Category Archives: Maintenance Operations

Detecting Corrosion Early Extends Service Life of Bridge Paint Coating

An evaluation of five maintenance paint coating systems on Minnesota steel bridges with localized corrosion found that each maintenance coating performed well, and, if corrosion is identified early and maintenance painting occurs, the service life of the paint coating system can be extended five years before repainting is required. Based on the test data, researchers recommended an update to MnDOT’s Bridge Maintenance Painting Manual that includes guidance on when to apply maintenance paint coatings and when to remove paint and recoat bridges.

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Performance Testing of Regional Roadside Turfgrass

Keeping Minnesota’s roadsides green is about more than just aesthetics—healthy turfgrass can improve water quality, reduce erosion and road noise, and provide animal habitat. However, harsh conditions such as heat, drought, and salt use can make it difficult for roadside turfgrass to thrive.

Researchers tested a wide variety of turfgrass cultivars over several growing seasons—in both urban and rural environments across five states.

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Guidebook helps cities and counties choose tools for managing fleets

Managing a fleet of trucks, heavy equipment, and other vehicles challenges road agencies large and small. While large agencies like MnDOT use software and specialized administrators to manage fleet management systems electronically, city and county agencies often do not. For some small agencies, fleet management may fall to a shop mechanic or two.

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Recycling Asphalt Pavement Offers Strong Alternative to New Aggregate Base

In a newly completed study, researchers found that stabilized full-depth reclamation has produced stronger roads for commercial loads in Minnesota, and the method shows promise for uses in rural agricultural areas. How much greater the strength gained with each stabilizing agent is better understood, though not conclusively.

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New Tools to Optimize Truck Station Locations

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has 137 truck stations across the state. These stations house and allow maintenance of MnDOT highway equipment as well as provide office and work space for highway maintenance staff. Within 20 years, 80 of these stations will need to be replaced as they reach the end of their effective life spans. Researchers developed a geographic information system based modeling tool to determine the most effective locations for truck stations in the state. Using data from many sources, a new research study has determined that MnDOT could rebuild 123 stations, relocate 24 on land available to MnDOT and combine two. MnDOT would save millions of dollars using the location optimization alternatives over the 50-year life cycle of a typical truck station.

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Roadmap created for rollout of unified OSOW permitting

The second phase is nearing completion for a project aimed at creating a Unified Permitting Process (UPP) for oversize/overweight (OSOW) vehicles in Minnesota. One outcome of this phase is a roadmap that will define steps for future phases, including statewide implementation.

Currently, haulers need to apply for OSOW permits with each individual roadway authority they will travel through. MnDOT, counties, townships, and cities all administer permits for their own roadways—so several different permit applications and processes can be required for a single haul.

“The streamlined permitting process is expected to increase efficiencies for the freight industry, which is good for our economy,” says Clark Moe, systems coordinator with MnDOT’s Operations Division, Office of Maintenance. “It will also enable more effective enforcement and help us preserve the quality of our road network.”

Through the UPP, agencies should have a better idea of what’s happening on their roads, says Rich Sanders, county engineer for Polk County. “Throughout the state, there are a lot of hauls we don’t even know about, let alone if they will use a restricted bridge or road.”

UPP Phases I and II

Phase I of the UPP project examined the feasibility of implementing a permitting platform. Completed in 2017, this phase included listening sessions across the state with the hauling industry, local agency engineers, law enforcement, state agencies, and MnDOT staff. Eighteen public and private entities collaborated to develop policies, processes, and plans for UPP technology. The final report concluded that a reference platform system for processing permit applications would be the best approach to explore.

Technical Schematic of a Reference Platform. The permitting platform will connect various software and data sources
The permitting platform will connect various software and data sources

Phase II was a proof-of-concept pilot project spanning St. Louis County, Polk County, the City of Duluth, and MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. The goal was to see if a permitting platform would work across jurisdictions connecting various permitting software and using multiple system processes. “The platform has to be usable in different ways and be able to channel payment back to MnDOT or a county or city,” Sanders says. “Phase II showed UPP could work.”

Phase II also underscored the complexity of the issues to come. “The vision is for haulers to enter their license data, and the required permit data would automatically populate the permit,” says Mitch Rasmussen, assistant commissioner with MnDOT State Aid. “But all kinds of software systems are now in use by local agencies, and MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operation is preparing to replace the two online systems it’s been using for decades. All the systems will need to talk to the unified platform. It will take time and money to build. The roadmap from Phase II can help us get there.”

Policy and fee differences are another challenge. To gather context and ideas, MnDOT recently completed a Transportation Research Synthesis to explore the practices of other state transportation agencies in setting, collecting, and distributing permit fees for heavy commercial OSOW vehicles (see related article). Another MnDOT study is under way to gather basic data about the permit fee policies of counties in Minnesota and throughout the country, including authority for the fees, cost range, and fee types.

When Polk County switched from a paper system to an electronic one, industry started applying for permits more consistently, Sanders says. With the paper system, five or six permit applications would be faxed in each year, and approval could take two days. But with its online system, the county received 201 applications between January 1 and October 26, 2018. “Approval might take us 30 seconds,” he notes.

UPP work to date has been funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board. Others involved include the Federal Highway Administration, state agencies (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Driver and Vehicle Services, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota IT Services Geospatial Information Office), associations (Minnesota Association of Townships, Minnesota County Engineers Association, Associated General Contractors of America), private businesses (ProWest, SRF Consulting, Midstate Reclamation & Trucking, Tiller Corporation), and educational institutions (Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU; Alexandria Technical & Community College). UPP Phases I & II were a unique collaborative public-private partnership to resolve a long-standing problem.

Next phases and final outcome

Moving forward, Phase III will begin development of the unified system using real data from multiple road authorities and databases in MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. Phase IV will take the platform beyond Districts 1 and 2 and roll out the system for testing statewide. Estimated completion is two to three years.

“Under current plans for the unified system, Minnesota road authorities will continue to set their own fees and may be able to connect their existing software, although some interoperable adaptations will be needed,” Moe says. “The new permitting process will focus on education for haulers, permitting agencies, and the public, as well as engineering decisions by agencies. This, in turn, will lead to increased enforcement effectiveness to help preserve road quality while boosting the economy.”

“Many decisions are still on tap,” Rasmussen adds. “There’s no decision yet of who’s going to own it and manage it, for example, or what fees might be recommended. There are a million moving parts, and many agencies and interests are involved. But we’re taking big strides toward our central goal: putting the right load on the right road, the right way, right away.”

This article by Pam Snopl originally appeared in the December issue of the Minnesota LTAP Technology Exchange newsletter.

Report recommends ways to reduce snowplow operator fatigue

Snowplow operators face harsh driving conditions and must also deal with fatigue and drowsiness. A recent multi-state research project identifies factors that cause driver fatigue in snowplow operators and recommends cost-effective solutions to help reduce it.

Clear Roads – a winter maintenance research initiative – surveyed 33 member states to gather data on snowplow operators’ experiences with fatigue. More than 2,000 snowplow operators from 23 Clear Roads states responded.

Nearly all the respondents (94 percent) reported feeling fatigue at some point while operating a snowplow during winter weather events. The majority of vehicle operators (59 percent) reported their shifts of 8 to 16 hours included both daytime and nighttime segments. Smaller proportions reported that they worked primarily during the day (22 percent) or primarily at night (18 percent).

Survey results also indicated that more experienced operators were more prone to fatigue, and those who worked shifts lasting longer than 16 hours reported significantly higher levels of fatigue.

Based on the results and analysis, researchers ranked the in-cab and external equipment that caused fatigue. The top four equipment-related sources of fatigue were bright interior lighting, standard windshield wipers, misplaced or insufficient auxiliary lighting, and old or uncomfortable seats.

Among the non-equipment-related sources of fatigue, the most commonly reported factor was silence (lack of music or talking), followed by length of shift, lack of sleep, and insufficient breaks.

Snowplow on a snowy highway

Using the same ratings, researchers developed a list of recommended actions that can be implemented by agencies to decrease driver fatigue. The recommendations were based on a comparison of each solution’s costs (equipment costs and potential risk of adversely affecting fatigue) and benefits (effectiveness in reducing operator fatigue).

Among the researchers’ equipment-related recommendations, the most cost-effective called for adding:

  • A CD player or satellite radio to deliver music or speech, preventing short-term fatigue.
  • Dimmable interior lighting to reduce reflections on the windshield and windows, providing better visibility.
  • Dimmable warning lights to reduce back-reflected light from the warning lights, lowering visual distraction.
  • Snow deflectors to reduce the amount of snow blown on the windshield, providing better visibility.
  • Heated windshields to reduce snow and ice buildup on the windshield, providing better visibility.

Non-equipment solutions included encouraging adequate breaks, limiting shifts to 12 consecutive hours when feasible, developing a fatigue management policy, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, and designating dedicated rest locations for operators.

According to the report, both the equipment-related and non-equipment-related solutions provide easy and quick corrective actions that agencies can implement immediately to increase the health and safety of snowplow operators.

Learn More:

Clear Roads is a multi-state winter maintenance research initiative. This article originally appeared in the September issue of the LTAP Technology Exchange.

Pilot Program Promotes Benefits of Snow Fences

A new program piloted in western Minnesota to increase snow fence use among private landowners has been so successful that MnDOT is looking at rolling it out statewide.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management worked with MnDOT District 8 staff for more than a year to develop and test a snow fence outreach program that could be used by MnDOT district offices.

“After our training, we saw a 300 percent increase in the number of standing corn rows, and that was on the initiative of a few people in the maintenance group. We’d like to spread the training to other districts,” said Dean Current, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resource and Agricultural Management.

Background

Living snow fences are natural vegetative barriers that trap blowing snow, piling it up before it reaches a road, waterway, farmstead or community. It could include leaving a few rows of corn or hay bales along the road side, or even temporary fencing.

MnDOT has about 3,700 sites that are suitable for snow fences. It estimates that if 40 percent of problematic sites had snow fences, the state could save $1.3 million per year in snow management costs. Despite the cost, safety and environmental benefits, private landowners have shown limited interest in the program. An effective outreach program was needed along with strategies for identifying MnDOT personnel who could promote the practice and recruit landowners to the program.

“If we can implement our blowing snow control program more consistently, we can help reduce crash severities, improve operational efficiencies due to snow and ice control measures, and improve the mobility of the public,” said Dan Gullickson, Snow Control Program Administrative Coordinator, MnDOT Office of Environmental Stewardship.

How Did We Do It?

In January 2016, investigators surveyed MnDOT District 8 employees to gauge their understanding of snow fences as well as their approach to working with landowners to implement blowing snow control measures. The investigators studied survey responses to assess awareness of and interest in promoting the use of snow fences and grading to reshape road environments for snow and erosion control. They also examined snow fence programs from around the country, identifying types of snow fences used and characteristics of programs that successfully recruit landowner participation.

A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.
A permanent snow fence along a rural highway.

Results from these efforts were used to design an outreach program that was presented to District 8 staff. In January 2017, investigators surveyed the staff to evaluate the training and redesign the program accordingly. Finally, investigators evaluated market values of various snow fence designs.

What Was the Impact?

Initial survey results identified two relevant types of district personnel: maintenance and program delivery staff. Maintenance staff involved in plowing and road care interact more with landowners than do program delivery staff, who design or redesign roadways and may be involved in acquiring land for snow fences. Though tailored for each group, all training described the MnDOT blowing snow control program and its implementation, the role of snow fence coordinators, operational benefits and awareness of how promotion of the program fits within the scope of an employee’s duties.

Keys to the success of snow fence programs around the country include strong relationships and direct communication with local landowners, funding, landowner interest in conservation and public safety, and observable benefits.

A follow-up survey showed marked improvement in staff knowledge of the program and willingness to promote it. Landowner participation grew from four sites to 15 in the year after training, due mostly to maintenance staff participation. Survey respondents suggested potential program improvements such as more program champions; outreach in spring and summer at community and farmer gatherings as well as at local and state fairs; and a clearer understanding of how program promotion fits within job responsibilities.

The market study demonstrated that nonliving snow fences, though the most expensive option for MnDOT, offer the largest benefit per acre. Landowners seem to prefer living snow fences and standing corn rows. MnDOT may wish to raise the annual payment for all living snow fences.

What’s Next?

Considerations for MnDOT include implementing the training program in other districts, further defining central and district staff roles in snow fence promotion and implementation, incentivizing snow fence champions, developing more outreach material and maintaining relationships with landowners.

A new project currently under way aims to further expand these efforts.

This post pertains to Report 2017-42, “Expanding the Adoption on Private Lands: Blowing-and-Drifting Snow Control Treatments and the Cost Effectiveness of Permanent versus Non-Permanent Treatment Options.” Related research can be found by searching “snow fences” under “Projects” at MnDOT.gov/research.

 

Researchers Dig Deeper into AVL/GPS Use in Winter Maintenance Operations

The Minnesota-led Clear Roads winter maintenance program has profiled six state agencies’ experience with automatic vehicle location (AVL) and GPS in winter maintenance fleets to share best practices with other cold weather states. Strong support by these agencies drives robust use of the technologies for location tracking, asset monitoring and planning for future storms.

AVL and GPS have been widely embraced in winter maintenance operations by transportation agencies around the country. But tracking vehicle locations for operational and safety reasons only scratches the surface of these systems’ potential uses. Many agencies also use AVL/GPS to collect extensive data for planning, operations, safety and inventory tracking to improve efficiency and response strategies.

Need for Research

AVL and GPS have been used in winter maintenance operations for several years. While most agencies use AVL/GPS for tracking vehicle location, the technologies offer operational, safety, inventory and planning applications, as outlined in a 2016 Clear Roads synthesis report. How agencies actually employ these automatic data collection technologies has remained less well-known.

Objectives and Methodology

The goal of this project was to explore agencies’ experiences and best practices in planning, implementing and using AVL/GPS technologies for winter maintenance activities. The investigation began with a survey of state and selected metropolitan transportation agencies about their level of commitment to AVL/GPS implementation and the data the agencies collect, use and share.

Investigators worked closely with Clear Roads to identify levels of usage of the technologies. Then they selected six agencies that represented various commitment levels, interviewed staff from each agency and gathered relevant documents about agency use of AVL/GPS. Using the information obtained during the interviews, researchers prepared case studies of each agency and recommendations for other agencies to further implement and utilize the technologies.

AVL/GPS hardware installed below and behind the seat in a snowplow
AVL/GPS hardware in this Sawyer County, Wisconsin, snowplow mounts below and behind the seat—a secure position that does not inconvenience the operator.

Results

Twenty-seven of the 38 agencies that responded to the survey reported using AVL/GPS to automatically collect winter maintenance data, while 36 of the 38 agencies indicated plans to add or expand use of the technologies in the future. Based on feedback from these agencies, researchers developed three levels of AVL/GPS use and categorized agencies according to the appropriate level.

Tier 1 agencies employ AVL/GPS for basic location tracking or monitoring. Utah DOT has mounted AVL/GPS behind the dashboard of every snowplow and incident maintenance truck (vehicles that assist stranded motorists on Utah’s roads and highways) in its fleet. The system connects with plow position sensors, tracks idling time and traveling speed, and reports plow locations on a publicly accessible website.

Tier 2 users add basic data collection, equipment integration and system reporting features to Tier 1 usage, often in concert with other technologies. Washington State DOT’s Tier 2 usage integrates AVL/GPS with spreader controllers, plow position sensors, and air and pavement temperature sensors in 80 percent of its fleet to track material use, road weather and operational analysis data. Michigan DOT integrates AVL/GPS with spreaders, plows and dashcams in 94 percent of its fleet to track vehicle location, vehicle diagnostics and material use, and to use for operational analysis and information sharing with the public.

Tier 3 agencies conduct complex data collection, integration and reporting activities with AVL/GPS as part of a suite of instruments and applications that collect and transmit data to users, the agency and, in some cases, the public. Colorado DOT (100 percent of its fleet), Nebraska DOT (33 percent) and Wisconsin DOT (53 percent) link AVL/GPS to data collectors, plows, spreader controllers, pavement and air temperature controllers, and other equipment. Each agency tracks vehicle location, material use, treatment recommendations, vehicle diagnostics and data for operational analysis, among other uses. Colorado and Wisconsin DOTs share data with a maintenance decision support system; Colorado DOT also shares information with the public.

Keys to success with AVL/GPS include obtaining full organizational and financial support from agency management, piloting the system with vendors and operators to identify objectives for use, providing operators with training that emphasizes the technologies’ operational and safety benefits, involving agency mechanics in installation, and using the system data for real-time adjustments to maintenance and resource-allocation strategies.

“The recommendations were very constructive— everything from planning and decision-making to how to best collect data and use it for performance measurement,” said Project Champion, Patti Caswell, Oregon Department of Transportation.

Benefits and Further Research

The final report offers information that will be useful to prospective and current adopters, describing best practices in AVL/GPS planning and implementation, procurement, installation, training, data collection and utilization, and operations and maintenance.

Future research may evaluate methods for integrating technologies from various manufacturers into a cohesive, operational system. Turnkey options remain limited, and integrating sensor, camera, data collection and GPS presents a number of technical challenges. Related study may evaluate communication terminology for uniform data
sharing between agencies. Follow-up research could also identify the costs and benefits of AVL/GPS to quantify the value of these technologies to users.

Connected vehicle technologies, which use roadside units to communicate with other roadside units and wirelessly with vehicles, offer potential applications for real-time data collection and sharing among plow operators and other stakeholders. The relative value and ability to implement such systems may warrant research and comparison to
AVL/GPS.

This post pertains to Strong Agency Support, Multiple Applications Drive AVL/GPS Use , published October 2018. The full report and presentation can be accessed at  Project 16-01, Utilization of AVL/GPS Technology: Case Studies.