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Focus on Innovations

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A Message from the Secretary

Photo of Yassmin Gramian, P.E., PennDOT Secretary

As we continuously explore opportunities to improve the work we do each day in support of Pennsylvania's transportation system, we consistently depend on the innovation and creativity of employees and teams all across the department. That innovative mindset, and PennDOT's long-standing commitment to continuous process improvement, is being relied upon even more heavily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the pandemic's impact, our commitment to delivering safe and effective services across Pennsylvania has never wavered. It is said, "where there is a will, there is a way," and I have seen that proven again and again from each organization across the department.

The collective will and dedication demonstrated by PennDOT teams over the last several years has resulted in the implementation of many innovations I am proud to highlight. These innovations were thoughtfully and systematically designed to improve employee and traveler safety, enhance each customer's experience with the department, simplify processes to save time and money, and provide service of the highest quality.

Innovation at PennDOT stems from many sources, from employee-driven innovations councils and committees, our IdeaLink employee suggestion system and WorkSmart smart practice sharing tool, the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC), and every day suggestions and solutions discovered by PennDOT employees at all levels across the state. Some of the latest innovations to be implemented include:

  • Adopt A Highway Supply Pick-Up Boxes, constructed and strategically placed so Adopt A Highway crews can safely retrieve supplies at curbside locations;
  • Automated Flagger Assist Devices, allowing flagging to be conducted by a single crew member, from a safer location, at one-tenth the cost per day when compared to contracted flagging services;
  • Raising Paint Truck Exhaust Stacks to prevent the compressor from overheating, which has nearly eliminated equipment down time due to overheated compressors; and,
  • Certified Concrete Finishers Course, a STIC innovation that requires 60% of concrete finishers certified on PennDOT projects, which will help eliminate mistakes with concrete finishing and reduce the amount of rework due to concrete scaling.

As a testament to the Department's commitment to employee engagement and innovation, PennDOT hosted its first-ever virtual "Innovating Innovation" event in April. Presentations by PennDOT teams highlighted three types of innovation councils, committees or competitions designed to prompt and promote innovation across the Department and beyond. As a result, several new employee-driven innovation opportunities were established this year, and I was honored to present the District 12 Safety, Quality and Innovation Council with the first annual George W. McAuley, Jr., P.E. Innovation Award during our annual Innovation Awards ceremony in December.

Reflecting on its 50 years of embracing and pursuing the latest in transportation innovation, PennDOT hosted a Virtual Innovation Days event in early November that drew nearly 850 local, state and federal transportation representatives from across the state. Session topics focused on making roadways and bridges last, technology and project delivery, enhanced design and construction approaches, multimodal transportation planning, and tools to reduce traffic congestion and enhance safety.

With a successful 2021 to reflect on, I now look forward to building on these innovative successes, and implementing new ways of doing business, that will have direct, positive benefits for PennDOT's employees, customers and partners.

Thank you,

Yassmin Gramian, P.E.
PennDOT Secretary

Innovations in Motion

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The logo for State Transportation Innovation Council


A Message from the STIC Co-Chairs

Dear Colleagues,

We have much to be proud of regarding the ongoing success of the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC). The STIC continues to be a vital and collaborative entity that remains focused on advancing proven innovations to improve transportation for the people of Pennsylvania.

Despite a challenging year filled with continued funding issues and uncertainty as to what the future holds, 2021 saw the introduction of four new innovations for development through the STIC and a previously referred innovation was reintroduced to the STIC, bringing the total number of innovations currently in development to 11. Two innovations moved to the Advancement Phase of the STIC Innovation Development Process, and three innovations moved to full deployment.

The Pennsylvania STIC would not be where it is today without the continued hard work and dedication of its Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) - Construction and Materials, Design, Maintenance, and Safety and Traffic Operations. Comprised of a diverse cross-section of individuals from PennDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), industry, academia, and other state and federal agencies, the TAGs are where the "rubber meets the road" when it comes to introducing, developing and deploying innovations.

We look forward to celebrating the Pennsylvania STIC's 10th Anniversary in 2022 and reflecting on how this network of transportation professionals has worked so diligently to promote and foster a culture of innovation throughout the transportation industry.

For all those involved in the STIC's resilience and success over the past 10 years, we commend your efforts and encourage you to continue leading the way through innovation.

With Gratitude,

Photo of Yassmin Gramian, P.E., PennDOT Secretary

Yassmin Gramian, P.E.
PennDOT Secretary

Photo of Alicia Nolan, Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator

Alicia Nolan
FHWA Division Administrator

STIC Innovations

A bridge with concrete supports and steel beams is constructed along a river. In the background, a crane begins to lift a steel beam into place.
Every Day Counts Innovations in Hydraulic Monitoring and Drones

With its mission to manage roughly 25,000 bridges on its road network, PennDOT has embraced the FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 4 and 5 innovation known as Collaborative Hydraulics: Advancing to the Next Generation of Engineering or CHANGE. And, a second EDC-5 innovation, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, is likewise having a positive and transformative impact on PennDOT operations.

Nicholas A. Vivian, P.E., Hydrology and Hydraulic Unit manager, says the CHANGE efforts so far have been successful. CHANGE involves switching from one-dimensional (1D) to two-dimensional (2D) representations of stream flows around bridge structures during project planning.

Two-dimensional modeling enables more accurate designs of bridge openings, span arrangements, roadway profiles, scour countermeasures and bank protection. It provides better tools for communicating interactions between waterways, the transportation network and the environment, allows for a more streamlined project development approach, and improves the ability to design safer, more cost-effective and resilient structures over waterways.

"One-dimensional modeling requires designers to make assumptions about stream flow characteristics to evaluate potential flooding impacts," Vivian said. "Using 2D modeling, designers can produce specific projected stream flows around bridge structures and evaluate the potential impacts on surrounding areas. Thousands of elements are shown representing floodplain geometry, and computations are performed at each element."

Noting that it was comparable to artwork, Vivian added that 2D modeling eliminates the assumptions and performs a finite calculation. "The difference is that 1D modeling is represented by a stick figure; whereas, 2D modeling is represented by a full detailed picture," he said.

He said the best use of 2D modeling are on projects with wide floodplains, multiple embankment openings, skewed roadway crossings and large tidal streams.

Among the benefits, he said, are detailed maps and graphics that can be presented to review agencies, meaning a streamlined process.

A bridge shown in two views - a one-dimensional view on the left and a two-dimensional view of stream flow by color gradient on the right.

Four PennDOT engineering districts have selected bridges that used the new 2D hydraulic modeling.

District 1 - The bridge carrying State Route 4007 over a tributary of Little Brokenstraw Creek in Bear Lake Borough, Warren County. The environmental permit has been approved. The district used 2D modeling to analyze and enhance the current hydraulic conditions of the proposed bridge.

District 2 - State Route 1011 over the Genesee River in Bingham Township, Potter County. The district held a kick-off meeting in March 2021 and commenced design. The model was submitted for review this summer.

District 3 - State Route 14 over Towanda, Tannery and Springbrook creeks in Canton, Bradford County. Because of the complexity, a consultant was hired, and a model submission was done in fall 2021.

District 11 - State Route 65 over Bennett Run in North Sewickley Township, Beaver County. The permit was submitted in fall 2021 to the Department of Environmental Protection.

A photo taken by a UAS shows a concrete pier cap supporting a bridge.

Regarding the UAS innovation, Mark Kopko, PennDOT's director of the Office of Transformational Technology, said at a UAS Workshop in July 2021 that Gov. Tom Wolf has set an overall goal of "positioning Pennsylvania as a place to safely test and deploy UAS technology," adding that the Governor "wants Pennsylvania to be in the forefront of UAS."

Anthony McCloskey, PennDOT's director of Aviation and co-chair of the Commonwealth UAS Task Force, shared that task force membership has prioritized initiatives born out of the Safety, Economic Development, and Urban Air Mobility subcommittees. The Task Force will add the subcommittees' work into their multi-year strategic plan, identifying strategies for integrating UAS technology safely into Pennsylvania's transportation system.

PennDOT currently has 21 licensed UAS pilots and 16 UAS units, and is working on a pilot training program.

3D computer rendering of a bridge.
PennDOT Advances Several FHWA EDC-6 Innovations

In its ongoing pursuit of the FHWA Every Day Counts Round 6 (EDC-6) innovations, PennDOT advanced the Targeted Overlay Pavement Solutions (TOPS), e-Ticketing, Digital As-Builts, and Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) for Bridge Preservation and Repair innovations during 2021.

PennDOT is looking to pilot and review the use of Highly Modified Asphalt and Bonded Concrete on Asphalt as part of the TOPS innovation, according to Lydia Peddicord, P.E., chief, Pavement Design and Analysis Unit in PennDOT's Bureau of Design and Delivery and one of the project champions for TOPS.

The plan is to add these techniques to the pavement innovations PennDOT has already adopted: High-Performance Thin Overlay, Stone Matrix Asphalt, Asphalt Rubber Gap-Graded, Ultra-Thin Bonded Wearing Course and Unbonded Concrete on Concrete.

Peddicord said several districts are interested in participating in asphalt and concrete pilot applications, and her goal is to update PennDOT's specifications, so the improvements can go into widespread use.

Peddicord is part of an implementation team that includes Neal Fannin, pavement materials engineer in PennDOT's Bureau of Construction and Materials (BOCM), and Kevin Smith, assistant construction engineer in District 3 based in Lycoming County.

According to FHWA, half of all dollars invested nationally in infrastructure go for pavements, and half of that is needed for overlays to extend pavement life. The TOPS innovations are aimed at combining different materials to generate longer service life or lower cost, so revenue-challenged DOTs can reach more of their extensive road networks. PennDOT is responsible for nearly 40,000 miles of roads, the nation's fifth largest network.

In advancing another EDC-6 innovation, PennDOT's e-Ticketing System and App was implemented in July 2021.

"At that time, we received our first e-Ticket for an asphalt truck from a third party e-Ticketing vendor," said John B. Myler, assistant construction manager in PennDOT's District 11, based in Pittsburgh. "A second vendor was recently able to submit a ticket to our system and should be live in a few weeks. We are continuing to work with other vendors and should have several more in the near future."

Kelly M. Barber, P.E., who is the process lead on the e-Ticketing EDC-6 innovation and is chief of the Systems Management Division in PennDOT's BOCM, said that for the 2021 construction season, three pilot projects were held for each of PennDOT's 11 engineering districts.

"Full implementation is targeted for 2024," she said.

She added that e-Ticketing will cover asphalt, aggregate and concrete on the construction side and asphalt, aggregate, concrete, liquid bitumen and salt for maintenance.

The traditional construction practice called for the issuance of a paper ticket detailing information regarding the materials delivered onsite. The details cover the source and manufacturer of the materials, the design and the quantity. But the process poses some safety risks, especially when PennDOT and contractor staff have to climb up on and move around the material delivery trucks next to live traffic.

A worker holds up an electronic tablet in a work zone with construction equipment in the background.

Myler said PennDOT has received nearly 8,600 asphalt tickets into its system and expects to be getting tickets for aggregate and concrete soon.

"Throughout the summer, we received feedback from users and suppliers," Myler added. "We plan to reconvene with the e-Ticketing Steering Committee to discuss adjustments to the specification and how to better prepare our business partners for the coming years.

The e-Ticketing app is continuing to receive updates to improve functionality. For example, users will soon be able to incorporate tickets in an "offline" mode to be later reconciled with the appropriate e-Ticket.

"For 2022, we will be looking for another set of pilot projects to add on to the remaining 2021 pilots that continue into the next season," Myler said.

PennDOT's journey on the road to a completely digital future reached another milestone in summer 2021 with completion of a pilot of Digital As-Builts involving guide rail.

Instead of using paper records, contractors delivered more detailed asset information electronically into PennDOT's asset management databases. The pilots were done in five of PennDOT's 11 engineering districts, and contractors submitted such details as the quantity of guide rail, the exact location of all the installed elements and specifics on any different types that are used.

"With this digital transformation, we will be able to track every asset we have," said Allen Melley, P.E., project development engineer and Digital Delivery lead in PennDOT's Bureau of Design and Delivery.

With the Digital As-Built innovation, Melley said, "we can go through the asset management system, and find where and when an item was installed and all the pertinent information we need to address any issues."

Guide rail was picked for the pilot because it is one of PennDOT's priority assets, and PennDOT had a data repository to manage the information. Over the next four years, other pilots will involve roadway modeling, construction inspection, bridge modeling, 3D coordination and design, and drainage modeling.

"We have a goal of 2025," Melley said. "By then, we aim to be able to deliver projects digitally designed as a 3D model given to the contractors, which will be the record the contractor will be building off of."

Progress continues on the Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) for Bridge Preservation and Repair (P&R) innovation. Tyler Culhane, senior civil engineer in PennDOT's Bridge Office; Patricia Baer, unit manager at PennDOT's BOCM; and Jason Zang, P.E., assistant district executive for construction in PennDOT's District 11, are serving as the PennDOT champions for this innovation.

UHPC is a steel fiber-reinforced cement-based composite materials that has exceptionally high mechanical strength and durability properties that far exceed those of conventional concrete materials.

"We are coordinating with FHWA to do a virtual workshop sometime in February or March 2022 to review construction and design practices for different UHPC repair types," Culhane said.

He said research with the University of Pittsburgh continues with regard to UHPC end beam repairs.

"Additionally, we are working on construction and design specifications for the Bridge Deck Link Slabs innovation, but are six to 12 months out with our consultant/group from any product out of the STIC innovation for specifications," Culhane said.

With DOTs and other highway agencies across the nation working to keep bridges in state of good repair, use of UHPC for Bridge P&R is a new method that offers enhanced performance and improved life-cycle cost over traditional methods.

Zang said UHPC is ultimately going to be a big factor in speeding up bridge repair projects, resulting in life-cycle cost savings. This is critically important given that Pennsylvania is home to roughly 25,000 state-maintained bridges and roughly 6,000 locally managed bridges.

Pennsylvania recently selected two additional EDC-6 innovations to pursue, Next Generation Traffic Incident Management (TIM): Integrating Technology, Data and Training and Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations. The Next Generation TIM innovation aims to increase traveler and responder safety and improve the movement of goods on all roadways by providing new tools, data and training mechanisms. The Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations innovation uses data collected whenever and wherever people travel to optimize roadway use for reduced congestion and increased safety and reliability.

A photo taken by a UAS shows a concrete pier cap supporting a bridge.
PennDOT Embraces UAS Technology

From monitoring roadside hazards to charting project progress across the various transportation modes, PennDOT is advancing the deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, in its pursuit of improving the transportation network.

At a three-day virtual UAS Workshop hosted by PennDOT and the FHWA in July 2021, PennDOT representatives reviewed the agency's ongoing and developing UAS program.

"We started out taking baby steps, and we are now moving more quickly," said Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, P.E., PennDOT's District 11 Executive in the Pittsburgh region.

With her district's topography of hills and rivers, UAS deployment has become "really important and very useful," she said. Her district uses its four UAS vehicles for monitoring stockpile quantities, slide response mitigation, bridge inspections and construction monitoring.

During the workshop, Mark Kopko, PennDOT's Director of the Office of Transformational Technology shared that Gov. Tom Wolf has set an overall goal of "positioning Pennsylvania as a place to safely test and deploy UAS technology," adding that the Governor wants Pennsylvania to be at the forefront of UAS.

He also shared that he and his team are working on a multi-year strategic plan, based on a vision of "safe and strategic integration of UAS technology into the Pennsylvania transportation system" and a mission of "identifying and recommending potential strategies to safely foster and cultivate UAS technology in Pennsylvania."

PennDOT currently has 21 licensed UAS pilots and 16 UAS units.

An aerial photo shows a crane and crew working on roadway next to train tracks and a river.

"We are currently working on a training program for department UAS pilots," said J Brian Walter, P.E., Senior Civil Engineer Supervisor, who is one of PennDOT's UAS leaders. "Material covered will include both Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 regulations and PennDOT's UAS policy."

In June 2021, an initial meeting was held for the Commonwealth's UAS Task Force, which is working on a multi-year strategic plan to establish a framework for identifying, integrating and managing UAS technologies. Three subcommittees have been identified by the 30-plus stakeholder group of public and private sector representatives: Safety, Economic Development and Urban Air Mobility. Each subcommittee is tasked with developing a minimum of five initiatives that would support the objective.

"The Task Force report was finalized and reported back to the District Executives, and we have been working with the districts to expand the use of UAS in the Department," said Kelly Barber, P.E., Chief of the Systems Management Division of the Bureau of Construction and also a UAS leader at PennDOT.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike used $50,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding from FHWA to assist in the purchase of four UAS vehicles that were transferred to the State Police for crash reconstruction work. The Turnpike also purchased an additional four UAS units for its purposes.

Among other projects, PennDOT has already used UAS to calculate earthmoving quantities on a Route 30 relocation project in Beaver County and record the blast of a teetering boulder above the Glassport-Elizabeth Road near Elizabeth, Pa., which eliminated the risk to department personnel and helped monitor the status of the railroad further below for possible debris.

PennDOT also created a time lapse video, which included drone footage, of the Shaler Street Bridge Replacement project in Pittsburgh. The two-span bridge was constructed offsite and moved to its final location using self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs). The project won the American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania (ACEC/PA) 2021 Structural Systems Diamond Award, the ASHE Pittsburgh Section's Outstanding Highway Engineering Award, and an ASHE National Project Award.

An orange road sign displays a single black chevron with ten miniature lights placed along the chevron's edge.
Safety and Traffic Operations TAG Focuses on Keeping Traffic Moving

As PennDOT manages the state's road and bridge network, its focus is to keep drivers safe and moving. To that end, working through the STIC, PennDOT is deploying new approaches to minimize crashes on high-speed curves and keep traffic moving through work zones and signalized intersections.

The STIC's Safety and Traffic Operations Technical Advisory Group (TAG) developed the Sequential Dynamic Lighting Curve Warning Systems; FREEway EVALuation-Pennsylvania, or FREEVAL-PA, a predictive work zone assessment tool that analyzes work zones' effect on traffic flow so appropriate mitigation strategies are identified to minimize the impact on traffic operations, and Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures (ATSPMs).

Designed to alert motorists to slow down when approaching and driving through sharp curves, the innovative warning 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.

The system was first installed on the ramp from Interstate 86 to Interstate 90 in Erie County in September 2019. This ramp had a history of single vehicle, run-off-the-road crashes that resulted in many large trucks striking the guiderail and traveling down the embankment.

Other installations were done on Interstate 79 in Allegheny County at a spot where a series of tight curves had seen numerous rollover and run-off-the-road crashes.

The Safety and Traffic Operations TAG and its Innovation Development Team are monitoring before- and after-crash data at these locations to see how the sequential signage has impacted the number of crashes and the level of speed observations of the traveling public.

A screen from the Freeval-PA system shows work zone information and charts.

FREEVAL-PA analysis software was created to analyze 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. PennDOT and its partners can use the software for work zone staging changes, work zone delay and user cost analysis, lane reservation analysis, diversion sensitivity analysis, freeway alternatives analysis and scenario planning. FREEVAL-PA can also be used to evaluate incident management and response strategies.

Effective July 1, 2021, FREEVAL-PA is required for limited access facilities performing construction, maintenance and permit-related work zone activities on PennDOT highways. PennDOT developed a website that provides virtual training modules and guidance documents. Participants can go to the website and take the self-paced virtual training modules prior to using the tool.

Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures (ATSPMs) is an innovation that received $60,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding and involves the use of data to analyze and optimize traffic signal performance. Poorly timed traffic signals are the most significant contributor to traffic congestion on arterial roadways. Analyzing the operation of traffic signals will help PennDOT and local governments improve the flow of traffic and reduce congestion to move people and goods more safely and efficiently.

The 2021 STIC Incentive Program funding will be used to procure a vendor software that has the capability to flag anomalies in various performance measures as a pilot to determine whether having this functionality in software can minimize staff resources and provide effective improvements to traffic flow. The pilot will include intersections that are already connected to the PennDOT network and have controllers and detection capable of collecting ATSPM data.

A group of Certified Concrete Finishers Course attendees stand in a group next to set concrete and in front of a concrete truck.
Partnerships Yield Progress on Concrete and Bridge Innovations

Working with industry and research partners, PennDOT has taken significant strides to improve concrete finishing work and use innovative materials to protect bridges and culverts from flood and other water-related damage.

The STIC's Construction and Materials Technical Advisory Group (TAG) headed these efforts under the leadership of TAG Leader Steve Fantechi, assistant district executive for construction in PennDOT's District 2, based in Clearfield.

Led by Innovation Owner, Jim Casilio, P.E., director of Technical Services for the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA), and Harold Hill, assistant district executive for construction in PennDOT District 4, the Certified Concrete Finishers Course was introduced to the STIC as Pennsylvania and other states realized that the skill level of concrete finishers can be just as important as the physical concrete itself when it comes to quality and longevity of the finished product.

The goal of the certification course, which includes classroom and practical, hands-on work, is 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. Once completed, the course leads to life-time certification.

Casilio noted that the instruction does not take "a do this, don't do that" approach. "We are really trying to delve into what is going on and why so we can offer the finishers better information so they can deal with stuff on site and make better decisions," he said. "They will have better skills if they have a better understanding of what is going on."

As of the end of November 2021, Fantechi said, nearly 800 people have completed the certification course. He added that 18 courses will be offered in advance of PennDOT adopting the specification change in April 2022 that includes the course requirement. Contractors will need to have 60 percent of their crews certified to meet the new specification, which was granted approval for implementation by the FHWA earlier this year.

Fantechi added that presentations on the course were conducted at the winter schools held in each PennDOT district. "That way, all the PennDOT inspectors will know what the course is all about and the advantages of it," Fantechi said.

Ferguson Township in Centre County has embraced the innovation. In February 2020, the township under the direction of Ron Seybert, its engineer, hosted a training for its inspection staff and invited those from surrounding municipalities. In May 2021, the township hosted two finishers' certification trainings, and now a majority of the concrete contractors in the township are certified.

"The classes have been extremely well received," Casilio said.

In another effort to deliver smoother pavements and ride conditions, PennDOT's adoption of the Geosynthetic Stabilized Bridge Approach (GSBA) aims to reduce roadway settlement directly adjacent to a bridge abutment, a problem commonly called "bridge bump," where drivers feel a "bump" as they enter or exit a bridge. By placing roadway backfill with layers of geosynthetic material adjacent to a bridge abutment, settlement of the roadway can be significantly reduced.

Dennis Neff, P.E., geotechnical engineer in PennDOT's Bureau of Construction and Materials said the new standard will be in place early next year and has the potential to reduce maintenance costs by $3 million a year.

In addition, Timothy A. Carre, P.E., PennDOT's assistant chief bridge engineer in PennDOT's Bridge Office said that he and his team are trying to address a vexing problem with extreme weather events washing out culverts and roadways.

The PennDOT Bridge Office partnered with Lehigh University on a research project that examined many backfill materials and their interaction with extreme weather runoff in a test environment. The research produced recommendations for modifying the structural backfill that supports the culvert pipes.

Nikki Krise, bridge design quality assurance engineer in PennDOT's Bridge Office, noted that, based on the Lehigh recommendations, PennDOT is reviewing a new requirement for use of the flowable fill material for culverts under interstates and other roadways.

The new process, to be in place by March 2022, will use a flowable fill material consisting of concrete and sand that will replace plain aggregates that surround and support the pipes within the culverts. This innovation will provide a stronger support that will not wash out with heavy water flows.

A concrete slotted median barrier separates a parking lot and field.
Design TAG Tackles Environmental and Bridge Maintenance Innovations

Steps to enhance environmental protection during highway and bridge projects and improving bridge deck joints were among the goals of the STIC's Design Technical Advisory Group (TAG) during 2021.

The TAG recommended that Environmentally Sensitive Area Signage become a standard special provision within PennDOT procedures. PennDOT had a good experience with a pilot program at the recently completed Interstate 83, Exit 4 reconstruction project in PennDOT's District 8, based in Harrisburg.

"The main step after creating a standard special provision will be implementing a marketing and information sharing strategy to ensure the various designers know where to find the special provision and when they should consider using this innovation," said Innovation Owner, Brandon Dean, an environmental supervisor in PennDOT District 8.

The TAG, under the leadership of Rachel Duda, assistant district executive for Design in PennDOT's District 12, based in Uniontown, is also working on three new innovations, including Slotted Median Barriers, which are particularly useful in flood prone areas; a standard specification for concrete color on PennDOT bridges to provide a more consistent look across Pennsylvania; and a special provision for an Environmental Monitor Role for Construction Projects.

The vision for the Environmental Monitor is that the person in this role will be responsible for inspecting project sites daily for compliance with federal, state and local environmental regulations, permit conditions, and approved plans and project-specific requirements.

A rock embankment meets a barrier, a field of wild grass, and an orange Environmentally Sensitive Area sign.

Duda said the monitor role also will prepare daily inspection reports, as needed status reports, and coordinate with regulatory agencies and contractors during and after construction. In addition, this role will oversee and document all post-construction restoration efforts and monitor restored areas for successful revegetation.

Cost savings will be among the many benefits as having a dedicated person responsible for inspection will result in early observation and resolution of potential problems and avoid the cost of fixing problems once they are out of control.

"Looking ahead, we want to clearly define the expert position of the Standard Environmental Monitor Role for the development of the special provision," Duda said. "We will also determine the need for specialized training for this role."

Mark Nicholson, PennDOT District 1 bridge engineer and innovation owner for the Bridge Deck Link Slabs innovation, said his district has two projects planned for 2022 using this technique.

The new process uses a combination of Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) and reinforcing steel to connect bridge decks with a watertight connection, Nicholson said. Traditional bridge joints often break down and allow de-icing materials to leak onto and damage the structural elements below, requiring extensive and expensive repairs. Bridge Deck Link Slabs eliminate deck joints to reduce that damage and deterioration and the necessary maintenance. Bridge deck joints have been one of the leading causes for premature bridge deterioration. Link slabs are an economic way to eliminate bridges joints. The project received 2021 STIC Incentive Program funding, which is being used to support the development of the design procedures and design tools for using Bridge Deck Link Slabs in Pennsylvania.

District 1 did a pilot with link slabs on the SR1009 bridge over Lake Wilhelm in Mercer County. The district plans another link slab bridge on SR 2102 over Interstate 79 and the SR2104 bridge over Interstate 79 in 2022, Nicholson said.

A piece of construction equipment with an attached brush loader sits in a parking lot.
Maintenance TAG Advances Innovations

The STIC's Maintenance Technical Advisory Group (TAG) under the leadership of Dean A. Poleti, P.E., maintenance services engineer in PennDOT District 11 in the Pittsburgh region, advanced three innovations in 2021 dealing with enhancing public access to winter road conditions and managing roadside vegetation and stormwater runoff.

The impacts of winter storms on Pennsylvania's 40,000-mile state road network make a huge difference for drivers, and the TAG continues to pursue a better way for the public to see winter conditions in real time.

The TAG is working toward starting pilot programs for new forward-facing cameras that will give managers and the public actual road conditions during storms.

"It will enhance traveler information on PA511 and put images there so the public can see on their own what the road looks like," Poleti said. "It also will increase situational awareness in the districts, the counties, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Incident Command. It will help us make informed decisions on where to increase the level of service."

Pilot details are still being worked out, but the goal is to start it before the end of winter. PennDOT will review findings from the pilot and decide on future wider scale deployment.

As part of its responsibility to ensure road projects do not harm the environment, PennDOT has developed a Stormwater Management Training and Field Guidebook.

PennDOT owns and operates 2,800 Stormwater Control Measure (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 ground water. Regular maintenance preserves SCM functionality and extends the service life. The training and guidebook provide education and preparation on specific maintenance duties and ensure compliance with permitting requirements.

Rich Heineman, the innovation owner and section manager in the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations, said in-person training was conducted in District 8, based in Harrisburg, in September, and training is now being rolled out to other PennDOT districts.

A snow plow truck pushes snow off a roadway curve.

Part of the program includes a collaboration site with training videos and lessons and field guide summaries and text. It also includes specific examples of the right equipment to use. The guide covers such topics as grass and vegetation control and sediment removal.

In addition, Heineman has worked with the Pennsylvania Local Technical Assistance Program (PA LTAP) to deliver training materials to local government partners. Training is planned as virtual with an option for in-person.

"The goal is to have SCM maintenance performed properly," Heineman said. "The training provides a one-stop shop for maintenance forces when they have questions. Using the wrong equipment is worse than no maintenance at all."

PennDOT and several local governments are exploring brusher loader attachments for their equipment inventories as a way to improve the efficiency and safety of roadside vegetation management. The Maintenance TAG has been working on this innovation, including a catalog of innovative vegetation management equipment for use by PennDOT county managers and their assistants as well as local governments.

During 2021, Fermanagh Township in Juniata County held a demonstration for a brusher loader attachment it had purchased, and several PennDOT employees participated.

"Our Fleet Management Division employees liked the equipment, and it had a lot of benefits," Poleti said.

A second demonstration was held at the Interstate 79 interchange in Carnegie Borough, Allegheny County, with a MowerMax™ piece of equipment.

"It is a stand-alone piece with different attachments for mowing and vertical vegetation removal, Poleti said. "It is a nice piece of equipment with a lot of versatility."

Since the attachments usually go on front loaders and not all municipalities have front loaders, Poleti noted there would be PennDOT Agility Program opportunities available to make this work statewide.

"If PennDOT owned the front loader attachment, we could send an operator to a township for whatever roadside management was needed, and the township could offer one of their services in exchange," Poleti said. "It definitely has Agility potential."

As for the equipment catalog, Poleti's team has developed a draft and is now making modifications and adding equipment photos. The catalog will provide best practices and equipment availability for sharing opportunities.

A closed section of interstate highway passes over a busy roadway. Emergency response vehicles surround a tractor trailer.
STIC Incentive Program Funding Delivering Benefits for Pennsylvania

The STIC Incentive Program continued to pay big dividends in Pennsylvania to advance innovations that make it easier for PennDOT to deliver a more efficient and safer driving experience for all who travel the state's extensive road and bridge network.

With an investment of up to $100,000 a year from the FHWA, the STIC Incentive Program in Pennsylvania has fostered advances in bridge maintenance, environmental protection, more efficient construction and inspection activities, and improved traffic flow.

"We have matched the federal dollars with a 20 percent contribution and the combined investment is helping us to develop these needed innovations more quickly," said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E. "This helps us demonstrate to our customers that we are committed to efficient and effective operations."

Here is a summary of recent STIC Incentive Program funding recipients in Pennsylvania:

Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures

Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures (ATSPMs) is an innovation that involves the use of data to analyze and optimize traffic signal performance. Poorly timed traffic signals are the most significant contributor to traffic congestion on arterial roadways. Analyzing the operation of traffic signals will help PennDOT and local governments improve the flow of traffic, and reduce congestion to move people and goods more safely and efficiently.

A silver traffic data collection device used to collect Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures is mounted next to a traffic light.

PennDOT's Highway Safety and Traffic Operations Division received $60,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2021 to assist with procurement of software that will facilitate monitoring and identification of both maintenance and operational concerns with traffic signals, said Steve Gault, P.E., chief of the Transportation Systems Management and Operations Arterials and Planning Section of the division.

"We are looking now at different software products that may be able to do that analysis and help us figure out where the anomalies are where we need to focus our efforts," Gault said.

After reviewing products from four vendors, Gault and his team have picked one and are working through the issues that will clear the way for procurement.

"The software platforms we are looking at are taking the next step in crunching all this information and helping us identify where things don't look normal so we can do a deeper dive to understand what is going on and make changes in a way that will provide a benefit for users of that intersection," he added.

Bridge Deck Link Slabs

PennDOT's District 1 in northwestern Pennsylvania has two projects planned for 2022 using Bridge Deck Link Slabs. The new process uses a combination of Ultra-High Performance Concrete and reinforcing steel to connect bridge decks with a watertight connection.

Bridge deck joints have been one of the leading causes for premature bridge deterioration. Link slabs are an economic way to eliminate bridges joints. This effort received $40,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2021, to support the development of the design procedures and design tools for using Bridge Deck Link Slabs in Pennsylvania.

Augmented Reality

An important innovation to help PennDOT develop and construct transportation projects is Augmented Reality (AR), an innovation moving forward thanks, in part, to STIC Incentive Program funding.

A PennDOT worker holds a pair of black and silver mixed reality smartglasses up to his eyes.

With PennDOT moving toward Digital Delivery in 2025, AR will assist inspection staff in the field, allowing them to view 3D models through a HoloLens, and communicate and troubleshoot with project teams at multiple locations. PennDOT envisions AR tools to assist with preconstruction activities, construction inspection, structural material shop inspections, bridge inspections and incident management, as well as training and certifying bridge inspection staff.

The AR effort, directed by Kelly Barber, P.E., Systems Management Division chief in PennDOT's Bureau of Construction and Materials (BOCM), received $50,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2020.

PennDOT is using Imajion Project XR, which is a platform that utilizes the Microsoft HoloLens attached to a hard hat, in the Pittsburgh region (District 11) for construction, design, bridge maintenance and materials testing.

In addition, PennDOT is using AR devices for Virtual Asphalt Acceptance Testing on 100% state paving contracts.

"We were able to witness the technician performing the test at a paving location ... remotely instead of having to be there physically," she said. "We saw that there was a benefit in being able to be in multiple locations within a day without having to drive to asphalt plants to see the test they need to do."

Barber said PennDOT is close to arranging for procurement of AMA XpertEye virtual inspection glasses. PennDOT's District 11 and the Structural Materials Unit in BOCM will test the device for various material and bridge inspections, she said.

Unmanned Aerial Systems for Crash Reconstruction

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) received $50,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2020 to assist in the purchase of four Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) vehicles that were transferred to the State Police for crash reconstruction work. The PTC also purchased an additional four UAS units for its own purposes.

Once the eight drone pilots are trained and certified, the PTC expects to see a 75 percent decrease in crash reconstruction time, meaning fewer lane closures and improved safety by avoiding additional traffic backups because of closed lanes, according to William J. Howard, traffic emergency management specialist in the Turnpike's Engineering and Operations Office.

Stormwater Training and Field Guidebook

As part of its responsibility to ensure road projects do not harm the environment, PennDOT used $50,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2019 to help develop a Stormwater Management Training and Field Guidebook, which covers the various maintenance techniques needed to help care for PennDOT's 2,800 Stormwater Control Measures.

Unmanned Aerial Systems Strategic Plan

The Commonwealth UAS Task Force report was finalized last spring, and PennDOT is working with its districts to expand UAS use, said Barber in BOCM.

PennDOT's UAS initiative received $50,000 in STIC Incentive Program funding in 2019 and UAS units are now in four PennDOT districts - District 1 in northwestern Pennsylvania, District 4 in northeastern Pennsylvania, District 6 in southeastern Pennsylvania and District 11 in the Pittsburgh region.

"We are continuing to share the benefits of UAS where it can help improve our processes and make things safer for our employees, and save time as well," Barber said.

STIC Innovation Development Process

Scroll over or tap on each of the phases to learn more.

Innovations that are well-researched, proven and documented are submitted to the STIC Management Team for consideration. Innovations may be submitted by any member of the STIC organization, PennDOT employees or other transportation stakeholders. Qualified innovations are recommended to the respective TAGs for further evaluation.


TAGs conduct a high-level review of their assigned innovation and offer a "Go/No Go" recommendation supported by initial feedback, including benefits, challenges to implementation, funding availability and other initial considerations. The TAG presents the innovation for additional feedback by STIC members before the innovation is advanced for Detailed Development.


TAG Leaders assign an Innovation Owner and a Development Team is assembled to fully develop the innovation for deployment. This includes preparation of the Innovation Development Summary and Deployment Plan that details all aspects of the innovation, including the actions necessary for deployment. The Innovation Development Summary and Deployment Plan is presented to STIC members for feedback before advancement to the next phase.


The Innovation Development Summary and Deployment Plan is refined based on STIC feedback and advanced for deployment by PennDOT's Highway Administration Deputate or other appropriate deputate. The assigned Innovation Owner will directly support deployment and report progress to the STIC.

Timeline of an innovation at PennDOT

  • A lightbulb lit up

    Inspiration strikes!

    An employee or project team recommends improving a process or service or adopting an innovation at PennDOT. The employee suggests their idea through a variety of avenues, including an electronic or paper-based employee suggestion system, employee committees or other employee work groups. Proven innovations also find their way into PennDOT through the award-winning State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC).

  • A scale that is even

    Could this work?

    Ideas move through a research and analysis phase where subject matter experts explore opportunities and define metrics to track the impact of the idea. Research may include customer feedback surveys, data analysis, or collaborating with other transportation partners and stakeholders.

  • Two conversation bubbles meant to look like a text conversation with the first having a question mark inside the bubble

    What did we decide?

    Following the research and analysis phase, a determination is made.

  • A handshake between two hands

    Let's do it!

    When approved, PennDOT leadership and employee teams work to adopt the idea and make it common practice. Publications, manuals, and policy documents are updated, training is provided, and other steps are taken to ensure success.

  • A meter with the needle pointing right

    Moving the needle.

    In a spirit of continuous process improvement, many innovations are monitored to measure their effectiveness and make sure the right changes were made at the right time to ensure success.

  • An awards medal

    Employee recognition.

    Employees are regularly recognized for their contribution to innovation at PennDOT. An annual department-wide ceremony celebrates the "best of the best" innovations, and PennDOT local offices regularly celebrate innovative employees.


Thanks to everyone whose contributions of time, talent and effort continue to yield innovation successes making Pennsylvania's transportation system safer and more sustainable. For more information on process improvement at PennDOT, visit the Quality at PennDOT website or email the Innovations Resource Account. For more information on the STIC, visit the STIC website or email the STIC Resource Account.