Water is being drawn out of the state’s aquifers faster than it is being replenished, so public agencies like MnDOT are increasingly interested in figuring out how to reduce water usage.
A two-year research project underway at MnDOT is investigating how the agency can re-use wastewater at its safety rest areas and truck-washing stations. In addition to preserving groundwater, MnDOT hopes to reduce utility and septic system costs.
MnDOT owns and operates over 1,000 buildings, including 68 safety rest areas, 137 truck stations, 18 regional/headquarters maintenance sites and 15 weigh stations and truck scales.
These facilities either discharge their wastewater to a subsurface sewage treatment system or a wastewater treatment plant.
Researchers from the University Of Minnesota’s Onsite Sewage Treatment Program have been hired to investigate the potential avenues for wastewater re-use at MnDOT. They will consider when re-use makes sense from a regulatory, environmental, economic and management perspective; recommend the most appropriate applications for reuse and identify any challenges with implementation.
Potential benefits include:
Preserve ground and drinking water for potable drinking.
Reduced life-cycle costs in areas where low-producing wells could meet drinking water needs while reused wastewater could be used for toilet flushing and equipment wash-down.
In areas with municipal water, lower water utility costs.
Increased longevity of septic systems due to decreased loads.
As the state, counties, or cities construct new facilities or upgrade existing ones, this research will provide insight into what options are readily available to reduce water consumption and improve water efficiency. If these types of reuse systems are demonstrated by MnDOT, then they could lead to usage by other properties across Minnesota.
MnDOT, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, is test-deploying a high-tech system to help combat drowsy driving and keep truck drivers in compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations.
Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the prototype system lets drivers know when parking spaces are available at rest stops ahead. It has been deployed at several locations along the heavily traveled I-94 corridor between Minneapolis and St. Cloud.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – New technology along the I-94 corridor west and northwest of the Twin Cities is helping truckers find safe places to park. Three Minnesota Department of Transportation rest areas are now equipped with automated truck stop management systems that tell truck drivers when parking spaces are available.
The technology will improve safety, lead to better trip and operations management by drivers and carriers and help MnDOT and private truck stop owners manage their facilities more effectively, according to John Tompkins, MnDOT project manager.
“So far, the results have been positive. We’ve had 95 percent accuracy in determining the availability of spaces,” he said.
Federal hours of service rules require truck drivers to stop and rest after 11 hours of driving. Tompkins said if drivers continue to drive beyond 11 hours, they could become fatigued and be forced to park in unsafe locations such as freeway ramps. They could also face legal penalties.
The problem of truck driver fatigue recently took the national spotlight when an allegedly drowsy driver slammed his semitrailer into a limousine carrying actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and six others. One passenger died in the crash.
In an effort to encourage more use of safety rest areas and reduce drowsy driving, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is bolstering amenities and plans to install new signage at select rest areas across the state.
Drowsy driving is conservatively estimated to cause at least 1,550 deaths nationwide each year and $12.5 billion in monetary damage.
MnDOT will design and install highway symbol signs to advertise the amenities at 13 rest areas in a pilot project funded by MnDOT’s Transportation Research Implementation Group.
“We are using this as a way to entice drivers to take a break, pull over and refresh before returning to the road,” said Robert Williams, MnDOT Safety Rest Area Program Manager and the project proponent.
Amenities differ greatly between rest areas within the state, as well as across the country; this depends on when they were built and whether they are located on an interstate, state highway or toll road.
Older, smaller rest areas may only have a bathroom and picnic area, while newer facilities often have features such as children’s play areas, staffed travel counters and dog runs.
In the future, the state may consider new amenities such as gift shops, adult exercise equipment to rejuvenate motorists, electrical vehicle charging stations and perhaps even electrification stations to allow truck drivers to power their TV or refrigerator without idling their vehicle.
Research has found that as the spacing of rest areas increases beyond 30 miles, the number of drowsy driving crashes goes up exponentially, Williams said.
Symbols on each sign will identify up to six amenities, such as in the example above, which depicts an assisted restroom, gift shop, ticket sales, EV charging stations, childrens’ playlot and adult exercise equipment.
MnDOT will evaluate the pilot project to determine if the symbol signs are effective in communicating to travelers the amenities offered at individual rest areas and if the signs were a factor that encouraged them to stop.
If the two-year project goes well, the state may add similar signs to the remaining 39 Class I safety rest areas (those rest areas equipped with flush toilets).
Some of the signs will require a request to FHWA for experimentation. The intent is to install the signs in the summer of 2015 at rest areas on northbound I-35, eastbound I-94, as well as at the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center on Hwy. 371.
Rest Area Offerings Increase
Although travelers and state DOTs would often like to introduce new amenities, state and federal laws limit what states can offer.
Toll roads and highways built before 1960 (the Interstate era), mostly in the East Coast or Chicago area, have fewer federal restrictions than rest areas in Minnesota and may feature restaurants or convenience stores.
Changes to Minnesota state law in 2005 and recent changes to federal law in MAP-21 now allow limited commercial activities, such as tourism-related gift shops and ticket sales at rest areas. MnDOT and its partners have taken advantage of some of these changes at its visitor centers in Brainerd/Baxter and Cass Lake.
In addition, the state is exploring the concept of using rest areas as transit transfer facilities, where long-distance bus carriers and regional transit lines can exchange passengers.
These transit hubs would shorten travel times for long-distance travelers and allow the rest areas to serve multiple functions while providing a comfortable waiting area for passengers.