Local transportation agencies in Minnesota are facing a growing workforce shortage. In a recent project, Minnesota LTAP led the creation of tools to help expand the transportation workforce and fill open positions—today and tomorrow.Continue reading ‘Expanding the Transportation Workforce’ project creates tools for local agencies
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Identification and Recommendations for Correction of Equipment Factors Causing Fatigue in Snowplow Operations (Clear Roads, Nov. 2017) (LRRB/MnDOT 2017-31, July 2017)
- “Truckers disregarding sleep apnea treatment show greater crash risk,” CTS Catalyst (Apr. 2018)
Clear Roads is a multi-state winter maintenance research initiative. This article originally appeared in the September issue of the LTAP Technology Exchange.
A revised handbook offers Minnesota cities and counties the latest tips on how to meet new sign retroreflectivity requirements, as well as the 411 on sign maintenance and management – everything from knowing when it’s time to remove a sign to creating a budget for sign replacement.
The best practices guide – produced in conjunction with a new sign retroreflectivity study – also offers case studies from around the state.
“The life cycle of traffic signs, from installation to replacement, is a pretty complex issue and it can be a challenge to get your arms around,” said Tim Plath, Transportation Operations Engineer for the city of Eagan. “This handbook really boils it down into some basic concepts and also gives you the resources to dig deeper if necessary. It’s a good resource to have at your fingertips.”
This handbook updates a previous version issued in 2010, to include new FHWA retroreflectivity and maintenance and management requirements and deadlines.
“Maintenance/management of a large number of signs can potentially be an administrative and financial challenge for many local road authorities,” explained Sulmaan Khan, MnDOT Assistant Project Development Engineer.
Here’s a video demonstration of a sign life reflectometer (the Gamma 922), another resource MnDOT has available for local government agencies. Cities, townships or counties may borrow the reflectomer by contacting the Office of Materials and Road Research, (651) 366-5508.
Gamma 922 demonstration (video)
Attention Minnesota road maintenance staff:
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.
- Traffic Control Response Trailer (City of Lakeville)
- Snowalker (City of Glenwood)
- Mini Paver (City of Cottage Grove)