Tag Archives: risk

New Project: Proactive mapping helps MnDOT identify and respond to risk of slope failure along Minnesota highways

Slope failures can block roads, damage pavement and cause safety hazards. They can also be costly to repair.

For example, in June 2012, Carlton County received up to 11 inches of rain—causing flood damage and slope failures along Minnesota Highway 210. Reconstruction cost $21.3 million dollars, using federal and state emergency funds.

A recently funded research implementation project aims to help MnDOT identify areas that are susceptible to geohazards — such as landslides and rock falls— and better equip highway construction project managers to identify and mitigate risk.

A washed out ditch on Highway 169 in Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
The new GIS model identifies and maps slopes of high risk, like this ditch that washed out on Highway 169 in Belle Plaine.

Raul Velasquez, a geomechanics research engineer with MnDOT’s Office of Materials & Road Maintenance, is overseeing the study conducted by WSB & Associates.

The research team is analyzing satellite images to identify areas with geohazards. Geohazards include areas with shallow rock, sinkholes, and soft or sensitive soil. This information will then be added to map layers in Georilla—MnDOT’s internal web map application. Project managers can then pull this information during the scoping and planning phases of a construction project.

“The earlier we know about a risk, the better,” said Velasquez. “That way we can proactively mitigate the risk, or choose a different project location, if needed.”

This project builds on existing MnDOT statewide georisk modeling research. Phase 1 and Phase 2 were completed in 2019 and Phase 3 is expected to be completed by the end of August 2020.

Over the next six months, researchers will map northwest Minnesota (MnDOT District 2). Researchers will also refine and recalibrate existing maps. As slope failures occur, they will evaluate whether the tool accurately predicted the event.

Map of MnDOT District 2
Researchers are currently mapping risk to slope failure in counties in MnDOT District 2.

While geohazard mapping is applied in other industries in Minnesota, this approach is novel among state DOTs. This exciting work can reduce risk of future road closures due to slides and sinkholes, safety hazards to the public, and puts MnDOT in a position of mitigating risk instead of reactively responding to geological emergencies.

“Avoiding high risk areas can help us reduce material loss, improve human safety, and save taxpayer dollars,” said Velasquez.

The research team presented this project at the 2020 Geo-Congress.

To request project updates or learn more, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation.

Teen Driver Support System helps reduce risky driving behavior

Although teen drivers make up a small percentage of the U.S. driving population, they are at an especially high risk of being involved in a crash. In fact, drivers between ages 16 and 19 have higher average annual crash rates than any other age group.

To help teen drivers stay safe on the road, researchers at the U of M’s HumanFIRST Laboratory have been working for nearly 10 years on the development of the Teen Driver Support System (TDSS). The smartphone-based application provides real-time, in-vehicle feedback to teens about their risky behaviors—and reports those behaviors to parents via text message if teens don’t heed the system’s warnings.

TDSS provides alerts about speed limits, upcoming curves, stop sign violations, excessive maneuvers, and seat belt use. It also prevents teens from using their phones to text or call (except 911) while driving.

The research team recently completed a 12-month field operational test of the system with funding from MnDOT. The test involved 300 newly licensed teens from 18 communities in Minnesota.

To measure the effectiveness of the TDSS on driving behavior, the teens were divided into three groups: a control group in which driving behavior was monitored but no feedback was given, a group in which the TDSS provided only in-vehicle feedback to teens, and a group with both in-vehicle and parent feedback from the TDSS.

Preliminary results show that teens in the TDSS groups engaged in less risky behavior, especially the group that included parent feedback. These teens were less likely to speed or to engage in aggressive driving.

Although these results demonstrate that the TDSS can be effective in reducing risky driving behavior in teens, Janet Creaser, HumanFIRST research fellow and a lead researcher on the project, stresses that technology is not a substitute for parent interaction.

“The whole goal of our system is to get parents talking to their teens about safe driving.” Creaser says. “And maybe, if you’re a parent getting 10 text messages a week, you’ll take your teen out and help them learn how to drive a little more safely.”

Read the full article in the November issue of Catalyst.