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Build a Better Mousetrap - 2022 Winners

Innovative Project Award: Sidewinder

South Manheim Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

Corby Lewis, Roadmaster

Sidewinder innovation spreading dirt along the side of a roadway. Courtesy: South Manheim Township (PA)

What was the challenge? Like many small, rural communities, we face budget constraints. Therefore, we can not purchase or rent additional equipment for every job. Along many of our roadways, the berm is not very wide and our challenge was to be able to fill areas of the berms without losing expensive materials. We also needed to be mobile enough to cover a large area in a short amount of time. Dumping our material directly on the roadway and working it in slowly with our backhoe caused a waste of material, as some material was not going into the correct areas. The result was inconsistent and required continuous sweeping to keep roadways safe. We owned a berming machine with a moon paver which works well; however, you are limited to using one truck over and over which results in a lot of down time while the truck gets loaded, then returns to the site. We needed something more efficient that allowed us to use multiple trucks and provide consistent flow of materials to avoid waste and increase productivity.

How did you develop and implement your solution? The township needed something similar to a widener, which can be expensive. Working together, we developed something along the lines of a widener using implements we already owned, including a berming machine, which usually would mount on the back of a truck, and some scrap metal from the shop. Although we knew there would be some cost involved, we estimated we would save thousands in labor in just a short time. The machine would need to mount to our backhoe (JD 410j tmc) and it needed to be able to push the trucks like a paver. This would allow us to use multiple trucks (we often work with neighboring municipalities, sharing trucks and equipment) and eliminate unnecessary loss of material due to the truck coming out of the berming machine and making a mess on the roadway. We constructed a frame with quick-attach mounting for our backhoe and put a dock bumper to eliminate potential damage from pushing the trucks. Next, we created a frame for the berming machine, and skis to run on the roadway to ensure it stays on grade.

What labor, equipment, plans, or materials did it take to make the solution work? It took roughly 60 manhours to construct the sidewinder, using basic metal-working tools (welder, grinder, etc.). A good portion of the metal was scrap from our shop. Also, one of our employees donated an old ATV plow he intended to scrap. We reinforced it so it could handle the material load. We had to purchase metal and a dock bumper. The quick-attach plates were cut by a plasma cutter instead of buying blanks from the dealer, which can cost $1,500. Plasma-cutting material was roughly $250 for the pair through a local metal sales group. As we were building it, we also discovered we could make other attachments to accomplish other tasks with the same unit. We designed an attachment for doing curbing with blacktop, and an attachment for making a uniform 2-inch-wide pass for berms. We also ran the hydraulics off of the backhoe so everything can be controlled right from the driver’s seat.

What was the cost of implementation? The cost of materials was just under $500. This included the cost of blanks for the quick-attach for the backhoe. We used a mig welder and simple angle grinders to fabricate the sidewinder, all of which we already owned.

What was the positive impact/results/outcome of your efforts? This invention has been very beneficial to the township. It saves time because we can keep it running continuously. We have a three-man crew, and this allows one person to operate the sidewinder while the other two employees are hauling materials. The sidewinder also saves our township on costs of materials. We don't lose as much material over the banks because we can control the flow and placement of the materials. Above all we can make our township roadways safer for our residents by having wider shoulders.

Bold Steps Award: Guardrail Maintainer

Walsh County Highway Department, North Dakota

DESIGNERS: Eric Abrahamson and Dean Thompson

CONTACT: Stuart Swartz


TELEPHONE: (701)331-0088

Guardrail maintainer cleaning debris from around a guard rail. Credit: Courtesy of Walsh County Highway Department, ND

PROBLEM STATEMENT: Gravel, debris, vegetation, and snow accumulate between the guardrail posts. Good gravel is pushed between the posts by the snow plow, by the motor grader when blading the road, and from routine traffic on the roads. The debris and gravel between these posts catches the snow, and creates snow drifts across the roads. It is critical to remove this accumulation of material prior to snowfall. This task was typically done manually by crew of four people, each with their own shovel and a skid steer with a bucket. The skid steer is hauled to each site with a pickup and trailer.

SOLUTION: Designed and fabricated the guardrail maintainer to clean between the guardrail posts. At the guardrail site, the motor grader operator detaches 4-feet of the cutting edge and then pins the guardrail maintainer to the end of the moldboard using a wedge and mounting pin. This takes a mere five minutes to change out. The attached guardrail maintainer is then inserted between each post, retrieving good gravel, removing vegetation that was not taken down by the mower or weed eater, removing other debris, or snow that has built up between the posts. The guardrail maintainer is designed with a shear bolt so it will easily breakaway should the operator inadvertently hit the guardrail or if the snow is frozen. This task now requires only the operator of the motor grader, instead of four people and a skid steer.

Equipment used:
Wire feed welder
Acetylene torch
Grinder (used to remove paint and clean)

Salvage material:
(1) 4-foot blue steel quick change edge
(2) 17-inch long pieces of angle iron

New material:
(1) 3-foot curved cutting edge
(1) Can of spray paint
(1) Shear bolt

Total Labor Hours: (No. of persons, number of hours for each)
(Includes time required for design and discussion.)
2 people, 8 hours each

Spray paint:                            $5.00
3-foot curved cutting edge: $45.00
Angle iron:                              $15.00
Total Cost: $65.00 plus labor

Guardrails provide motorists protection from item hazards in the clear zone such as fixed objects and drop offs. Bridges may include guardrail. Over the years, vehicle weights and heights have increased. Crash testing and safety standards recognize the need for design changes to match this shift. The 27-inch W-beam guardrail height is being elevated to 31-inches. However, on the local network, the 27-inch is typically used. Maintaining this height can be challenging on gravel roads when new gravel is placed and material shifts from the mainline under the guardrail.

With the guardrail maintainer, the challenge of maintaining the 27” W-beam guardrail height becomes more doable. The task of reclaiming good gravel, removing excess debris, vegetation or snow buildup between the guardrail posts is done more effective and efficiently. Road crew with shovels and a skid steer are no longer working on the roadside and exposed to motor vehicles and possible injury. The task is completed by one-person versus four people. The guardrail maintainer presents increased safety, and a cost savings in money, time, labor, and equipment usage.

Prior to using the innovation - A crew of 4 people with shovels, a pickup and trailer with a skid steer were previously used to clean between the guardrail posts. Depending on the amount of accumulated gravel and debris between the posts, it took at a minimum 1 hour to clean 10 feet of guardrail. One hour in addition to travel time.

After using the innovation - When out blading, the motor grader operator will come to a site with a guardrail and posts. In less than 5 minutes, the operator removes a 4-foot section of the cutting edge and attaches the guardrail maintainer to the moldboard. Ten feet of guardrail is cleaned within 20 to 30 minutes. There is no additional travel time, as the operator is already at the site when out blading the road.

DRAWING (SCHEMATIC) WITH DETAILS-- (label material parts/components in detail):

Black and white sketch created of the innovation prior to production.
Courtesy: Walsh County Highway Department, ND

Pioneer Award: Culvert Cleaner

Washington County Department of Public Works, New York

Contact: Michael Newell

(518) 746-2440


Repeated issues with Beavers plugging road culverts deep inside. Also, the safety concerns of the employees entering a culvert in the water was very high. And the potential of being bitten by beaver, snakes, turtles and even getting leaches. And, of course, the possibility of getting Giardiasis/beaver fever from potential ingestion of the contaminated water.

Closeup image of the silver metal culvert cleaner Courtesy: Washington County Public Works Department, NY

How solution was developed and implemented

It was requested by the Public Works Manager for the Heavy Equipment Mechanic to use his welder/fabricating skills to design and build a tool to clean culverts with the aid of a gradall, that would keep the employees from entering the water. The request was also that the tool would not damage the plastic culverts and were to fit in to a minimum 15"diameter culvert. Additionally, it would also be able to reach up to 40’.

What labor, equipment, plans, or materials did it take to make the solution work?

Michael, enlisted the Engineering department to draft a print per his recommendation. The print would be used on the tracing table that uses an oxy/acetylene torch to cut the steel used in the manufacturing of the head of the culvert cleaner. The steel used was cut from a used section of 1/2" steel plate. Also used was a box beam key connector as the base for the head. All pieces cut were fabricated to fit securely on the key and were welded as needed. Then polished to eliminate any sharp edges. An old and damaged gradall bucket was fabricated to allow the tube assembly to fit inside a frame as a guide.

What was the cost of implementation?

There was no present cost for the steel and box beam as it was all used. Labor hours I would say total were around 40, which included first use of tool.

What was the positive impact/results/outcome of your efforts?

Effective method for clearing culverts. Safer and more efficient than manual cleaning by staff.

Drawing (Schematic):
Engineered sketch of the culvert cleaner prior to production.
Courtesy: Washington County Public Works Department, New York

Smart Transformation Award: Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events

Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico

Contact: Anilda Fernandez, Isabel Olivieri

787-261-0202 x. 2209, 2213, 2205;

1. What was the challenge (i.e., problem) or objective you set out to solve? Fully describe the challenge (up to 500 words max):

image of a webpageCourtesy: Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico

a. Provide specific details on the issues you faced and why it needed to be addressed.
The Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja was observably affected by floods caused by a rain showers that passed through Puerto Rico from February 4th to the 6th, 2022. These rain showers caused flooding, landslides, damage to state highways and municipal roads, damage to bridges, sinkhole situations, problems with rainwater, and in municipal installations.

The limitations and/or challenges presented at the time to attend to and document the emergency are the following:

1) The lack of information regarding which areas are observably affected and how;
2) There was a lack of personnel to inspect the damages in the municipality;
3) Digital tools which would aid the collection of information regarding the damages, identify the
coordinates of affected areas, and tabulate the gathered information were unavailable;
4) The integration of the municipality’s citizens for the collection of information.

2. How did you develop and implement your solution? (Up to 500 words max.)
a. Provide details on how you developed, built, and implemented your solution to meet your objective(s). Address the originality of the solution and why you selected this solution.
The area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a branch of the Department of Planning, Infrastructure, and Economic Development, developed a virtual survey utilizing the application Survey123 by the company Esri. The survey was directed to the citizens with the purpose of getting reports of troughs in their communities. The surveys interface consisted of various fields of information such as:

1) Contact information such as the persons full name, telephone number, and their email
2) Description of the event: it was asked that they describe the damages such as the flooding, landslides, damages roads and/or bridges, collapse of rainwater on roads, situations involving sinkholes, property damage, etc.
3) Date of the event: day, month, and year of the damages
4) Community
5) Number of parcel or residence
6) Inches of flood water in the house
7) Landslides
8) Coordinates: the application also permitted the citizens to place a location pin on a map
9) Images: citizens could upload a maximum of 20 images
This survey was available to the public for the subsequent weeks after the emergency event through the municipality’s Facebook page and the link was shared in various community chats. We are in the process of bettering this tool for future weather events in order to categorize the damages.

3. What labor, equipment, plans, or materials did it take to make the solution work?
a. What did it take to make this solution a reality? Include design sketch, drawing, and
materials list as applicable.
The application and generated maps: Survey123 from ArcGIS Online from the company Esri
Management of data: Microsoft Excel
Social media: Facebook
The internet

4. What was the cost of implementation?
a. Add supporting data, such as cost of materials, equipment used, etc.
Program - Assuming that the municipalities do not have the program ArcGIS Desktop to develop the tool Survey123 by ArcGIS, the annual cost would be $440.00. Nevertheless, a similar tool could be developed using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms, which are programs that municipalities usually have access to. To visualize the coordinates without the annual cost, the program Quantum GIS (QGIS), which is an Open-Source program, could be used.

Personnel - to develop the tool using ArcGIS Online and for the visualization data in ArcGIS or QGIS, it would be necessary for the municipality to have a technician with the skills necessary to use GIS. Personnel for the management of data: Someone who can manage Excel. Personnel for the compilation of information: Free, as this information can be reached via the social media platform, Facebook.

5. What was the positive impact/results/outcome of your efforts (e.g., long-term benefits, productivity, financial, personnel performance, benefits to the community, safety, etc.)?
a. Include a discussion of data or evidence to support the outcome and/or the revised level of effort upon implementation to complete the job or process. Has this been shared? With whom? Results?
Information regarding levels of water, flooded areas, non-flooded areas, elements and/or risks that worsened the flooding, damages to private property, and damages to infrastructure including: state highways, municipal roads and highways, bridges, rainwater plumbing, and wells. By obtaining the data of the affected areas, it was possible to prioritize certain locations once applications were submitted for the inspections of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, after the event in order to document the damages.

This information was useful for the Department of Planning, Infrastructure, and Economic Development to have a clearer geographic idea of the impact of the event, for them to communicate and refer federal agents, state agents, and municipal dependencies, and for them to accurately communicate the compiled information and reports.

For the municipality to develop the tool with the municipal personnel, it was not necessary to hire external resources. Regarding the commercial program (ArcGIS) and MS Excel, it is a budget that is annually set apart and delegated to the different day-to-day tasks performed in the Department. Therefore, for us it does not represent an additional and/or direct cost. In summary, the development of the public survey as a tool used through social media allowed the integration of citizens to facilitate the identification of affected areas and accurately document the damages caused by rainwater to submit reports solicited by federal, state, and municipal agencies.


This is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the information provided.

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