Pennsylvania's ongoing efforts to tap into more efficient and modern ways of delivering the best in transportation services were highlighted on Nov. 16 at the latest business meeting of the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) in Hershey.
"Innovation plays a major role in everything we are trying to do," said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E. "The STIC provides all of us with the opportunity to bring innovations to the table and get the necessary feedback and support from everybody here in this room and beyond to help accelerate the adoption of new innovations in Pennsylvania. The key to success in every STIC innovation is because of all the collaboration we are doing."
The meeting featured updates on several innovations the STIC has championed and initiatives that received STIC Incentive Program funding.
Mark Kopko, PennDOT's director of the Office of Transformational Technology, outlined the new agreements in place to establish the Pennsylvania Safety Transportation and Research Track (PennSTART) in Westmoreland County, an initiative that received STIC Incentive Funding in 2017 and 2018.
PennDOT and the PTC have signed a Letter of Understanding (LOU) with the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania that also involves Carnegie Mellon University and Westmoreland County. A formal legal agreement is in process and should be completed soon, Kopko said.
This will open the door to a testing and research facility that will include a high- speed paved oval, a heliport, urban intersection, roundabout, rail crossing, signalized urban and rural corridors, hilly terrain, and an overhead bridge. The plan includes a 2025 target date for opening.
Kopko said the facility's research focus areas are connected and autonomous vehicles, tolling and Intelligent Transportation System technical testing, and safety testing and training. The facility will also meet the training needs for roughly 50,000 first responders in Pennsylvania and help Pennsylvania engage in opportunities for more than $10 billion in research opportunities.
Ryan McNary, manager of the Transportation Systems and Management Operations (TSMO) Performance Section in PennDOT's Bureau of Operations, reviewed the MView initiative, which features a multi-state partnership to share real-time video to help law enforcement, first responders and transportation agencies do a better job being aware of and managing weather, traffic and security issues.
MView features over 15,000 cameras from over 200 agencies in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Baltimore, Maryland State Police and the Maryland Stadium Authority. The program was started by Maryland and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, McNary said, PennDOT is piloting automated protection messaging for adverse driving conditions on Interstate 81. The aim is to give drivers more forewarning about changing weather conditions so they will slow down and avoid crashes.
PennDOT continues to tap into crowdsourced data from such services as Waze and INRIX to give its Traffic Management Centers a better understanding of congestion triggers. The department is also working on systems to give drivers more advance notice of backups related to work zones, so they will slow down sooner.
McNary noted that more advance warning will have a big impact as research has shown 40% of crashes in work zone related congestion occur two or more miles back from the work zone. In 2021, there were 1,014 crashes in work zone congestion.
He also said PennDOT is working on adding audio to 511PA to replace Highway Advisory Radio since more vehicles are no longer equipped with AM radios.
Dan Farley, director of PennDOT's Bureau of Operations, outlined PennDOT's initiative of installing Variable Speed Limit (VSL) signs to help drivers respond better to rapidly changing weather conditions.
A pilot with 14 VSLs along Interstate 80 in Clearfield County showed positive trends, and PennDOT is now "looking at where to expand," Farley said.
Mark Nicholson, P.E., bridge engineer in PennDOT's District 1, based in Erie, provided an update on the STIC's Bridge Deck Link Slabs innovation currently in development.
The innovation features connecting bridge decks together with reinforced steel and Ultra-High Performance Concrete. The innovation means replacing bridge joints and eliminating a thorny deterioration problem.
"It provides a watertight connection between desk spans and prevents de-icing materials from contacting the underlying bridge components," Nicholson said. "Anything we can do to seal joints is more than a short-term fix. It's a long-term solution, which the link slabs provide."
PennDOT is working with an engineering consultant to develop a design analysis software tool for use on selecting bridges for deck link slabs.
"It is another tool in the engineering toolbox for preserving infrastructure," Nicholson said. "This tool will help engineers do repetitive analysis and make it easier to decide if bridges are good candidates for link slabs, which is more efficient than doing a hand calculation for each bridge. It will save time from repeated evaluations and calculations."
Aaron Raible, Armstrong County highway maintenance manager in PennDOT District 10 introduced a new STIC innovation for consideration. The airfoil device for use on snowplow trucks to keep snow and other debris from covering the back of the trucks during winter operations. The airfoil, originally piloted by the Oregon Department of Transportation, improves the visibility of the back of the truck, enhances safety and reduces the amount of cleaning needed for the trucks.
In celebration of the STIC's 10th anniversary, three successful innovations from the past 10 years were highlighted during the meeting for their far-reaching benefits, especially in the areas of safety and extending pavement life.
Jeff Bucher, P.E., chief of PennDOT's Highway Design and Technology Section, reviewed the progress being made with the installation of roundabouts. Since their first use in Pennsylvania in 2005, roundabouts are now at 77 locations on state routes and 19 on local routes, and 38 more are under design.
The benefits, he said, are reduced speeds and reduced conflict points for traffic negotiating what had been cross intersections. Data shows a 76 percent reduction in serious injuries, a 62 percent reduction in all injures and a 9 percent crash reduction.
Bucher also highlighted the Diverging Diamond Interchanges (DDI) innovation. Use of this interchange design is recommended for interchanges with large left turn movements and provides for fewer conflict points – 14 versus 26. Three DDIs have been built in Pennsylvania – one in Washington County, a second in York County and the third in Lancaster County. One DDI is currently in construction in Westmoreland County, with five others under design – one in Lehigh County, two in Berks County, one in Chester County and one in Allegheny County.
Halley Cole, P.E., chief of the Pavement Testing and Asset Management Section in PennDOT's Bureau of Operations, reviewed the Hot Pour Mastics innovation. Introduced in 2018, it involves combining a mastic melter, polymer modified asphalt binder and specially selected aggregate to provide a much better paving material. The product, heated on the worksite, is used to fill cracks over 1-inch long; for repairing distressed pavements, longitudinal and shoulder joints; for smoothing pavements around raised manholes drains and culverts; for improving rough driving surfaces; for leveling bridge approaches; and for repairing bridge decks.
Since its introduction, Hot Pour Mastics' use has grown from 374,265 pounds in 2019 to more than 780,000 pounds this year.