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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 64 · No. 3 > The Northwest Transportation Technology Exposition

Nov/Dec 2000
Vol. 64 · No. 3

The Northwest Transportation Technology Exposition

by Catherine Nicholas and Clayton Wilcox

What's a smart snowplow? How do you repair a leaking culvert pipe? Do those pothole-patching machines really work? Answers to these questions and more were available at the Pacific Northwest Transportation Technology Exposition in Moses Lake, Wash., Sept. 12 to 14, 2000. The event was held at the Grant County Fairgrounds in central Washington. The target audience included maintenance and engineering personnel from city, county, and state transportation organizations.

The technology exposition was conceived as a way to showcase new technologies and give the attendees a chance to see the equipment in action -- more than just kicking the tires. The large fairgrounds offered plenty of space to demonstrate the working equipment. The event was also a chance for local and state departments to showcase some of their homegrown, innovative ideas in the transportation field.

The three-day exposition was advertised throughout the Pacific Northwest in flyers and newsletters, and the conference was well-attended for a first-time event. More than 600 state and local transportation personnel attended free, and 60-plus vendors participated in the event. The exposition was sponsored by the Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Maintenance Office, the Washington State Technology Transfer (WST2) Center, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Washington State University (WSU) Office of Conferences and Professional Programs.

The Federal Highway Administration participated in the cost of transporting equipment from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the University of California at Davis, the Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The WSDOT North Central Region provided extensive logistical support.

Building Better Mousetraps

The more than 30 homegrown tools and equipment modifications brought to the exposition by local agencies or WSDOT were nicknamed "better mousetraps." The nickname came from the old saying: "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."

To encourage people to share their "mousetraps," the WST2 Center sponsored a contest to acknowledge the innovative ideas. The exposition attendees were asked to vote for the best mousetrap.

Errol Rhode and Jim Crawford from WSDOT South Central Region Maintenance received the most votes and won the first "Crystal Mouse" award. Their idea was an automated delineator post punch. The post punch saves time and reduces injuries. Rhode and Crawford took the driving mechanism from a piece of equipment originally designed to drive fence posts. The fence post driving connection was replaced with a punch blade. They also designed a double-knuckle boom to replace the original three-point hitch. The new boom was designed to attach to a standard snowplow frame that allows the punch to swivel from the left side of the truck to the right side. The hydraulic system of the post punch was then tied into the hydraulics of the snowplow.

The Crystal Mouse trophy, which is about 13 centimeters (5 inches) tall on a black base, will be presented to Rhode and Crawford by the WST2 Center and the Washington Partnership for Quality Transportation (WPQT) in mid-December at the WSDOT South Central Region Office in Yakima. Rhode and Crawford will also each receive a certificate and a custom ball cap with the Crystal Mouse logo embroidered on it.

The WST2 Center will continue the "Better Mousetraps" in the center's newsletter by publishing new ideas and awarding certificates and caps to the inventors.

Some of the other innovative mousetraps demonstrated at the exposition included simple devices, such as an aluminum sleeve that slips over fiberglass guideposts for easier installation. Other innovative devices included a simple handle/lever used to pry off storm grates and a form for placing asphalt curbs.

Bill Jantz, maintenance technician from the WSDOT Everett area, was pleased to show off several devices he had designed and built in the local WSDOT maintenance shop. The rubber bits used on snowplows in western Washington get beat up when they are stored with the bit on the ground, so Jantz installed a simple jacking device and four small stands mounted on the plow, two supporting the moldboard and two back near the attachment points. These supports eliminate the need for blocking to hold the plow in position.

Another innovation, developed by Ralph Knutson from the WSDOT Everett Office, was a device that is used to fill ruts in asphalt pavement. It is a small screed that attaches to the plow frame on the front of a truck. A depression along the middle of the screed allows for more material in the rut path.

WSDOT Olympic Region crews brought some equipment that had been modified for various maintenance activities. When WSDOT is replacing raised pavement markers (RPM) on a highway, they use a pickup truck that has been modified with a seat that is located behind the truck cab, just inches above the pavement. The operator in the seat, with a touch of a button, can shoot a blast of air to clean a spot on the roadway and then squirt the adhesive onto the pavement. The button or reflector is then placed by hand as the truck travels down the road.

Other modified equipment included a small utility trailer that is used by a two-person crew when painting crosswalks, stop bars, arrows, and other pavement markings. The trailer has a paint tank, special stands that hold the stencils, and a pump and sprayer.

Also showcased at The exposition were a large commercially available garbage bag trailer that had been modified by WSDOT maintenance crews and a fully equipped traffic control truck complete with arrow board, crash cushion, cones, barrels, and signs.

The mousetrap exhibits gave maintenance technicians, supervisors, and others a chance to see what other crews have developed in response to their own maintenance needs. Often smaller agencies cannot afford new or expensive pieces of equipment. This aspect of the exposition offered many a chance to "think out of the box" and to be encouraged to design and build their own equipment to realize real cost savings. Currently, many public agencies offer incentives to their employees who develop time or money-saving practices.

"I came here thinking I would show my idea and that would be it," said one mousetrap builder, "but instead I am leaving with about six other good ideas that I am going to try when I get back home." This captures the spirit of the exposition.

Vendor Exhibits

About 60 vendors from all areas of road building and maintenance such as striping, signing, culvert repair, road patching, and cold patching ? participated in the event. Outside the vendor hall and spread throughout the fairgrounds were equipment demonstrations as well as a large display area for static exhibits. Attendees were asked to sign in upon entering the exposition and were given a schedule of demonstrations for the three-day event.

Often, several demonstrations were going on at the same time, and therefore, most vendors demonstrated their product more than once during the day, allowing most people who spent the day, or even an afternoon or morning, a chance to see all of the demonstrations. Many other less formal demonstrations were also continuously occurring throughout the day.

A very popular demonstration was the Boulder BusterTM from BDS Inc. of Malta, Mont. This demonstration was conducted near the rodeo arena and drew large crowds who sat on the bleachers or gathered around to see large boulders blown into much smaller pieces with propellant technology from South Africa.

The DitchmasterTM from Ford Manufacturing of Chehalis, Wash., showed how easy it is to clean out ditches that have been partially silted or are full of brush or other debris. The truck-mounted ditch cleaner uses a rotating auger to shape the ditch and carry the materials up into the truck bed.

Clark County, Wash., brought their beach cleaner to the exposition. This device is used to groom sand and to clean up bottles, cups, and trash off the sand. It is used before volleyball games in parks along the Columbia River.

Several other unique pieces of equipment were brought to the exposition by Caltrans and by the Minnesota DOT. The Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center -- a partnership between the state of California, the University of California at Davis, and Caltrans -- brought their new Cone ShooterTM Automated Highway Cone Placement and Retrieval Vehicle. The bright orange truck demonstrated several times how one operator could place or retrieve a row of cones while traveling at 16 kilometers per hour (10 miles per hour). Caltrans brought their RoadviewTM snowplow. Attendees were encouraged to sit inside the cab and were given a demonstration of the snowplow's unique features, which include magnetometers that detect magnets that have been placed in the pavement and forward radar sensors that can detect obstacles in whiteout conditions. The Minnesota DOT brought the demonstrator unit for their intelligent snowplow. The truck uses the Global Positioning System and magnetic tape technologies to determine its location on the roadway. Attendees sitting in the cab were treated to a heads-up display and the feel of a rumble strip if they strayed off course.

FHWA's Role

FHWA was directly involved in the planning of the program for the exposition, and FHWA representatives assisted throughout the event. FHWA believes that this show has much value for local agencies, state maintenance personnel, and the traveling public. The demonstrations allowed people from Oregon, Idaho, and Washington to view the latest technology in maintenance, traffic control operations, and other areas. The exchange and implementation of innovations can lead directly to safer roads for the traveling public through better maintenance. Many of these products offer an increase in safety for maintenance personnel who are picking up garbage, repairing guardrails, or placing RPMs on the centerline. FHWA is always seeking safer ways to get the job done.

The Future

Response to the event was very positive and planning for next year's exposition is already underway. Changes for future expositions include broadening the target audience to include traffic control subcontractors and maintenance specialists from other government agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service. After the 2001 exposition, which is planned for the second week of September, a decision will be made to continue this show annually or to make it a biennial event.


Catherine Nicholas is the construction and materials engineer in FHWA's Washington Division in Olympia, Wash. She recently became involved in the maintenance side of materials. She has a bachelor's degree in engineering from Iowa State University, and she is a registered professional engineer in Washington state.

Clayton Wilcox is a maintenance and operations superintendent with WSDOT. He has worked for WSDOT for 31 years and has spent most of that time in maintenance. He currently spends much of his time looking for better "mousetraps" and sharing/promoting his findings with others around the state.

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