STIC Year-End Report

PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian Yassmin Gramian, P.E., PennDOT Secretary
Federal Highway Administration Pennsylvania Division Administrator Alicia Nolan Alicia Nolan, FHWA Division Administrator
Welcome to the 2020 STIC Year-End Report

A Message from the STIC Co-Chairs

As we move into 2021 and explore new ways to better deliver transportation across Pennsylvania, we reflect back on how we navigated the challenging environment posed by 2020.

In spite of the demands created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) quickly adapted. We embraced virtual meeting technology, maintained our schedules and continued moving the development of innovations forward.

Members of the STIC Management Team participated in two virtual STIC Peer Exchanges in 2020 – one hosted by Utah DOT and the second hosted by Michigan DOT. These peer exchanges provided states with the opportunity to share their innovation successes and glean best practices from one another.

The STIC was also excited to welcome representatives from other state departments of transportation (DOTs), including California, Delaware, Ohio and Michigan, at its virtual STIC Business Meetings in 2020 to learn more about Pennsylvania's innovation efforts.

Through the hard work of our dedicated Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), innovation owners and their respective development teams, the STIC continued to advance several innovations in 2020, including:

- FREEVAL-PA (FREeway EVALuation-Pennsylvania), a predictive analysis tool that will help PennDOT deploy the most effective work zone configurations;

- Certified Concrete Finishers Course, a practical, hands-on training, to help eliminate mistakes in concrete finishing that can result in costly repairs or reconstruction;

- Stormwater Training and Field Guidebook to assist maintenance forces in effectively using various stormwater control measures to reduce pollutants carried through storm sewer systems; and

- Hot Pour Mastics, a pourable, self-adhesive asphalt binder that is applied hot to extend pavement life, which saw four new Hot Pour Mastics vendors approved for use in 2020.

A year's worth of marketing efforts, including the launch of a STIC Innovations Catalog and innovation-specific webpages on the STIC website, culminated with several STIC and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) innovations being presented as part of the first-ever PennDOT Virtual Innovation Week in November. Additional STIC and EDC innovations were also featured as part of the event's Virtual Exhibit Hall. The event was attended by transportation representatives from across Pennsylvania as well as representatives from other state DOTs.

We look forward to building on these accomplishments, outlined in this year-end report, and pledge to champion an ever-evolving culture of innovation.

Thank you.

Adapting in Time of Crisis: STIC Pushes Ahead in 2020 Despite Challenges

With its eye on persisting in delivering transportation innovations for Pennsylvania, the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) pushed through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

With Gov. Wolf's orders beginning March 12, 2020, decisive mitigation actions were taken by the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) to help slow the virus's spread to protect citizens, employees, and business partners alike. And, STIC followed suit, shifting its summer and fall meetings to a virtual format, with the assistance of PennDOT's Bureau of Innovations.

The STIC held virtual meetings in July and November and through the efforts of its Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) advanced Hot Pour Mastics, the Certified Concrete Finishers Course and Predictive Analysis for Work Zones to the deployment stage. New leaders for the STIC's four TAGs were transitioned into their new roles. And, a new innovation, adding cameras to snowplows for 511PA users to see real-time conditions, was introduced to move through the STIC's Innovation Development Process.

Meeting the social distancing guidelines of the pandemic, PennDOT presented a week-long array of virtual sessions and exhibits on transportation innovations, including several STIC innovations, in November that attracted a large audience and drew rave reviews as part of the first-ever PennDOT Virtual Innovation Week.

"Having virtual meetings and events really increased attendance because people did not have to drive from eastern or western parts of the state to Harrisburg for the meetings," said Rich Roman, former Maintenance TAG leader and PennDOT District 4 executive in northeastern Pennsylvania. "It was a great use of technology to get things done. As long as you are communicating, that is the number one concern and being able to do that helped us get things done in light of the pandemic," Roman added.

Stacey Cleary, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Asphalt Material Applicators (PAAMA), said STIC discussions continued unimpeded. "STIC moved seamlessly to a virtual format and did not miss a beat," she said. "Meetings and discussions continued to happen, and PennDOT representatives still did the research with other state DOTs to gather background on innovations moving through the development process."

Jim Casilio, P.E., director of Technical Services for the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association, added, "Like all of us, it makes it easier to attend things. That's a plus. The drawback is there is no substitute for in-depth, face-to-face discussion. We all look forward to doing that sooner rather than later."

Hot Pour Mastics participants watching vendor apply product to parking lot.
During the July 2019 STIC Business Meeting, transportation representatives participated in a demonstration of Hot Pour Mastics to see firsthand how the product is applied and could aid in extending pavement life in Pennsylvania.

STIC Collaboration Delivers Value to Pennsylvania Transportation Improvements

Delivering transportation improvements entails pulling together many moving parts, and the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) has fostered high-level collaboration that is streamlining the work.

One shining example is an innovation now spreading across Pennsylvania that will deliver long-lasting, spot repairs to pavements.

Hot Pour Mastics (HPM) was not widely known in Pennsylvania when Rich Roman, now district executive in PennDOT District 4 and then head of the STIC's Maintenance Technical Advisory Group (TAG), invited Stacey Cleary, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Asphalt Material Applicators (PAAMA) to join the TAG.

PennDOT's approved products list had one such material, but "it was camouflaged," Cleary said. "If you did not know what you were looking for, you could not find it."

"It (Hot Pour Mastics) was perfectly primed to get through the STIC," she added. "Working through the STIC, we moved the product approval through much more quickly."

HPM is a pourable, self-adhesive asphalt binder that is applied hot. It is used for a wide range of applications, such as pavement seams and shoulder joint failures; filing cracks wider than one inch; filling, sealing and repairing pavement distresses; filling potholes and utility cuts; making pavement repairs around raised manholes, drain and culvert repairs; leveling bridge approaches and making bridge deck repairs.

Thus far, there have been 20 applications of HPM on state roadways. Nineteen have been applied by PennDOT forces and one contractor application. This work has been performed in seven districts across the state, covering 15 counties.

"We had a nice cross section of members (on the TAG) and this helped to strengthen the development of this initiative," Roman said.

Regarding HPM, Roman said, "We did trials in a few districts, made changes in policy and publications, and worked internally to get this to the finish line. It is now available for use by state and local transportation agencies and is another approach to properly maintaining roadways – all due to the STIC."

Cleary noted that four HPM vendors are now PennDOT approved, meaning enhanced competition and better pricing.

"It provided a new tool in the toolbox to make smoother, longer lasting roads and that is better for the public and taxpayers," she said.

Jim Casilio, P.E., director of Technical Services for the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA), said STIC is making an impact "by bringing to the table people who have the ability to enact innovation.

"These worthwhile ideas get through the process and are qualified as worthwhile and implemented at a much quicker timeframe than would have normally happened without it," he said.

Casilio is a member of the STIC's Construction and Materials Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and has helped champion innovations through the STIC – Cement Slurry for Full-Depth Reclamation and more recently the Certified Concrete Finishers Course.

"It could be the best idea in the world, but it would take so long to get it out without having the right people at the table," he added.

Cleary and Casilio both look forward to their associations' continued presence and impact on the STIC.

"We (PAAMA) will stay involved with STIC and the Maintenance Technical Advisory Group when additional appropriate products or appropriate processes are to be recommended," she said. "We can join that discussion and work with PennDOT as we did on this one."

Added Casilio, "I always want to improve things. I always will be optimistic and will always be there for improvements. Whether we decide to take advantage or not, it will be up to us."

Technical Advisory Groups

Working Together to Foster Innovation

The Pennsylvania STIC includes four Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) that meet regularly to evaluate and develop innovations for deployment across Pennsylvania.

After a successful two years, the first TAG Leaders under the STIC Moving Forward strategic plan handed over their duties to their Assistant TAG Leaders in 2020. The STIC would like to thank those initial TAG Leaders for their dedication to advancing innovation in Pennsylvania:

Harold Hill, P.E. – Construction and Materials TAG

Karen Michael, P.E. – Design TAG

Richard Roman, P.E. – Maintenance TAG

Gavin Gray, P.E. – Safety and Traffic Operations TAG

The new TAG Leaders are:

Steven Fantechi, P.E. – Construction and Materials TAG

Rachel Duda, P.E. – Design TAG

Dean Poleti, P.E. – Maintenance TAG

Ashwin Patel, P.E. – Safety and Traffic Operations TAG

Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, these TAG Leaders and their teams continued to move current and new innovations through the STIC Innovation Development Process and build upon the successes of their predecessors.

Construction and Materials TAG Leader Steven Fantechi, P.E.
Steven Fantechi, P.E.
Construction and Materials TAG

Design TAG Leader Rachel Duda, P.E.
Rachel Duda, P.E.
Design TAG

Maintenance TAG Leader Dean Poleti P.E.
Dean Poleti, P.E.
Maintenance TAG

Safety and Traffic Operations TAG Leader Ashwin Patel, P.E.
Ashwin Patel, P.E
Safety and Traffic Operations TAG


Construction & Materials


Safety & Traffic Operations
Every Day Counts

Pennsylvania's Pursuit of National Innovations

FHWA's Every Day Counts (EDC) program is a state-based initiative that identifies and deploys proven, but underutilized innovations from across the country, saving time, money, and resources that can be used to deliver more projects. Every two years, FHWA hosts a summit where states learn about the next round of innovations. In 2020, Pennsylvania made progress in advancing the four innovations selected as part of EDC Round 5 (EDC-5) in 2019, and also participated in the EDC Round 6 (EDC-6) Virtual Summit in December. Following the EDC-6 Summit, Pennsylvania selected to pursue the e-Ticketing and Digital As-Builts, Targeted Overlay Pavement Solutions and Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) for Bridge Preservation and Repairs innovations.

Aerial image of construction workers replacing the Shaler Street Bridge in Allegheny County.
PennDOT District 11 used drones to document and monitor construction of the Shaler Street Bridge project in Allegheny County.
Featured Innovation

PennDOT Working Collaboratively to Advance UAS (Drone) Use Safely and Effectively

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, are making a difference for PennDOT, and the agency is working diligently to allow widespread use.

Assistant District Executive for Construction in District 11, Jason Zang, P.E., and Chief of Surveys in District 11, Kevin F. Lira, P.L.S., say PennDOT is committed to implementing UAS in line with Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Every Day Counts Round 5 (EDC-5) innovation.

Using FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding, PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation and the Highway Administration Deputate have been developing a systematic UAS, or drone, program and associated policies. This effort will help standardize the use of UAS in Pennsylvania for PennDOT.

Potential uses being evaluated include structural inspection, surveys, traffic analysis, construction inspection and production quantity estimates, incident management and disaster response, said J. Brian Walter, P.E., senior civil engineer supervisor in PennDOT's Highway Administration Deputate.

"As we gain comfort and experience with the technology, other focus areas may be examined," he added.

Director of the Bureau of Aviation Anthony J. McCloskey, P.E., said PennDOT is following all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 rules and guidance.

PennDOT is developing its own training process to assist future pilots with receiving the required FAA Part 107 remote pilot certification, as well as familiarization with PennDOT's internal UAS policy.

"Safety is paramount," Zang said. "We can't afford to have a crash with a drone."

"Among the rules," McCloskey said, "drones cannot operate over people or moving vehicles not involved in the operation; must remain within the visual line of sight of the operator at all times; can only be flown during the daytime; and no more than 400 feet above the ground. The drones must remain outside controlled airspace unless approved by a waiver from FAA Air Traffic Control."

PennDOT's first drone was purchased in 2018, and Districts 1 and 11 shared it for almost a year. With the help of PennDOT's Bureau of Innovations, in 2019, a PennDOT Highway Administration steering committee on drones was formed. In 2020, additional drones were purchased for construction, bridge inspection and surveys.

Now, PennDOT has 11 drones and 11 certified PennDOT drone pilots, McCloskey said. In addition, the Bureau of Aviation has certified over 30 contractor and consultant pilots. PennDOT over time could have 30 or 40 pilots among its staff, he added.

"It may take time to get the program up to full steam ahead, but we are making strides." McCloskey said. "This program could really start ramping up quickly."

Gov. Tom Wolf also directed PennDOT to create a public/private task force on drones.

"The objective is to bring everybody together from the public and private sectors to capitalize on mobility and technology," McCloskey said. "We are in the early stages and hope to have the task force up and running early next year."

PennDOT is working with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and other state agencies on drone uses and coordination.

Lira noted the construction units are using drones to monitor projects and document progress. Additionally, a drone was used to help assemble a three-dimensional (3D) model of a stockpile and for photos of a final inspection of a slide remediation project.

Another benefit is the production of photos and videos that help PennDOT explain to a wide audience the details of its various missions.

Added McCloskey, "We are excited to advance this technology in Pennsylvania."

Progress Being Made on Two Safety EDC-5 Innovations

Safety is at the heart of two of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Every Day Counts innovations Pennsylvania is pursuing – Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) and Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (RRRwD).

PennDOT is focusing on implementing six of the seven STEP countermeasures promoted by FHWA to help improve pedestrian safety at various intersections in Pennsylvania:

  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFB) – These LED-light beacons use an irregular flash pattern at mid-block or uncontrolled crossing locations and can make crosswalks and/or pedestrians more visible.
  • Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) – Pedestrian signals utilizing LPIs allow pedestrians to walk three to seven seconds before vehicles get a green signal to turn, decreasing the likelihood of a conflict or crash.
  • Crosswalk Visibility Enhancements – Enhanced crosswalk lighting, signage and markings can help drivers see pedestrians and help pedestrians decide where to cross.
  • Raised Crosswalks– Elevated crossings ensure pedestrians are more prominent in the driver's field of vision and allows them to cross at the same level with the sidewalk. The crosswalk is often defined with paint or special paving materials.
  • Pedestrian Crossing/Refuge Islands – This countermeasure provides a safe place for pedestrians to stop at the midpoint of the roadway before beginning the next stage of the crossing. This stop reduces the amount of time a pedestrian is on the roadway, helps enhance visibility at the crossing and forces approaching vehicles to slow down.
  • Road Diets – A typical road diet converts an existing four-lane, undivided roadway to two through-lanes and a center, two-way left turn lane. This reduces the number of lanes pedestrians must cross, and often leads to reduced vehicle speeds.

Gavin Gray, former Safety and Traffic Operations Technical Advisory Group (TAG) leader under the STIC and PennDOT's Highway Safety Section chief, said PennDOT has reached out to FHWA and other states for more information to see what enhancements might be possible to deal with stubbornly persistent pedestrian fatality and crash numbers across Pennsylvania despite ongoing safety efforts.

With its topography of hills and trees adjacent to roadways, Pennsylvania also has an ongoing challenge curtailing rural roadway departures. Complicating the issue is driver behavior, such as speeding and driving under the influence.

"When you leave the roadway and hit a fixed object, it usually doesn't play out well," Gray noted.

Rumble strips have proven effective and, Gray said, "We are trying to figure out where we go from here."

He said PennDOT has participated in a FHWA-sponsored roundtable to get a better sense of the experience and response in other states.

"A majority of them are experiencing what we are," Gray said.

One promising innovation involves improving the visibility of line paint.

"We will continue to work with FHWA and other states to gather the information we need to address these tough safety issues," Gray said.

Enhanced pedestrian crosswalk in Harrisburg.
Two-dimensional hydraulic modeling image of a bridge project.

Collaborative Hydraulics: PennDOT Ready to Implement Across the Districts in 2021

PennDOT is moving closer to implementing the Collaborative Hydraulics: Advancing to the Next Generation of Engineering (CHANGE) innovation.

Taking advantage of technological advances, PennDOT is requiring each of the 11 engineering districts to develop one bridge project over the next year using this innovative design technique, said Hydrology and Hydraulic Unit Manager in the Bureau of Project Delivery, Nicholas A. Vivian, P.E., who heads the effort.

The change involves shifting from one-dimensional (1D) to two-dimensional (2D) hydraulic modeling. This can provide improved understanding of the complex interactions between waterways and infrastructure. CHANGE is a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Every Day Counts Rounds 4 and 5 (EDC-4 and EDC-5) innovation that Pennsylvania championed.

With extreme weather events putting added pressure on designers to incorporate better resiliency into infrastructure, 2D modeling is a critical improvement. One dimensional modeling forced designers to make many assumptions about stream flow and potential flooding impacts. Experience around the nation has shown this can lead to costly and destructive design errors.

Using 2D modeling, designers can see varied and specific projected stream flows around bridge structures and the potential impacts on surrounding areas. Thousands of elements are shown representing floodplain geometry, and computations are done at each element. The difference is akin to working with stick figures on a flat surface compared to seeing detailed, real-life visual representations. "It gives better designs and eliminates assumptions and gets concrete information to get specific answers," Vivian said.

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.

The improved detail of 2D modeling helps with designers "evaluating risks," Vivian said. "If you have nearby houses and property, you need to know that the bridge structure will not cause water to back up and flood those assets." "We cause that risk," he added. "This tool helps us evaluate risk and mitigate those effects on property owners and other assets."

PennDOT District 1 is using 2D modeling on a State Route 4007 in Warren County, and District 11 is using it on a Route 65 bridge over Mercer Road in Beaver County.

Consultants have used 2D modeling on such complex projects as the new bridge carrying the Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation expressway over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River north of Sunbury.

Over the past year, roughly two dozen states have fully implemented 2D hydraulic design, and PennDOT will join that club within the next year, Vivian said.

"Everything is going well," he said. "We are working on our file sizes and computer modeling and getting the regulatory agency (the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) trained to review these."

STIC Incentive Funding

Advancing Innovation in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania STIC continues its effective use of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) STIC Incentive Program funding to advance innovations. The FHWA's STIC Incentive Program offers up to $100,000 per state each year, with a 20 percent state match, to support or offset costs of implementing and standardizing innovative practices. In 2020, two innovations in Pennsylvania were selected to share FHWA's STIC Incentive Program funding: Augmented Reality in Transportation and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for Crash Reconstruction. More information about past Pennsylvania STIC Incentive Program funding recipients and how far $100,000 can go in advancing innovation is located on the newly-created STIC Incentive Program page on the STIC website.

Construction worker conducting an inspection using the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality tool that is attached to the hard hat.

New Augmented Reality: PennDOT and Its Partners Embracing New Technology

An important innovation to help PennDOT develop and construct transportation projects is Augmented Reality (AR), one of the two projects that received FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding in 2020.

With PennDOT moving toward digital delivery by 2025, AR will assist inspection staff in the field, allowing them to view three-dimensional (3D) models through a HoloLens, and communicate and troubleshoot with project teams at multiple locations. AR tools are currently available in handheld and handsfree devices. PennDOT envisions these tools to assist with pre-construction 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 Section chief in PennDOT's Bureau of Project Delivery, received $50,000 in FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding in July 2020. A steering committee, consisting of representatives from PennDOT, FHWA, Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC) and American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania (ACEC/PA), met starting in September.

PennDOT is moving to pilot Imajion Project XR, which is a platform that utilizes the Microsoft HoloLens attached to a hard hat, in the Pittsburgh region (District 11) and is also meeting with other AR vendors to determine what other products PennDOT could pilot.

While not specifically part of the STIC Incentive Program funded project, Bentley's OpenRoads ConceptStation is one AR device PennDOT is also reviewing. This tool allows for early-on modeling of a project and cost estimates. PennDOT is currently piloting OpenRoads ConceptStation with planning and programming staff from Districts 1, 2, 8 and PennDOT's Program Center in Harrisburg. OpenRoads ConceptStation allows for quick preliminary designs that can help pinpoint obstacles and provide realistic plans that can be shared with the public, Barber said.

PennDOT is already using AR in construction. Examples include Virtual Asphalt Acceptance Testing for a 100 percent state paving contract in District 11 and the AMA XpertEye virtual inspection glasses for steel used on Interstate 95 in the Philadelphia region.

Barber added that the AR pilots are small at this point to allow participants "to test drive the products and gather feedback."

In the current constricted environment dictated by steps to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, AR can allow large groups of people to see project site details without being physically present, Barber noted.

"It's how we get people the information they need in an efficient manner to get things done," she said.

New STIC Incentive Program Funding Underwrites Purchase of Drones for Crash Reconstruction

With its heavy traffic volumes and limited access, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) can't afford the delays and revenue losses triggered by vehicle crashes. Working with the Pennsylvania Division of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), PTC staff developed a solution to address these concerns and was awarded $50,000 of FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding in 2020 to help implement the solution.

Also contributing $10,000 to the effort, the PTC is using the funds to set up a program in the spring 2021 to purchase four Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, to be assigned to Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) reconstruction teams.

"This innovation will generate significant savings, both in lowering lost toll revenue when crash reconstruction closes sections of the Turnpike and cutting delay costs for our travelers forced to use alternate routes," said Mike Davidson, P.E., senior Turnpike Traffic Operations project manager who is heading the project.

PSP routinely performs more than 10 crash reconstructions along the Turnpike each year, with an average reconstruction lasting four hours. During that time, that section of the Turnpike must close. Using a drone to reconstruct crashes allows the roadway to reopen and traffic to return to normal conditions faster, which reduces the time other vehicles must spend in backlogs. Backlogs are a significant cause of secondary crashes, which occur as a result of the primary crashes.

"Different studies, including one by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, showed that using drones to assist with crash reconstruction can reduce that time by 77 percent," Davidson said.

During a "conventional" crash reconstruction, he said, specific points of interest are marked with spray paint, and the total station is set up to record distance, vertical and horizontal angles, and elevation to a pole with a reflective prism. A trooper holds the pole at a specific point and the total station records the measurement. The trooper moves to another evidence location, records the measurement, and this process is repeated until dozens of measurements are recorded and the scene is "mapped."

However, during a UAS crash reconstruction, points of evidence are marked, and a trooper flies a drone over the scene. The drone collects hundreds of measurements and photos, and a software package called Pix4D processes the information to create a comprehensive three-dimensional (3D) model.

"Instead of hours, the drone-assisted process can take just minutes," Davidson noted.

"Once the drones are in operation and being used for crash reconstruction, PTC staff will thoroughly track performance measures and program metrics to calculate time and cost savings of the program," Davidson said. "In addition, PTC will keep detailed records that show how UAS enhanced safety for motorists and first responders."

Since the drones will be totally owned by PSP, they will use the drones on other interstates, as necessary, and won't be reserved for Turnpike crashes only, Davidson said.

"PennDOT is aware of this current effort, and I'm sure we will be collaborating on deploying additional drones after this program demonstrates the value that drones bring to crash reconstruction," he said.

A drone flying along an interstate.
A bridge where the Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge System technique was used.

Update Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Abutment Standards Research Leads to Planned Updates

A recently completed research project is prompting PennDOT to review its standards for Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge Systems (GRS-IBS) abutment bridge standards. GRS-IBS is an Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) technique that PennDOT championed as part of Every Day Counts Round 1 (EDC-1).

GRS technology consists of closely spaced layers of geosynthetic reinforcement and compacted granular fill material. GRS-IBS is a fast, cost-effective method of bridge support that blends the roadway into the superstructure. The abutments can be used with concrete, steel or timber superstructures.

Kristin Langer, P.E., one of PennDOT's assistant chief bridge engineers, noted that the FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding helped underwrite a one-year research project with the Pennsylvania State University. The study reviewed the current specifications, reviewed data from other states and provided recommendations to PennDOT on the current specification and how to improve or upgrade it.

Current GRS bridge specifications call for use on bridges with a maximum of 400 vehicles per day, a stream velocity less than or equal to 12 feet per second, span lengths of no more than 70 feet and abutment heights of 30 feet or less. No use as overpasses over roadways is permitted.

To date, 32 bridges have been constructed with two more under construction or under contract. There are also a number of sites where PennDOT used the GRS technology to shore up older existing abutments and wingwalls.

Langer said the GRS bridges have performed well in the nine years they have been in use across the state.

"GRS-IBS's main benefit is that it can be done using local workforce and doesn't require large heavy equipment or specialized craftspeople," Langer said. "That would include carpenters for formwork, people experienced in tying rebar, and concrete finishers. By allowing GRS-IBS to be used in more locations, it also keeps local workforces busy and employed. Because it's typically cheaper, a benefit is that budgets can be stretched further if a GRS bridge can be built in place of a conventional bridge with money left over for other work to be done."

The university's recommendations were that no limits are needed for traffic and stream velocity, the maximum span length can go to 140 feet, and it can be allowed for use on overpasses over roadways rather than just waterways.

"We are not quite there yet," Langer said. "We are not ready to dive in headfirst."

She and Randy Albert, P.E., municipal services supervisor in PennDOT District 2, are recommending that PennDOT take a middle-ground approach on revising specifications based on the research project. They are submitting for approval allowing traffic counts of up to 2,000 vehicles a day, stream velocities of 15 feet per second, span lengths of 100 feet and abutment heights of 30 feet. The team is not comfortable yet with permitting GRS bridges as overpasses.

PennDOT's Chief Bridge Engineer, Tom Macioce, will review the report and recommendations and will make a final approval on the changes, which could come early in 2021. There is no estimate yet on how many GRS-IBS bridges can be done when the new specifications are in place.

Langer said GRS actually dates back to the Great Wall of China, which included layers of plant material and compacted soil.

"The technology is old, and we are using it with modern materials – high-strength geotextiles and compacted backfill material," she said.

Update PennSTART Project Expected to Reach Significant Milestone in 2021

Ambitious plans by PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) to create a real-world test facility to meet a variety of transportation needs are well on their way to fruition.

Mark C. Kopko, director of PennDOT's Office of Transformational Technology, who has the lead on the Pennsylvania Safety Transportation and Research Track (PennSTART) project, anticipates that it will be ready to move to design and construction in 2021. An opening could come in about three years, he said.

PennSTART will be a state-of-the-art facility that will benefit emergency responders, transportation organizations and research institutions. The training and testing facility will address the transportation safety and operational needs of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region in six key areas, including Traffic Incident Management (TIM), Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs), Tolling, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and Traffic Signals, Work Zones, Commercial and Transit Vehicles.

"The concept came out of a need for first responders to have appropriate incident management training," Kopko said.

Approximately 80 percent of that group did not have that, he added. But the project team soon realized the wide potential the facility would have, which included TIM; testing and training for new ITS, tolling and signal equipment; simulated environments for higher speed and mobile work zone operations; smart truck parking applications; and controlled environments to test CAV technologies.

The potential 110-acre location is near the Penn State Main Campus and would include a 1.5-mile large oval test track and an infield that will simulate a variety of intersections and other roadway configurations.

"The outer ring will simulate limited access roadways and the infield will have signalized intersections, roundabouts, urban corridors and rail crossings," Kopko said. "It gives us lot of flexibility to perform testing and conduct training in a controlled, safe environment, but reflective of what we see in the real world. This is a great opportunity we are looking at."

The PennSTART business plan and facility requirement summary documents were released in November 2020. Phase 1 of the project would include the engineering, design, and construction of high-speed track, infield including CAV technology, infield parking area, site preparation and drainage, lighting, and utilities. Subsequent phases would include a PennSTART training and academic building, a weather simulator, an aircraft rescue and training simulator, and a tunnel section.

Potential funding for the estimated $25 million in design and construction costs has been identified, and plans are underway for sponsorships and fees to ensure the ongoing estimated $1 million in annual operating and maintenance costs are covered as well, Kopko said.

The PennSTART business plan summary document noted that several similar test tracks and proving grounds currently exist in adjacent or nearby states. These facilities include:

  • U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC), Aberdeen, Maryland
  • Transportation Research Center Inc (TRC), East Liberty, Ohio
  • Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) Smart Roads, Blacksburg, Virginia

Though the other facilities provide some similarities, they are at least four to six hours of driving distance from the PennSTART facility. In addition, there are several technology-related companies in and around Pennsylvania that could potentially use a facility in Pennsylvania, according to the business plan.

"Based on the review of competing facilities in the Mid-Atlantic region, it is clear that PennSTART offers a unique opportunity to support PennDOT and PTC's objective for TIM training in addition to specialized education, research and development and testing capabilities within the region, especially in partnership with PSU," the business plan summary document concluded.

Nearly $100,000 in FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding assisted those working on the PennSTART project to complete the system engineering analysis of the facility by developing a concept of operations, use cases and a business plan on facility requirements and operations.

A rendering of the Pennsylvania Safety Transportation and Research Track showing how vehicles will be able to practice navigating a variety of intersections and other roadway configurations.
Promoting Innovation

Beyond the STIC

The Pennsylvania STIC engages with partners to promote and advance innovation in Pennsylvania and nationally. In 2020, several STIC innovations were featured as part of the first-ever PennDOT Virtual Innovation Week, which was attended by federal, state and local transportation representatives. Members of the STIC Management Team also participated in FHWA-sponsored STIC Peer Exchanges hosted by the Utah and Michigan DOTs, which provided an opportunity to hear about innovation efforts in other states and share best practices.

PennDOT Virtual Innovation Week Logo

PennDOT Hosts First-Ever Virtual Innovation Week

Ten Sessions Over Five Days Cover A Gamut of Transportation Advances

Meeting the social distancing dictates of the COVID-19 pandemic, PennDOT presented a week-long array of virtual sessions on transportation innovations in November that attracted a large audience and drew rave reviews.

The first-ever Virtual Innovation Week featured 10, two-hour presentations covering new technologies and approaches in pavement and bridge preservation; technology and digital project delivery; innovative maintenance techniques, tools, and materials; innovative design approaches; multimodal planning; and traffic and safety planning and management.

"Today, we find ourselves in a virtual world where we are physically separated, but counting on technology to allow us meaningful interaction," Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., said in opening remarks. "To add to these challenges, we also are experiencing additional financial challenges to our already stressed revenue concerns. We must look to innovation as we stretch the dollars we have to address our vast needs."

Nearly 1,000 individuals participated in the event. Participants included staff from across PennDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Pennsylvania Division Office, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, local governments, transit agencies and consultants and contractors.

The virtual approach was the follow-up to last year's first-of-its-kind Regional Innovation Day held at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg on Nov. 14 that drew an audience of approximately 500 people.

"The irony right now is that the challenges presented to us by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have compelled us to embrace technology to allow us to continue to manage our business in a more isolated world," said Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Melissa Batula, P.E., in her opening remarks on the second day of the Virtual Innovation Week.

That day's sessions included updates on smarter work zones to better manage traffic queues, advances in portable traffic camera technology, and unified control of traffic signals to improve mobility.

Batula said the sessions that day also included two of her passions: digital delivery and augmented reality.

"Digital delivery allows us to better visualize our improvements in the real world of three dimensional (3D) instead of the static two-dimensional (2D) plans," she said. "With augmented reality, we can see the improvements in real word detail right from the start of the design process."

Day 1 included sessions on pavement advances such as Hot Pour Mastics and pavement fabrics, which can add much life to spot pavement repairs, and advances in bridge joints and Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge Systems (GRS-IBS) standards for bridges, a faster and simpler, but effective, bridge-building technique.

Moreover, the week featured a Virtual Exhibit Hall featuring more than 50 innovative tools, materials, applications and technologies submitted by PennDOT central office, and district and county maintenance offices, local government officials and the FHWA Pennsylvania Division Office. Several of the innovations showcased were State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) and FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) innovations that have been deployed or are currently under development in Pennsylvania.

Executive Deputy Secretary George McAuley, P.E., noted that PennDOT is working hard to encourage innovation.

He mentioned that PennDOT's Materials Testing Lab is streamlining the process for new product approvals, and PennDOT districts in northeastern, western and southwestern Pennsylvania created innovations councils to discuss and implement efficiency, safety and performance improvements.

"Across PennDOT, the key attributes have been strong leadership, constant and effective communication, and dedication and buy-in from every level of our hard-working and loyal staff," McAuley said.

Deputy Secretary for Planning Larry Shifflet referred to presentations on the third day sharing details of winter fleet preparation, anti-icing best practices, dump truck specifications and innovations adopted by PennDOT's maintenance forces and local governments to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"People on the PennDOT team across the state rose to meet and exceed expectations during this difficult time and we are grateful for their dedication," he said.

On the last day of the event, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation Jennie Granger introduced sessions on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), PennDOT's ongoing efforts to develop a Pennsylvania Active Transportation Plan to promote options that include bicycling and walking and public transit's steps to use improved data technology to enhance efficiencies at both fixed route and shared ride transit providers. The day also featured points for developing local traffic safety plans, innovations in crash data collection and PennDOT's use of sequential lighting chevrons to reduce crashes at a curving ramp connecting Interstates 86 and 90 in Erie County.

"Ensuring safety and a better quality of life for the people of the Commonwealth is embedded in what we are trying to accomplish," Granger said.

Audience reaction was very positive. In a post-event survey, 91 percent of respondents said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the sessions and many said they liked the ability to select just the sessions they were interested in. Some noted that the virtual format opened the sessions to far more than could have come to an in-person event. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they learned an innovation that they could use in their organizations.

For more information about the PennDOT Virtual Innovation Week and to access session recordings and the exhibit hall, visit the event website.

PennDOT Honors 18 Employees for Winning Ideas at First-Ever Virtual Innovations Awards Ceremony

Eighteen current and former PennDOT staff were honored on Oct. 29 at PennDOT's first-ever virtual Innovations Award Ceremony, which recognized employees for their idea and smart practice submissions into IdeaLink and WorkSmart, PennDOT's two online employee engagement systems.

Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E., welcomed the winners.

"COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we do our business," she said. "With our large transportation network and our always scarce resources, we have built a strong legacy of creativity to meet our day-to-day mission and goals. But COVID-19 has challenged us to stretch even further. And today, we honor members of our PennDOT team for their outstanding innovative contributions."

Deputy Secretary for Administration Robert L. Chiappelli added, "The challenges we are all facing in the pandemic environment have shown why it is so important for PennDOT to have embraced innovation through IdeaLink and WorkSmart and the Lean PA initiatives. We simply could not allow the precautions needed to fight the pandemic to thwart our service delivery. And our award winners are a testament to the innovation, ingenuity and problem-solving abilities of our staff to meet these changing circumstances."

Executive Deputy Secretary George W. McAuley, Jr., P.E., recognized and extended his thanks to the winners during the ceremony.

"Your creativity and willingness to innovate help us in our ongoing, challenging mission to keep Pennsylvania on the move to a better future," he said.

Closing out the ceremony, which was coordinated by PennDOT's Bureau of Innovations, were Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Melissa Batula, P.E., and District 9 Executive Tom Prestash, P.E.

"Your effort to make sure we are constantly thinking up new ideas really propels us forward as an agency," Deputy Secretary Batula said. "You are always striving to make us better and improve what we do."

District Executive Prestash noted that 2020 has certainly been a year that demanded innovations for organizations to succeed.

"New ideas spark innovation, and new ideas are vital for the continued growth of PennDOT," he said.

The award winners showed the diversity of ideas that are welcomed and implemented at PennDOT, he noted, adding:

"We are here today to let you know how much we value and appreciate you. We respond to challenges and continue to serve the traveling public while maintaining the safety of our staff."

A full list of winners and descriptions of their innovative ideas and smart practices is located in the event program.

Lightbulb image on a yellow sticky note that is pinned to a corkboard.
Transportation Quality Initiative graphic depicting how the initiative complements other transportation quality improvement and innovation efforts.

Transportation Quality Initiative
Moves Forward

The Transportation Quality Initiative (TQI) continued its progress during 2020 on improving the quality of transportation projects through collaboration among public and private highway industry agencies and organizations.

TQI saw the completion of the following efforts:

  • Structural Coatings - The construction specifications and design manual guidance related to concrete and steel bridge coatings was updated through a TQI team. This effort improved the standardization for concrete surface preparation for protective coatings and provided updated guidance on utilizing duplex steel coatings.
  • Contractor Evaluations – A TQI team improved the definitions of expected performance for the contractor evaluations process to increase its effectiveness in promoting quality.
  • Constructability – A formal process for issuing plans in the preliminary design phase to receive input from the construction industry was established for PennDOT's ECMS system and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's (PTC) Electronic Bidding System (EBS).

In addition, TQI advanced the following efforts:

  • Alternative Procurement – A TQI team established a framework for PennDOT and PTC to use design-build best-value within the existing legal procurement constraints. This effort is ongoing and will conclude in 2021.
  • Stormwater Control Measure Guidance Improvements – TQI engaged the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to provide input related to the transportation industry in their current process to revise the existing Best Management Practices Manual. This effort is ongoing and will conclude in 2021.

Brian Link, P.E., of Michael Baker Corporation, which facilitates TQI efforts, noted that progress happened despite the COVID-19 related challenges.

"While the pandemic initially slowed progress due to the partner organizations' immediate focus shifting to safely restarting construction actives, the remote setting has actually improved the collaboration of TQI participants," he said. "Prior to the shift to fully remote collaboration, we had used a mixed format with some participants meeting in-person and some joining virtually, which presented challenges to ensure all remote attendees were properly engaged. While in-person opportunities will still be beneficial for certain situations, a fully remote approach will be employed moving forward to improve efficiency and engagement."

TQI was established in Pennsylvania following the passage of Act 89 in 2013 to improve the quality of transportation projects through collaboration among public and private highway industry agencies and organizations to address critical industry issues that represent barriers to mutual project success.

This partnership among the PTC, PennDOT, Associated of Pennsylvania Contractors (APC) and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania (ACEC/PA) has led to the identification of key areas of need and specific goals, to enhance project quality, improve transportation safety and deliver projects more efficiently to advance the industry in Pennsylvania. TQI looks to complement, not duplicate other quality improvement and innovation efforts, including those of the State Transportation Innovation Council and PennDOT's Quality Improvement Committees.

Looking ahead to this year, Link said, TQI will work on the ongoing Alternative Procurement and Stormwater initiatives and will start work on Alternative Dispute Resolution and improvements to the shop drawings process.

Promoting Innovation: STIC 2020 Accomplishments

With its focus on continuous improvement, the Pennsylvania State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) took significant, forward-looking steps in 2020 in promoting its innovation efforts and successes as well as its market-ready innovations.

Members of the STIC Management Team participated in two virtual STIC Peer Exchanges in 2020 – one hosted by Utah DOT June 1-2 and the second hosted by Michigan DOT Aug. 5-6. The exchanges were hosted in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Center for Accelerating Innovation (CAI).

The discussion focused on details of each state's innovations; ways that accomplishments are tracked; how innovation successes are shared to a broader audience; and how innovation programs are strategically planned and/or aligned with research programs.

"The exchanges offered us all an opportunity to learn first-hand how Utah and Michigan are using their STICs to advance transportation," said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E. "And we shared our successes with them, making for incredibly worthwhile sessions."

Key to the STIC's continued success is also an aggressive marketing strategy.

A STIC Innovations Catalog was developed in 2020 and made available on the STIC website. The catalog serves as a "one-stop-shop" for both STIC and FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) innovations that have been advanced in Pennsylvania as well as several innovations being developed for statewide deployment. Users can search the catalog using key words and filter innovations by category.

Numerous innovation-specific webpages for the STIC website and fact sheets for STIC Innovations Catalog were also developed in 2020 to highlight innovations currently under development as well as deployed innovations. These webpages include information on how the innovation works, the benefits of using the innovation and an Innovation in Motion section, highlighting projects where the innovation was used.

In addition to the innovation-specific webpages, a dedicated webpage to showcase the FHWA STIC Incentive Program funding projects was also developed. The page includes information about the project submission and selection process, past project successes and updates, and other FHWA funding opportunities.

Strategic marketing sheets for each of the market-ready STIC and EDC innovations were developed in 2020, which outlined target audiences and promotional tactics for each innovation. Several of the tactics, including developing the innovation-specific webpages, fact sheets and presentations on the innovations at events have already been deployed.

"STIC is playing an important role as we seek to offer timely, efficient and effective mobility for the people of Pennsylvania," Secretary Gramian said. "Being open to and aggressively pursuing innovations will serve us all very well."

Water passes through porous concrete showing how the pervious pavement innovation can help reduce surface runoff and recharge groundwater supplies.
Thank you

Another Successful Year of Innovation

Thanks to everyone whose contributions of time, talent and effort continue to yield innovation successes making Pennsylvania's transportation system safer and more sustainable. To our STIC and TAG members as well as our innovation owners and development teams, thank you for your continued dedication and support to advancing innovation across Pennsylvania. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. We look forward to engaging more of our transportation partners and stakeholders in 2021 to move innovation forward. For more information on the STIC, visit the STIC website or email the STIC Resource Account.