing Inventory pilot program in northeastern Pennsylvania to assist with the advancement of community biking and pedestrian facilities. Sixty-four crossings have been identified in the six-county region of PennDOT's District 4.
  • Efforts by Lehigh County and the Pennsylvania Downtown Center to implement elements of Active Transportation Plans to develop safe and accessible biking and pedestrian routes as part of an effort to create accessibility and options for better health. Lehigh County's FutureLV plan entails elements of protecting natural resources, preserving farmland, developing connections to parks and recreation, enhancing transportation options and managing general land use.
  • Updates on PennDOT's effort to recycle materials, such as the nearly $1 million saved in PennDOT's District 11 by buying recycled asphalt and hauling millings back to the asphalt manufacturer, the use of recycled glass for fill and PennDOT's strategic recycling program, a 20-year effort to work with partners to enhance steps to improve the environment.
  • Several transportation technology advances including an improved process for tracking environmental mitigation commitments on construction projects, called the Environmental Mitigation Tracking System as well as improvements to federal rain gage equipment and tracking on bridges to better inform the public and emergency management agencies of potential flooding events.
  • Improvements to managing utility-related issues during construction projects with creation of the Utility Relocation Management System. The result is better communication and coordination with utilities to prevent project delays and costly settlements.
  • An agreement with the State Correctional Institution at Forest County for a state-of-the art repair facility that helps PennDOT extend the life of its heavy equipment while giving inmates real-life work experience.
  • Several smart upgrades including additional advances in LED lighting to conserve energy, improve brightness on roadways and save money as well as advances in camera and vehicle location data in plow trucks with the goal of giving the public and PennDOT managers more real-time information including views from the trucks during storms. A pilot program is planned this winter in two western Pennsylvania PennDOT districts in which 30 to 40 forward facing cameras will be installed in plow trucks.
  • New training programs for PennDOT maintenance staff to better prepare them to monitor and maintain PennDOT's 2,800 Stormwater Control Maintenance locations and meet federal stormwater control regulations. 
  • A multi-agency program that recruits homeless and other disadvantaged people into $10 an hour temporary jobs picking up litter in Monroe County. The program, started in June 2019, has engaged 221 individuals who cleaned up 500 miles of roads and collected 7,500 trash bags, making a huge difference for the county with litter pick-up efforts.
  • PennDOT maintenance innovations such as enhanced communication between managers and field staff to resolve safety issues; use of a vacuum attachment by bridge maintenance crews to prevent water used in flushing from impacting sensitive streams; a crew-inspired innovation to move the hose reel to the front of the dump truck for safer crack sealing operations; the successful transition to virtual Incident Command operations during the COVID-19 pandemic; successful job fairs to recruit winter maintenance workers, and the Build a Better Mousetrap competition that encourages roadway management innovations by municipal governments.
  • Innovations in bridge design and construction including flex beams, enhanced water flow assessment, modular foundation pieces, innovative steel girder designs, a University of Pittsburgh research project to get more detailed stress and condition data from bridges, and use of robots for rebar installation in bridges, saving time and money.
  • Improved tools to enhance traffic safety, including interactive maps to help manage traffic congestion due to planned events, incidents or weather; an enhanced system for the routing of overweight and oversized truck movements; an enhanced multi-state and multi-agency camera network for improved incident management; enhancements to PennDOT Crash Reporting System; and efforts by local planning agencies to use data to better manage congestion.

Full recordings of each session are available on the PennDOT Virtual Innovation Days event website.

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