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Working through COVID-19: State Transportation Innovation Council met virtually

December 17, 2020 09:00 AM
By: Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT Bureau of Innovations

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​Updates on automated work zone speed enforcement and bridge construction and maintenance were among the highlights discussed at the November virtual meeting of the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC).

PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., who co-hosted the meeting with Alicia Nolan, Pennsylvania Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), noted that continued innovation is crucial to transportation agencies' ongoing success.

Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary Gramian said, "We are going through a renaissance and continue to get stronger, more resilient and more efficient. Innovation is built on being flexible, maintaining a clear vision and embracing change in general."

Administrator Nolan added that "the innovation demonstrated in Pennsylvania has been exceptional." The advances "really showcase what innovation and the STIC is all about."

Clint Beck, P.E., director of Programs and Performance Management in the FHWA Pennsylvania Division, said a virtual meeting is planned for Dec. 8 to 10 to discuss and showcase Every Day Counts  Round 6 (EDC-6) innovations, and PennDOT and FHWA leaders will be meeting in mid-December with the goal of identifying the EDC-6 innovations Pennsylvania plans to pursue..

PennDOT and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) officials reviewed ongoing progress on three innovations: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge Systems (GRS-IBS), Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement and Bridge Link Slabs.

Randy Albert, P.E., municipal services supervisor in PennDOT's Clearfield-based District 2, said 33 GRS-IBS bridges have been built so far, including 16 on the PennDOT system.

"Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of this technology," he said. "The specifications developed are among the most comprehensive in the nation."

He added that the program has especially helped local governments address their bridge issues economically and effectively.

Kristin Langer, P.E., PennDOT's assistant chief bridge engineer, said FHWA STIC Incentive Funding allowed PennDOT to engage Penn State University for research into the specifications for the deployment of GRS-IBS bridges.

The findings, completed in March and now under review, called for changing the specifications. But Langer said PennDOT feels it wants to take a middle road on any changes.

Among the recommendations were that no limits are needed for traffic volumes and stream velocity, the maximum span length can go from 70 to 140 feet and GRS-IBS can be used for overpasses rather than just waterways.

"We are not ready to dive in head first and go all the way to extreme limits just yet," Langer said.

PennDOT is considering allowing GRS-IBS on bridges with traffic volumes up to 2,000 vehicles per day instead of 400 vehicles, stream velocities of 15 feet per second instead of 12 feet and span lengths of 100 feet instead of 70 feet.

Langer said PennDOT has had good experience with the existing 33 GRS-IBS bridges, including ones that experienced significant flooding and microburst storms.

Tim Scanlon, P.E., Traffic Engineering and Operations director for the PTC, and Dan Farley, P.E., PennDOT's Traffic Systems Management and Operations section chief, reviewed the pilot program for Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement.

With work zone crashes increasing 2percent a year since 2012, and 23 fatal work zone crashes in 2018, PennDOT and the PTC felt a camera-based enforcement system would be an effective supplement to Pennsylvania State Police enforcement in work zones, Scanlon said.

When the two speed timing devices at each site agree, cameras take photos of the front and back of the speeding vehicle to capture the license plate. The enforcement is activated only when the vehicle is exceeding 11 mph over the work zone limit.

The first offense brings a warning; the second offense results in a $75 fine; and the third and subsequent offenses bring $150 fines.

Farley said there are 10 units deployed on PennDOT projects and seven on PTC projects.

There has been an average of 138 violations per deployment, Farley said.

The pilot, which runs until 2024, was deployed in March, and in April, speeding hit a peak, with 45 percent of vehicles observed exceeding the work zone speed limit and 10 percent driving at excessive speeds. By June, the percentages had dropped to between 20 and 25 percent speeding with under 5 percent excessively speeding.

Mark Nicholson, P.E., PennDOT's bridge engineer in its northwestern Pennsylvania-based District 1, reviewed the STIC's Bridge Link Slab innovation.

Over the years, he said, bridges were built with multiple spans with joints between the decks that were subject to water and salt infiltration that triggered premature deterioration of bridge members. The link slabs innovation calls for the use of Ultra-High Performance Concrete in a more solid but still flexible joint that is virtually water proof.

The innovation was piloted on a 180-foot long bridge over Lake Wilhelm in Crawford County and so far, the joint is holding up well, Nicholson said. Another installation is planned this summer on a deck where there will not be a pavement overlay, and the joint can be monitored for a longer period of time.

Brian Link, P.E., project manager for Michael Baker International, updated ongoing work in the Transportation Quality Initiative (TQI).

He noted that TQI is not duplicating STIC efforts, but is looking at other areas that need innovation. They include early contractor involvement, the construction review process, structural coatings, alternative procurement approaches and dispute resolution and storm water control measures.

For more information on the STIC, visit

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