Have you ever dreamed that all of your tinkering, fussing, and fiddling in the shop and on the road could help improve every road in Minnesota? Do you need funding to improve your sign maintenance and installation process? Or maybe you’ve come up with an idea for a new tool for controlling roadside vegetation or a design for a more effective work-zone safety product. Whatever it is, the Local Operational Research Assistance (OPERA) Program wants to hear about it.
Funding for 2015 OPERA projects is now available, and it’s easy to submit a proposal. Simply fill out the brief proposal application (50 KB DOC) and submit it via e-mail to Mindy Carlson at Minnesota LTAP. There isn’t a deadline to submit your proposal, but FY15 funds are limited and they often go quickly.
The maximum funding per project is $10,000, and local agencies are welcome to submit more than one proposal.
Your proposed research project should focus on the timely development of relevant ideas or methods that improve transportation or maintenance operations. Our goal is to collect and disseminate homegrown, innovative solutions to the everyday challenges our transportation workforce faces on the job. Counties, cities, and townships, this is your opportunity to encourage your maintenance staff to become actively involved in researching and testing their ideas.
To see what other local agencies have done with OPERA funding, check out our fact sheets and annual reports, or watch these videos highlighting previous OPERA projects:
For the past 10 years, Minnesota and 37 other states have pooled their resources to test the effectiveness of roadway safety improvement strategies. The project, appropriately titled “Evaluation of Low-Cost Safety Improvements,” evaluates key strategies laid out in a national guidebook aimed at reducing the number of annual highway deaths.
Participating states say the project, which has now been extended a total of eight times beyond its original scope, has been a resounding success. MnDOT Safety Engineer Brad Estochen said the pooled-fund study has provided state DOTs much-needed evidence to gain support for implementing new safety improvements.
“Some states want to do a certain strategy, but don’t have the institutional support,” Estochen said. “Through the collaboration of the Peer Exchange, they have national results they can point to.”
We asked Estochen, MnDOT’s technical liaison for the pooled fund, to name his top strategies to come out of the study.
Traffic calming measures
One phase of the study used simulated driving scenes to examine methods of traffic calming (i.e., getting drivers to slow down) in rural towns. The research found that drivers were most impacted by chicanes — extra curves in the road — and the presence of parked cars on the street. An alternative strategy, curb extensions (also called “bulb-outs”), was found to offer only a small potential safety benefit or no benefit at all.
Researchers also looked at ways of improving nighttime driver visibility on rural roads. Edge lines and post-mounted delineators were selected as the best alternatives for improving curve visibility at night, with curve detection improving 12 percent to 70 percent due to enhanced edge lines. The results are significant, since horizontal curve sections of two-lane rural roads are a major source of roadway fatalities.
One way to make drivers aware that they’re approaching a stop sign is to add a flashing beacon to the intersection. Researchers installed various configurations of flashing beacons at more than 100 sites in North and South Carolina and examined the crash data before and after installation.
Results indicate that standard flashing beacons, as well as some “actuated” beacons (i.e. those that only turn on when traffic is approaching the intersection), are not only effective at reducing crashes, but also economically justifiable based on cost-benefit calculations.This research helped pave the way for more widespread adoption of Minnesota’s Rural Intersection Conflict Warning Systems (RICWS).
Edgeline rumble strips on curves were shown to significantly improve safety in the third phase of the study, which tested a variety of techniques.
Whereas rumble strips are traditionally ground into centerline or on the shoulder, Kentucky and Florida experimented with placing rumble strips right along the white edgeline of curved sections of road. This method was shown to reduce overall crashes by 29 percent.
(Watch the FHWA website for updates on this phase of the study.)
Red light enforcement devices
In Florida, crashes due to people running red lights fell by 22 percent thanks to a small light that turns on when someone violates the signal. This little light bulb, which is placed on top of a signal, allows for a police officer to sit at the other end of the intersection rather than pursue a car right through the intersection. Not only is it safer, but motorists are also more likely to obey the signal if they know police might be watching on the other side.
Researchers are also still collecting data on the other techniques studied in phase three, including surface friction treatments on curves and ramps and larger curve warning signs (called chevrons). Watch the FHWA website for updates.
Wider roads in rural areas
Could simply shifting the edge lines of a rural road reduce the number of accidental drive-offs?
Yes, according to this study, which evaluated the effectiveness of various lane-shoulder width configurations on rural, two-lane undivided roads using data from Pennsylvania and Washington.
In general, results were consistent with previous research, showing crash reductions for wider paved widths, lanes and shoulders. For specific lane-shoulder combinations, the study found a general safety benefit associated with wider lanes and narrower shoulders for a fixed pavement width; however, there are exceptions. The report has a chart that shows the optimal lane-shoulder combinations for different sizes of roads.
In theory, there should be no additional cost for these strategies, as an edgeline can be re-striped as part of an existing resurfacing project.
More than a 1,000 transportation and urban planners will descend on America’s most bicycle-friendly city in September for Rail-Volution, the nation’s premiere conference on livable and transit-orientated communities.
This is the first time in Rail-Volution’s 20-year history that the annual event will be held in Minneapolis — and the timing coincides perfectly with the recent opening of the Green Line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“This is an opportunity to showcase what we’re doing and where we’re going — not just with transit, but also with transit-orientated development,” said Mark Nelson, MnDOT’s program manager for statewide planning and transportation data analysis.
More than a year of planning has gone into bringing Rail-Volution to the Twin Cities.
Participants have a choice of 80 wide-ranging workshops over four days focused transit and livability, such as innovative parking, planning for small and mid-sized cities and emerging issues for CEOs and public officials.
MnDOT was selected to hold the annual four-day event in a joint application with the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Metropolitan Council.
Not only is this a rare chance for urban planning enthusiasts to attend an internationally renowned conference in their own backyard, but it’s also a great “show-and-tell” opportunity.
As a host, MnDOT will help lead 24 mobile workshops around the Twin Cities, highlighting what Minnesota has done (or is planning), such as engineering light rail in a complex urban corridor, bike-orientated development on the Midtown Greenway and redevelopment along the St. Paul riverfront (by way of a paddle-guided tour).
Not only was the Twin Cities region at a great crossroads in time for hosting such a conference, with its ongoing urban redevelopment efforts and metropolitan area transit plans, but the state’s commitment to these efforts also showed.
“We think part of the reason we were successful is that a state DOT was a co-sponsor. That’s fairly unique. It’s usually a regional government,” Nelson said.
RailVolution, whose offices were previously headquartered in Portland, relocated in January 2013 to Minneapolis.
Each year, MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board solicit ideas for new research projects from MnDOT staff and city and county engineers. The ideas are then reviewed and ranked by the LRRB and MnDOT’S Transportation Research Innovation Group, which represents MnDOT’s districts and specialty offices.
“We always reach out to the specialty offices and help them develop ideas and prioritize current needs,” said Hafiz Munir, MnDOT research management engineer. “They’re in the driver’s seat. We are guiding them through the process.”
Of nearly 100 ideas submitted this year, transportation researchers will have a chance to bid on 24 ideas from seven different research areas.
Researchers from around the world rely on Minnesota’s pavement testing center, MnROAD.
Minnesota alone saves at least $33 million each year, thanks to quantifiable advances made at MnROAD. The annual nation-wide savings is thought to be even larger: $749 million.
Established in 1994, MnROAD partners with the FHWA, industry and dozens of other states and countries to conduct research on two live test tracks in rural Albertville.
No other cold-weather facility offers such an array of pavement types with thousands of electronic sensors recording both environmental changes and dynamic truck testing.
“If not for MnROAD, many of our projects wouldn’t be nearly as successful,” said Highway Research Engineer Larry Wiser of the Federal Highway Administration.
At an Aug. 6 open house, this one-of-a-kind research facility celebrated 20 years of finding ways to make roads last longer, perform better and cost less.
Two separate road segments contain 51 test cells, with different combinations of surface materials, aggregate bases and subgrades, as well as variations in structural design and drainage features.
MnROAD’s initial research on pavement life and performance (from 1994 to 2006) reduced maintenance costs, repairs and motorist delay.
In the second phase of research, MnROAD reconstructed almost 40 test cells for more than 20 different studies. The benefits derived from this work is estimated to be worth nearly nine times what the studies cost – and that’s just the benefit for Minnesota.
“We’re excited for the third phase of research, which will be mainly focused on maintenance and rehabilitation,” said MnROAD Operations Engineer Ben Worel. “We’ve seen the benefits of our past research and expect the same in the future.”
MnROAD’s facility includes:
– A test section of I-94 carrying live traffic
– A low-volume roadway that simulates rural road conditions
– Thousands of sensors that record load response and environmental data.
Chip-sealing — spraying an asphalt emulsion over existing pavement and then covering it with fine aggregate — is a cost-effective alternative to resurfacing asphalt pavements. Traditionally, however, it has only been used on rural and low-volume urban roadways.
During a recent visit to MnROAD, we filmed a road crew chip-sealing a test section on I-94 and spoke with MnDOT Research Project Supervisor Tom Wood, who explained why chip sealing can also be an effective treatment for high-volume roadways.
*Note: This story was updated on 08/12/2014 to clarify that the chip sealing shown in the video involves spraying an “asphalt emulsion” rather than “hot liquid asphalt,” as stated in an earlier version of this post.
Soil carried away in stormwater runoff from road construction sites can pollute lakes and rivers.
Stormwater settling ponds provide a place for this sediment to settle before the water is discharged into local bodies of water. However, since stormwater ponds have limited space, a mechanism is needed to remove clean water from the pond to prevent the overflow of sediment-laden water.
MnDOT-funded researchers have designed temporary stormwater ponds with floating head skimmers that can remove clean water from the surface of the settling pond, using gravity to discharge water into a ditch or receiving body.
This is a new approach for MnDOT and Minnesota cities and counties, so research was needed to provide practical guidance for how to use these devices on construction sites.
“This was a small-scope implementation project for professionals to use as they design temporary stormwater ponds that meet state parameters,” said Dwayne Stenlund, MnDOT Erosion Control Engineering Specialist.
A new MnDOT study identifies five methods for “skimming” stormwater ponds that can improve a pond’s effectiveness by 10 percent. MnDOT researchers also created designs for temporary stormwater ponds on construction sites with the capacity to remove approximately 80 percent of suspended solids.
These designs will help contractors meet federal requirements for stormwater pond dewatering. Researchers also determined how often a pond’s deadpool must be cleaned, based on watershed size and pool dimensions.
“When sediment settles, it’s hard to determine when to clean out a pond. Based on the density of the sediments in the Minnesota River and the loading rates we computed, we were able to calculate how often we need to clean out a pond so sediment doesn’t reach the height of the skimmer,” said Joel Toso, principal of Wenck Associates and a consultant for the project.
The only way to test pavements is to destroy them — slowly and painstakingly, one moving vehicle at a time. At MnROAD, the state’s world-renowned pavement research facility, the bulk of this monotonous-but-necessary work is performed by live traffic passing through Albertville on I-94. But on the facility’s 2.5-mile low volume road test track, which simulates rural road conditions, more controlled methods are preferred.
Doug Lindenfelser is one of several MnROAD employees who take turns driving an 80,000-pound semi tractor trailer in laps around the closed-loop low-volume track. The truck is loaded to the maximum allowable weight limit on Minnesota roadways. As it passes over the facility’s 23 distinct low-volume test cells, an array of sensors capture data on the pavement’s performance, which researchers then use to design stronger, longer-lasting roads. The truck only drives on the inside lane; that way, the outside lane can be used as an “environmental lane” to compare damage caused by loading vs. damage caused by environmental factors.
He has other duties as well, but on a given day, Doug might drive the truck 60 or 70 times around the low-volume road test track. It might not sound very exciting, but as Doug explains, some days his job can be quite interesting. We interviewed him on camera during a recent visit to MnROAD. The resulting video is available above and on our YouTube channel.
For those who might be wondering, all this diligent destruction of pavement has paid off. It is estimated that MnROAD’s first phase of research (from 1994-2006) has resulted in cost savings of $33 million each year in Minnesota and $749 million nationally. Cost savings from its second phase (2007-2015) are being calculated, and the facility is scheduled to enter its third phase in 2016.
As public works employees come and go, past research efforts — and the valuable knowledge gained — often goes with them.
But a recently launched web application allows users to track innovative pavement projects for a lifetime.
“It’s something everyone has always said we need to have,” said MnDOT Research Operations Engineer Jerry Geib, who worked on the project for the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.
Using an online map, city and county engineers can enter road test sections that they want to observe for many years due to a particular construction method or material that was used. Too often, the knowledge about such projects is lost when a particular staff person leaves an agency.
Not only will the lessons learned be remembered within the organization, but the results can also be shared with others.
More than 1,400 projects (including some on state roads) previously identified by MnDOT have been entered into the system. Search fields allow users to look for a particular type of project anywhere in the state or they can zero the map in on a particular area of the state.
The website is still in beta form, but functional.
“It’s complete, we just want people to use it so we can improve it,” said MnDOT Research Project Engineer Melissa Cole, who began planning the site two years ago.
One featured project is a 1.8-mile section of dirt road in Wabasha County that had an Otta seal applied in 2007 (photo below). It is one of only a handful of lightly surfaced roads in the state (an improvement over a gravel road, but less expensive than asphalt ) so there is great interest in watching how it performs.
More to come
The LRRB initiated the project in 2009, but it was put on the back burner for a while due to funding constraints. MnDOT ‘s technology staff began development of the current site about 11 months ago.
Anyone can look at the website, but cities and counties require permission to post projects (contact ResearchTracking.DOT@state.mn.us for credentials). They can upload photos, plans and weblinks relating to a particular project.
“We want to track anything that is worthy of looking at a few years from now,” Geib said.
Because the website uses Google maps, users can also view archived satellite and ground-level 360-degree imagery of the roads and bridges.
The website is viewable on a tablet, but it still must be tested on smart phones. Developers hope that crews will be able to submit information right from the field.
“We’re pretty happy with it,” said MnDOT software developer John Jones. “We think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The website might eventually be expanded for other areas, such as geotechnical (foundation work), whose practitioners have already expressed an interest.
Using Dawn dish soap to grease the rails, MnDOT crews inched the new Larpenteur Avenue Bridge into place two weeks ago using an innovative construction method.
As the bridge reopens to traffic tonight over I-35E, MnDOT celebrates the success of its first slide-in place bridge construction.
“The slide-in worked very well,” said David Herzog, MnDOT’s project manager for the I-35E Corridor – MnPass Project. “I think the process has given us the confidence to possibly use it again in the future.”
The slide-in method has been used in the past for railroad bridges and large bridges with high traffic and limited construction options. Now, state agencies and the Federal Highway Administration are applying the method to smaller, more routine bridges to minimize impacts to the traveling public.
Whereas the typical phased construction of a bridge builds one-half of the structure at a time, slide-in bridge technology allows the entire superstructure to be built at once, requiring just a brief, temporary closure of the highway.
Crews constructed the 3.5-million-pound Larpenteur Bridge right next to the existing bridge and then slowly slid it into place during the course of two nights. This effectively sped up construction from 110 days to 47 and reduced traffic impacts to drivers. (Watch video of the slide.)
The quality of the bridge also improves with this method, since it eliminates the deck construction joints and girder camber problems associated with phased construction, according to the FHWA. The pressure to use faster concrete cure times is also reduced.
With a quarter of the nation’s bridges in need of repair or replacement, the FHWA is pushing the slide-in method as a cost-effective technique that can cut construction time in half. It has previously been used in Oregon, Utah, Missouri, Michigan, Colorado and Massachusetts.
The concept has been around for more than a century, but slide-in technology is relatively new for small or medium-sized bridges, and it’s the first time MnDOT has attempted it on a state bridge.
Although MnDOT staff had flown out to Utah to view a slide-in, it was Burnsville-based Ames Construction that proposed reconstructing the Larpenteur Avenue bridge that way when it made its successful bid for the corridor project.
The slide-in method is about 15 percent more expensive, Herzog said, but it allowed the bridge to re-open in 47 days, versus 110 days.
Earlier this summer, Ames replaced the Wheelock Parkway and Arlington Avenue bridges in conventional fashion, although they were only closed for 65 days because they were constructed on a very accelerated timetable.
“Larpenteur is more of a major thoroughfare and we thought shortening the duration of its closure would be more valuable to MnDOT,” said Steve McPherson of Ames Construction, who was brought in from Utah to oversee the corridor project.
The fast reconstructions will allow the company to complete the bridge replacements and highway reconstruction in just 120 days. Next year it’ll finish the other half of the corridor.
All three bridges are being replaced to make room for the new MnPASS lane on I-35E.
One of the drawbacks to slide-in technology is that it requires ample room to build the bridge on-site. An alternative is to construct off-site.
The new Maryland Avenue/I-35E bridge was built off-site, as was the Hastings Hwy. 61 bridge. It was then loaded onto a barge, floated down the Mississippi River and lifted into place.