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2021 Mousetrap Winner - Bold Steps Award

Road Electric Training System (RETS)

Illinois Tollway

Download 2021 Booklet as PDF

With many veteran roadway electric workers set to retire in the coming years, transportation officials needed a better way to train new electrical workers on how to assess, repair, and maintain the approximately 18,000 light fixtures along the 294-mile Illinois Tollway system. Traditionally, the biggest challenge was performing the training alongside high-speed traffic and in variable weather while working with high-voltage equipment.

Roadway lighting technician Ben Pierce has been with the Tollway for more than 20 years. He teamed up with his peers to seek input on developing a portable training device that models the Tollway’s actual electrical equipment.

“The biggest challenge to developing the device was ensuring the right amount of voltage for training new workers. In the field, we work with about 480 volts. We knew with the portable device, our goal was a voltage below 60,” said Ben.

The portable device, called the Road Electric Training System, is at 48 volts, which is 1/10th of the 480 volts in the field.

With the device, electric workers can be trained in the typical environment more quickly and with less downtime for inoperable equipment. “After tweaking the voltage to a level appropriate for training, we were very excited to see it working. Everyone was 100 percent on board and loved the idea,” said Ben.

Illinois Tollway executive director Jose Alvarez said, “As an organization, of course, safety is the top priority. We always encourage creativity and really support each other when we are developing tools and initiatives. This is a great example of commitment to the project itself and to the organization as a whole.”

The Road Electric Training System was built in-house using mostly discarded or scrap parts found around the Tollway facilities. The various components fit together like LEGO blocks with all the conduit slipping inside slots and the light pole keeping all the conduit tightly in place. It took approximately 150 hours for three people to develop the device.

“This was truly a team effort,” said Illinois Tollway Roadway Maintenance Manager Joe Dragovich. “We were able to tap into a deep pool of highly experienced, highly skilled staff to develop and fine-tune a valuable new training tool.”

The Road Electric Training System has accelerated training, and the electricians are better trained. Roadway electric equipment along the Tollway is fixed more quickly, which means less downtime for inoperative equipment and better roadways for Tollway users. Congratulations to the Illinois Tollway as the FHWA 2021 Build a Better Mousetrap Bold Steps Award recipient.

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