Category Archives: Research

General research posts.

MnDOT library director recognized for ROI work

One may not think of librarians as having a crucial role in the building of a road, bridge or trail, but in the state of Minnesota, they do.

Each day, the MnDOT Library locates obscure-but-important information for engineers and transportation practitioners, such as the safety aspects of extra-tall concrete median barriers, the travel patterns of blind pedestrians and the environmental impact of treated lumber used on freeway noise walls.

“I like to say, ‘Google gets the easy stuff and we get the really difficult stuff,’ ” said Sheila Hatchell, MnDOT Library Director, who was recently recognized with an Innovation Award from the Special Libraries Association’s Transportation Division for helping transportation libraries demonstrate the value of this work.

Proving Your Library's Value: A Toolkit for Transportation Libraries
Proving Your Library’s Value: A Toolkit for Transportation Libraries

With few good examples to follow, Hatchell and two peers set out to develop a national guidebook for quantifying the benefits of a special library, in particular a transportation library.

“There is a wealth of studies demonstrating the value of public and academic libraries, but when it came to special libraries, there was almost nothing,” Hatchell said. “And what little there was, it didn’t pertain to state transportation libraries.”

Hatchell spent her weekends researching what other institutions have done and drafting much of the 52-page toolkit, “Proving Your Library’s Value,” which was published in early 2013 through the Transportation Library Connectivity and Development Pooled Fund Study.

Soon after, MnDOT put her work into practice, hiring a consultant through the department’s research program to perform a Return-On-Investment (ROI) study on the library.

2013 MnDOT Library Valuation/Return On Investment (ROI) Study Findings
2013 MnDOT Library Valuation/Return On Investment (ROI) Study Findings details the tangible and intangible savings realized from MnDOT’s library.

The study determined that for every $1 spent, the library produced nearly $2 worth of value — mostly due to the dollar value of research that might otherwise be provided by a paid consultant. The dollar figure doesn’t include the intangible value such information provides transportation projects.

In 2012, the MnDOT Library responded to more than 2,100 requests for information — many which took days or weeks to track down. They also loaned out nearly 3,800 items, routed 10,887 journal issues and distributed more than 560 journals and books borrowed from other libraries.

“A lot of people use the library and don’t even know it,” Hatchell said, since much of the data is shared with a wider audience.

Hatchell was asked to speak about her research this week at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference.

Helpful Resources

MnDOT Library ROI study

“Proving Your Library’s Value” national guidebook

 

MnDOT announces research implementation projects

Minnesota’s next round of research implementation projects will reduce the spread of noxious weeds along state highways, improve the quality of asphalt on Minnesota roads and enhance the inspection of state bridges.

MnDOT’s Transportation Research Innovation Group (TRIG) has announced 15 projects for funding in Fiscal Year 2015. (Project descriptions below.)

Each winter, MnDOT solicits proposals from staff who want to put local or national research into practice in their day-to-day work.

“Certain departments have problems they’ve been working on for a long time and they’ve spun their wheels or not had the staff resources to get something done,” said MnDOT Research Services & Library Project Advisor Bruce Holdhusen, who helps employees develop their proposal plans.

One implementation project: Further testing and demonstration of portable traffic control devices (auto flaggers) to increase their usage by highway maintenance crews.
One implementation project will complete testing and demonstration of portable traffic control devices (auto-flaggers) to increase their usage by highway maintenance crews.

MnDOT provides the funding needed for equipment, consultant services or researcher assistance. Supervisors also must sign off that they’ll make time for the staff member to implement the practice.

“Implementation means it’s changing the way some practitioner does their job,” Holdhusen said. “It’s not just trying something new; it’s got to stick.”

Highlights of this year’s projects:

  • Installation of GPS units on MnDOT mowers to alert highway maintenance crews to areas of noxious weeds. This is anticipated to cut herbicide usage in half.
  • Purchase of 3D sonar equipment for underwater bridge inspection, which is currently performed by engineer-divers.
  • Selection of an alternative, European-branded center-line rumble strip (Sinusoidal) that produces less stray highway noise.
  • Implementation of an innovative asphalt-quality test, developed by MnDOT’s Office of Materials and Road Research, to assess the cold temperature-cracking properties of asphalt mixes proposed by contractors.
  • Advertisement of state rest area amenities on highway notification signs. This pilot project will target 13 rest stops.

The complete list of projects, by category:

Environment
Maintenance Operations and Security
Materials and Construction
Multimodal
Bridge and Hydraulics
Traffic and Safety

MnDOT leaders highlight TRB benefits at forum

As a graduate student 35 years ago, Bill Gardner attended his first Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, and he still remembers the thrill.

“I felt like a kid in a candy shop,” recalled Gardner, who heads MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations. “I was amazed at the diversity of topics… You could find people who have devoted their whole lives to the hazards of rural mailboxes.”

Gardner and other MnDOT leaders on Tuesday recounted their experiences from this year’s annual meeting — which drew more than 10,000 participants — and encouraged other MnDOT staff to get involved in the organization, which helps set national transportation guidelines, oversees collaborative research and facilitates the exchange of information.

“We’re heavily involved, but I think we could be more involved,” said Modal Planning and Program Management Director Tim Henkel, who has been part of the TRB for more than 20 years.

Henkel said TRB involvement benefits MnDOT in several ways, including access to national and international experts, the ability to keep tabs on hot-button issues and having a seat at the table in decision-making.

“It makes us a more enlightened and informed decision-making body,” Henkel said.

MnDOT has more than 60 staff serving on 114 TRB committees and contributes $125,000 annually to the TRB core program, gaining $127 in collaborative research for every $1 it contributes.

“It’s a very intense and very busy experience," said Chief MnDOT Engineer Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Sue Mulvihill, who displayed the thick program book and other materials from this year’s Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.
“It’s a very intense and very busy experience,” said MnDOT Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Sue Mulvihill, who displayed the thick program book and other materials from this year’s Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.

As part of a series of staff forums they will hold throughout the year, MnDOT leaders chose to highlight the TRB, which met in January. (MnDOT employees interested in attending next year or getting involved in the TRB should speak with their supervisor.)

State Bridge Engineer Nancy Daubenberger, who serves on a TRB subcommittee and gave a presentation at the recent conference, said it helps to hear about the challenges faced by agencies around the country.

Assistant Engineering Services Division Director Amr Jabr, who attended for the first time, said he used a smartphone app just to decide which of the approximately 3,500 sessions he wanted to attend.

“I thought it was an extremely good experience,” he said. “I picked up a lot of information and made a lot of new contacts.”

Funding highway projects with value capture could speed project completion

There’s broad agreement that the U.S. transportation system cannot continue to be funded with existing financing and revenue-generation methods. What’s unclear, however, is how to pay for highway projects in the future. The current transportation funding system emphasizes user fees, but there is growing interest in alternative funding strategies. One promising strategy is value capture, which aims to recover the value of benefits received by property owners and developers as a result of infrastructure improvements.

In recent years, University of Minnesota researchers have helped lead the way in value capture research with a series of reports identifying value capture strategies. In a newly published study, the research team applied their previous work to a real-world scenario, with impressive results.

The new research, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, focused on the planned development of Trunk Highway 610 (TH 610) in Maple Grove, Minnesota—a stretch of planned state highway delayed for years by state transportation funding shortages. Researchers set out to discover how the value of the enhanced accessibility provided by the planned improvements could be predicted and captured to help fund the project’s completion.

To accomplish their goal, researchers first defined a study area of about 10 square miles surrounding the unfinished highway segment. Then, they modeled property values based on five factors using parcel-level data. This model was designed to isolate the so-called “highway premium” by controlling for other factors that affect land value including water views, open space, railroads, transit stops, and existing highway exits. Using this model, researchers found significant evidence that the completion of the highway could lead to an over $17 million increase in property value.

Researchers expect these findings to have significant benefits for the TH 610 project and beyond.

Read the full article in the March issue of Catalyst.

Photo courtesy of SRF Consulting Group, Inc.

‘Smart window’ technology opens new possibilities for transportation noise control

Nearly every time a highway or airport expansion is proposed, transportation planners face opposition from residents who fear the increased noise levels in their homes and businesses. Traffic noise is often mitigated with physical noise barriers, but the large, thick walls often draw opposition as well.

A new technology developed by University
 of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor 
Rajesh Rajamani as part of 
a research project funded
 by the National Science
 Foundation could soon
 provide a nearly invisible
 solution for transportation 
noise cancellation—and 
give transportation planners another tool for overcoming project opposition.

Noise enters homes close to airports and highways primarily through windows, and windows can transmit ten times the sound energy as walls can, says Rajamani. With this in mind, researchers set out to reduce the amount of transportation noise transmitted through windows.

To accomplish this goal, researchers created a method of active noise control for windows. Active noise control works by using speakers to generate a sound wave that is a mirror image of the undesirable sound wave. Superimposing an “anti-noise” wave of the same amplitude as the undesirable noise wave results in a reduced decibel level of noise in the environment.

The research team began by designing thin, transparent speaker panels to fit in the empty space between the two panes of a double-pane window. Then, the researchers tested the effectiveness of the new speakers, using them to cancel out undesirable transportation noise from outside the home while preserving the desirable noise from inside the home.

In addition to mitigating traffic noise, this new technology offers other surprising benefits. Researchers have found that the “smart window” speakers can actually be used as home audio speakers without losing any of their noise-control benefits.

Read the full article in the February issue of Catalyst.

Innovative pavement textures reduce noise, improve fuel economy

What if something as simple as changing the texture of the pavements we drive on could not only increase safety, but also reduce noise pollution and boost our vehicles’ fuel economy?

It’s possible, according to the latest research from MnROAD, the state’s one-of-a-kind pavement research facility. In a new report, investigators detail how quieter pavement textures, such as those applied by grinding grooves into pavements with diamond-coated saw blades (see the photo above), may also reduce rolling resistance — the force that resists a tire as it moves across the pavement’s surface.

The potential benefits to the public are significant. A 10-percent reduction in rolling resistance could reduce the U.S. public’s fuel consumption by 2–3 percent, eliminate up to $12.5 billion in fuel costs each year (as well as cutting carbon emissions). Add on the cost savings from reducing noise pollution (building noise barriers along highways can cost as much as $3 million per mile), and it’s clearly a win-win situation.

In the study, researchers used an innovative line-laser profiler to develop three-dimensional representations of test pavement surface textures. They then investigated the relationship between these surface characteristics and data on rolling resistance that was collected during a 2011 study using a special test trailer developed by researchers in Poland. This year, the same trailer will be used to conduct a second round of rolling resistance measurements at MnROAD.

The research is related to an ongoing pooled-fund study on concrete pavement surface characteristics. The goal is to produce data that will allow MnDOT to identify ideal ranges for surface characteristics that improve pavements’ quietness and ride quality while keeping them safe and durable.

Learn more
Researchers relied on rolling resistance data from a study conducted in 2011 with a test trailer developed by the Technical University of Gdańsk, Poland. This was the first time such measurements were taken in the United States.
Researchers relied on rolling resistance data from a study conducted in 2011 with a test trailer developed by the Technical University of Gdańsk, Poland. This was the first time such measurements were taken in the United States.

MnROAD earns concrete pavement association award

Staff from MnROAD, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s cold weather road research facility in Albertville, Minn., were presented with the Marlin J. Knutson Award for Technical Achievement by the American Concrete Pavement Association in December.

The award cites the facility’s well-deserved reputation for being a place where both agency and industry ideas are put to the test. This award was presented as a tribute to the agency’s commitment to learning and putting ideas into practice.

The Marlin J. Knutson Award for Technical Achievement is presented to an individual or group who has made significant contributions to advance the development and implementation of technical innovations and best practices in the design and construction of concrete pavements.

(far right) Gerald Voigt, ACPA president and CEO, presented MnDOT with the Marlin J. Knutson Award for Technical Achievement during a ceremony in December. Receiving the award are (from left) Luke Johanneck, Bernard Izevbekhai, Roger Olson, Tom Burnham, Glenn Engstrom, Maureen Jensen and Sue Mulvihill. (Photo courtesy of the ACPA)
(Far right) Gerald Voigt, ACPA president and CEO, presented MnDOT with the Marlin J. Knutson Award for Technical Achievement. Receiving the award are (from left) Luke Johanneck, Bernard Izevbekhai, Roger Olson, Tom Burnham, Glenn Engstrom, Maureen Jensen and Sue Mulvihill. (Photo courtesy of the ACPA)

“MnROAD is helping to make roads last longer, perform better, cost less, construct faster, and have minimal impact on the environment,” said Gerald Voigt, ACPA president and CEO. “It is a model for other agencies to follow.”

MnROAD is a pavement test track initially constructed between 1991-1993. It uses various research materials and pavements and finds ways to make roads last longer, perform better, cost less to build and maintain, be built faster and have minimal impact on the environment. MnROAD consists of two unique road segments located next to Interstate 94.

Staff from the MnROAD facility in Albertville were recognized during the ACPA’s Distinguished Service and Recognition Awards ceremony in December. (Photo by David Gonzalez)
Staff from the MnROAD facility in Albertville were recognized during the ACPA’s Distinguished Service and Recognition Awards ceremony in December. (Photo by David Gonzalez)

This article, authored by Rich Kemp, originally appeared in Newsline, MnDOT’s employee newsletter. 

Do streetcars support commercial development? New Orleans results say yes

New streetcar lines are in the planning stages in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Proponents cite not only the lines’ ability to strengthen the transit system, but also their potential as catalysts for development. Estimating the impacts of streetcars is challenging, however, as most U.S. lines operate in downtown areas with many interrelated factors at play. A recent U of M research project examined the issue through the prism of one city’s experience: post-Katrina New Orleans.

The team—research fellow Andrew Guthrie and Assistant Professor Yingling Fan of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—analyzed building permits near streetcar stops in the downtown business district and in several urban neighborhoods.

“Hurricane Katrina allowed—or required—more redevelopment to occur at a faster pace than 
normal, potentially allowing existing streetcar lines’ latent development impacts to appear,” Guthrie says. “This created an unfortunate yet rare opportunity for study.”

streetcars

The researchers estimated how the frequency of commercial and residential permits changed with distance from streetcar stops, controlling for hurricane damage, proximity to existing commercial areas, and pre-Katrina demographics.

They found that throughout the system, building permits strongly reflect the distance to stops—and that commercial and residential permits move
 in opposite directions within the first 750 feet.

Commercial permits declined the further away the location was from a stop. In residential areas, commercial permits show variation depending on neighborhood characteristics. The number of neighborhood residential permits rose about 24 percent with every 100 feet from a stop.

Based on their results, Guthrie and Fan conclude that traditional streetcar lines can help increase commercial development not just in downtown business districts, but in other urban areas as well. The findings also indicate that streetcars
 shape development in urban neighborhoods in
 a fundamentally different fashion than light rail.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

Exploring Nice Ride job accessibility and station choice

Although bike share systems are becoming more popular across the United States, little is known about how people make decisions when integrating these systems into their daily travel.

In a study funded by CTS, researchers from the U of M’s civil engineering department investigated how people use the Nice Ride bike share system in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The researchers examined how Nice Ride affects accessibility to jobs and developed a model to predict station choice.

In the first part of the study, the researchers created maps showing accessibility to jobs by census block for both Nice Ride and walking—as well as the difference between the two—at time thresholds ranging from 5 to 55 minutes.

Overall, in blocks with both Nice Ride and walking job accessibility, Nice Ride provides access to 0.5 to 3.21 times as many jobs as walking.

By comparing Nice Ride to walking, the study demonstrated that walking can successfully be used as a baseline to show how a bike share system improves job accessibility. The results also pinpointed when and where Nice Ride had the strongest accessibility advantage over walking.

“This type of information can be used by bike share system planners to identify where new stations could be built to maximize their impact on job accessibility,” says grad student Jessica Schoner, a member of the research team.

In addition, the team developed a theoretical model for bike share station choice. The model considers users’ choice of a station based on their preference 
for the amount of time spent walking, deviation from the shortest path (the closest station may not be in the direct path of the person’s destination), and station amenities and neighborhood characteristics.

Findings show that people generally prefer to use stations that don’t require long detours to reach, but a station’s surroundings also play an important role. Results also indicate that commuters value shorter trips and tend to choose stations that minimize overall travel time.

According to Schoner, understanding people’s station preference can help provide guidance to planners that want to expand or optimize a bike share system.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.