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Wrapping Up Two Years of Innovation Successes: Four Outgoing TAG Leaders Review The Ongoing STIC Progress

Tags: Innovations
July 14, 2022 09:00 AM
By: PennDOT Bureau of Innovations


Coordinating the details of much needed innovations in transportation is a challenging responsibility, and four key players in the success of innovations developed and deployed through the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) have many important insights to offer. 

Four Technical Advisory Group (TAG) leaders are wrapping up their two-year tenures and recently shared their thoughts about their experiences. They oversee the four STIC innovation categories: Design, Construction and Materials, Maintenance, and Safety and Traffic Operations. 

They are: 

  • Rachel D. Duda, P.E., Assistant District Executive-Design in PennDOT's District 12 in southwestern Pennsylvania, heads the Design TAG  
  • Steven L. Fantechi, P.E., Assistant District Executive-Construction in PennDOT's District 2 in north central Pennsylvania, heads the Construction and Materials TAG. 
  • Dean A. Poleti, P.E., Maintenance Services Engineer in PennDOT's District 11 in the Pittsburgh region, heads the Maintenance TAG, and 
  • Ashwin Patel, Senior Manager for the Traffic Engineering and Safety Division in PennDOT's District 6 in the Philadelphia region, heads the Safety and Traffic Operations TAG.  

Rachel D Duda, P.E. headshot.
Rachel D. Duda, P.E., Assistant District Executive-Design in PennDOT's District 12 
Duda, who started her tenure a year early because her predecessor retired, noted that dealing with the impact of COVID "was the biggest challenge and getting some of the innovations to progress. Some stalled because people were trying to get their jobs done, and the innovations involved extra time and extra work.

'Some of the things we were working with had to be delayed," Duda noted. "That was the hardest thing. We wanted to keep going, but sometimes there was not a whole lot of progress." 

Regardless, overall progress was made, and Duda is most proud of the Design-Build Traffic Control Plan innovation she and the Design TAG championed. 

This innovation allows highway contractors and the designers to work closely on the final design of the Traffic Control Plan to keep drivers moving as efficiently as possible through construction areas.  

A conceptual plan, rather than a finalized plan, is provided in the project's bid package. The innovation allows the contractor flexibility in selecting materials, construction methods and available resources. The need for change orders is reduced because the construction team will be responsible for the completeness and quality of the final Traffic Control Plan. In addition, the construction team can explore cost savings, respond to schedule changes and receive input from other members involved in the construction of the project. 

"I took pride in that the most," Duda said. "District 12 piloted it, and we used it on our big interstate projects. It saves the contractors time and saved PennDOT time and money. It was one of the things I thought was one of the greatest accomplishments for the Design TAG over the last three years." 

Fantechi, Construction and Materials TAG leader, cites the Geosynthetic Stabilized Bridge Approach (GSBA) and Certified Concrete Finishers Course as his and the TAG's proudest achievements.  

GSBA involves enhancing roadway backfill with layers of geosynthetic material adjacent to a bridge abutment, which significantly reduces pavement settlement. This addresses the long-standing issue of severe bumps drivers experience approaching bridges. Dennis Q. Neff, P.E., regional geotechnical engineer in the Bureau of Construction and Materials, was the process owner. 

The Certified Concrete Finishers Course, now offered statewide, includes classroom and practical, hands-on work, and is intended to help improve the durability and extend the service life of concrete and eliminate mistakes in concrete finishing that can result in costly repairs or reconstruction.  Jim Casilio, P.E., director of Technical Services for the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA), played a leading role in implementing the innovation. As of April 2022, 60% of concrete finishers on PennDOT projects have to be certified. 

Dean Poleti headshot
Steven L. Fantechi, P.E., Assistant District Executive-Construction in PennDOT's District 2
"My experience with GSBA and the Certified Concrete Finishers Course, it was a feeling of achievement, not just for me but the whole TAG," Fantechi said. "It was nice, and I appreciated it."

Poleti, the Maintenance TAG leader, was happy his team finished two innovations started by the previous Maintenance TAG owner Rich Roman, now the district executive in PennDOT's District 4 in northeastern Pennsylvania: Hot Pour Mastics (HPM) and the Stormwater Training and Field Guidebook

HPM is intended to supplement crack sealing operations, which are used for gaps up to an inch. HPM is used to better address larger pavement cracks two inches or bigger and go deeper than routine crack sealing operations can address. The innovation is a pourable, self-adhesive asphalt binder that is applied hot and extends pavement life across PennDOT's nearly 40,000-mile road network. 

PennDOT owns and operates 2,800 Stormwater Control Measures (SCMs), a variety of catch basins with vegetation to manage pollutants and keep water clean and safe. Each requires different types and levels of maintenance after initial construction, which led to the development of the Stormwater Management Training and Field Guidebook.  

SCMs help prevent flooding, reduce downstream erosion, and reduce pollution to surface and groundwater. Regular maintenance preserves SCM functionality and extends the service life. The training and guidebook provide education and preparation on specific maintenance duties and ensures compliance with permitting requirements. 

Dean Poleti headshot
Dean A. Poleti, P.E., Maintenance Services Engineer in PennDOT’s District 11
"Those are great innovations out there that we will be able to utilize," Poleti said.

He noted the two more of his team's innovations are close to implementation: the Vegetation Management Equipment Catalog (PUB 920) and Cameras in Snow Plows. 

The catalog will list innovative equipment for use by PennDOT county managers and their assistants, and local governments, to control roadside vegetation. Additionally, installing forward-facing cameras in the plow trucks will give PennDOT managers and the public real time video of road conditions during winter storms.  

"We are getting close to the finish line on those two that I hope will be good successes," Poleti said. 

Patel, who has headed the Safety and Traffic Operations TAG for two years and served the previous two years as assistant TAG leader, cites high friction surface treatments throughout the state as an important innovation that STIC led in developing several years ago. 

Ashwin Patel headshot
Ashwin Patel, Senior Manager for the Traffic Engineering and Safety Division in PennDOT’s District 6
"This was one of the safety countermeasures to provide better road surfaces and address crashes," he said. "It has had a good success rate reducing crashes along state highways."

During his time as TAG leader, Patel and the TAG members worked on new approaches to minimize crashes on high-speed curves and keep traffic moving through work zones and signalized intersections. 

The Sequential Dynamic Lighting Curve Warning Systems innovation is designed to alert motorists to slow down when approaching and driving through sharp curves. The system uses LED-enhanced, solar-powered or electric signs and wireless controllers, along with ultra-low power radar, to detect and flash a series of chevron signs sequentially throughout the curve. 

In addition, the FREEway EVALuation-Pennsylvania, or FREEVAL-PA, is a predictive work zone assessment tool that analyzes work zones' effect on traffic flow. It guides PennDOT's decision-making process for implementing lane closures, crossovers or other traffic control methods, and helps to minimize congestion and delays during construction or maintenance projects.  

As they move on from their critical roles, the four TAG leaders are committed to ongoing innovations that will improve transportation across Pennsylvania. 

"Overall, it was a very valuable experience," Poleti said. "I learned quite a bit working with different folks and getting innovations through while working with  Department employees I did not have contact with in the past. It was a fulfilling experience." 

"It was a lot of work, but a lot of great things are coming out of it," he added. "It was nice to be associated with great innovations on the forefront." 

"We are able to have the TAG leaders take the lead and take innovations implemented in individual districts and other states and bring them forward and that helps move transportation in Pennsylvania forward." 

Fantechi referenced some of the hurdles the TAGs most work to overcome. 

"Getting ideas and innovations brainstormed is probably the hardest thing," he said. "Once you do get ideas and innovations, it can sometimes be challenging to get these ideas deployed." 

"PennDOT is very thoughtful with implementing ideas in that we want quality projects and quality products and procedures, and sometimes it means implementing ideas and innovations can take time to go through the correct steps to get it done," he added. 

Patel referenced sufficient resources as a challenge. 

"Sometimes, we have an idea or an innovation that could benefit the Pennsylvania's citizens, but there was no funding mechanism to move it forward in a timely fashion unless you have the project programmed or planned," he said. 

He also noted why the TAGs are important to maintaining PennDOT's ongoing success. 

"It's an organized way to have innovations documented and have buy-in across the transportation industry," he said. "If buy-in exists, it makes it easier for an innovation to be progressing to different stages and deployed at a faster pace." 

Looking ahead, the outgoing TAG leaders offered some advice for their successors. 

"Keep recurring meetings on, keep after the innovation owners and keep in good contact with the innovation owners to keep the innovations moving forward" Poleti said. 

"That's what I did the last two years. You must take the bull by the horns and commit to the innovations owner and get meetings on the books. It [innovation progress] slows down without it. If you get more meetings on the schedule, there will be more time to move the innovation forward."  

"I think we need someone in the TAG leader position to come up with different innovations," added Duda. "PennDOT as a whole is using a lot of different innovations and testing them out. I just went to an industry innovations conference and heard what the industry is doing. Innovations overall are important to every aspect of PennDOT." 

I would say that if there is a new innovation to be worked on, identify early on who will be the champion to move the innovation forward and identify the appropriate owner who could devote the time to move the innovation forward, Patel concluded. "That's the critical path. If there is way to identify the owner to deploy the innovation, it would also benefit them to work on it and bring the innovation forward." 

If you are interested in becoming involved with a TAG, contact the STIC Management Team at  

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