And we're back for the 2nd edition of the Center for Local Aid Support e-Newsletter! Our team has been very busy recognizing innovative ideas among the local agencies, hosting Innovation Exchange webinars, and gathering feedback on TTAP models for improving program efficiency. We have lots of information to share and are excited about the direction of our programs. If you have a local or tribal success story you would like to see in a future newsletter, please let us know at CLAS@dot.gov. Do you know of anyone who might be interested in receiving the newsletters? We invite you to share this link: Subscribe to CLAS.
Director, FHWA Center for Local Aid Support
In this edition:
Local Innovation– local agency articles that acknowledge local implementation success
Build a Better Mousetrap celebrates local agencies who use innovative solutions to improve their transportation programs. The next four articles recognize the 2020 recipients of Build a Better Mousetrap.
FEATURE: Build a Better Mousetrap
Innovative Project Award: Beaver Pipe Cage
By: Trinette Ballard, FHWA CLAS Program Manager
Photo Credit: Niles, NY
Patrick Steger plans to retire soon from his role as Highway Superintendent with the Town of Niles, New York after 33 years of public service. So, as you can imagine, he was pretty shocked to receive one of the best retirement gifts ever when he learned that his simple innovation, the Beaver Pipe Cage, was selected as winner of the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Innovative Project Award. His small agency is now in the national spotlight for developing an inexpensive plan to stop flooding along their roadways that was caused by BEAVERS. Yes, BEAVERS.
According to Patrick, the beavers moved into the area and began packing mud and sticks into a cross culvert along one of their roadways. Sometimes the build-up stretched 4 – 5 feet into the culvert causing water to back up and flood the area. Patrick came up with the idea to use baskets that they had in stock from another job to block the beavers from trying to turn the cross culvert into a home, but he was not able to secure the baskets enough to keep the beavers out. So, Patrick took his idea further by consulting with highway workers to build a frame around the basket for improved security and stability around the cross culvert. It worked and the beavers eventually went away. Problem solved! "I never had doubt that this was going to work. It was pretty fool proof," says Patrick.
This creative solution cost the town of Niles less than $500. The Beaver Pipe cage was also a favorite among conference attendees to the 2020 National Local Technical Assistance Program Virtual Conference where they selected the innovation as an overall national winner.
Patrick says he is pleased and surprised about the national attention. His advice to other agencies is to "Work smarter, not harder." He says, "If there's a problem, sit back and think it through. If it doesn't work the first time, keep at it. Stick with it and don't give up." Patrick says he is amazed at the amount of attention the Beaver Pipe Cage is getting. He has already received calls from other agencies wanting more information.
Congratulations to Patrick Steger and the Town of Niles, New York on being selected as the 2020 Innovative Project for Build a Better Mousetrap. This category celebrates project implementation of a new technology or design in construction that enhances quality, timeliness, cost effectiveness, safety, environmental benefit or efficiency.
FEATURE: Build a Better Mousetrap
Smart Transformation Award: Culvert Inspection Mobile Application
Mohave County, AZ
By: Trinette Ballard, FHWA CLAS Program Manager
"This was not a one-person initiative but truly a team public works effort," says Steven Latoski, Director of the Mohave County Public Works Department in Arizona. Their Future Forward theme has established a culture of innovation among their employees who are always looking for ways to improve customer service. Because of this dedication to excellence, Mohave County was named the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Smart Transformation Award winner. Their innovation, the Culvert Inspection Mobile Application transformed how the department uses data to drive performance and decision-making.
Mohave County is the 5th largest county in the United States. They needed a solution for completing annual inspections of 994 maintained culverts not included in the National Bridge Inventory, across 2,095 maintained road miles. This was a pretty huge effort that required a system to maintain geospatial inventory, document culvert characteristics, rate culvert condition, enable image capture and timestamp and archive inspection findings in a central location, in real time and electronically. "We had already successfully launched a mobile app for road closures and thought why not try this again but with the culvert inspection program," says Steven. They also used similar programs already in use in FEMA as a guide to help them develop their new mobile application in-house. It took them a week to create the concept and several months to develop and test the app. According to Steven, there were two main benefits for developing the mobile app in-house, "We were able to use existing technology and resources to build the app and we were able to achieve the product we wanted because we worked on it ourselves."
The Culvert Inspection Mobile Application features easy manual data entry; a live dashboard with pie charts and color coded fonts where you can track progress; and options for uploading photos, adding notes and generating quick reports. The information is in real-time, which helps with quality control because now inspectors no longer have to try to translate handwritten notes and rely on memory to create reports.
Steven says despite their success producing the mobile application in-house, there were some challenges, "Cell service was a huge obstacle. Also, the mobile application was a new technology for many and some users were simply afraid of the technology. But once we trained them to use the app and they started to see the benefits, everyone became pretty excited about it."
In addition to recognition from the Federal Highway Administration, the American Public Works Association (APWA) named the Culvert Inspection Mobile Application a state of the art "Model Practice". Mohave County Public Works is already working on their next mobile application and look forward to sharing their innovation with other agencies.
"When trying to develop a solution, keep the end user in mind," says Steven. "Don't be afraid, jump right in. Understand the needs of the end users and ensure the product is developed to meet their needs."
Congratulations to Steven Latoski and Mohave County Public Works on receiving the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Smart Transformation Award. This category celebrates the development and deployment of solutions that implement asset management or smart infrastructure by improving field data capture, data analysis, automation and real-time collection, or work instructions.
FEATURE: Build a Better Mousetrap
Bold Steps Award: Jaws of Life
Arapahoe County, CO
By: Trinette Ballard, FHWA CLAS Program Manager
Photo Credit: Arapahoe County, CO
In Arapahoe County, Colorado, the Road and Bridge Division has a "Thought Spot", which is a large board where employees can add their suggestions and ideas for improvements. It was one of those ideas that led to Arapahoe County's recognition as the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Bold Steps Award winner.
There are hundreds of damaged culverts throughout the eastern rural areas of Arapahoe County. The damage comes from large trucks and farming equipment making sharp turns onto narrow roadways crushing the end of the culverts. Repairing these culverts is expensive, requires a lot of time and causes a disruption to traffic flow because county workers have to dig out the asphalt or gravel on the surface of the pipe, excavate around the pipe in order to cut the damaged steel off the pipe, then add a new section of pipe to the existing old pipe, place a steel collar around the new union and grout the two pieces together. This work also requires repairs to the road's surface. Arapahoe County needed a solution that involved less time, money, and effort repairing these culverts.
The suggestion that came into the "Thought Spot" was to use some sort of a hydraulic ram to open the crushed culverts. "The way the culverts are made, they have a memory called â€˜ribs'. So, we knew the ribs would help them get their shape back," says Douglas Stern, Arapahoe County's Road and Bridge Manager. He says the Management team leaders discussed the idea and determined they needed to do some additional research for finding the right solution, which led them to something that is widely used among fire departments all over the country. The Jaws of Life is a tool the fire departments use to pry open vehicles that have been involved in car accidents. "We tried several different styles of the piston-rod hydraulic devices. But, we knew we only needed one style to pry open the crushed culverts and that it would need to be powered by a cordless battery that we could keep in our maintenance trucks," says Douglas.
Although the tool cost $11,900, Arapahoe County says they paid themselves back in savings after 12 culvert repairs using their version of the Jaws of Life. They expect to save over $300,000 in repair costs over the life of the equipment. "We have seen overwhelming success in our process improvement with the Jaws of Life," says Douglas.
When seeking solutions for challenging issues, Douglas suggests keeping the focus on the job, "When you take an organization and focus on the innovation itself, you get random ideas. But when you start focusing on being faster, better and more economical and then tie it to employee reviews and evaluations, you are creating motivation and then you really start to see some good ideas."
Congratulations to Douglas Stern and Arapahoe County, Colorado as the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Bold Steps Award recipient. This category embraces forward thinking in the development and implementation of an innovative practice that improves or streamlines transportation related processes.
FEATURE: Build a Better Mousetrap
Pioneer Award: Spring Load Arm Enhancement for Gravel Saver
LaMoure County, ND
By: Trinette Ballard, FHWA CLAS Program Manager
Photo Credit: LaMoure County, ND
Have you ever had an idea that you pondered for awhile before acting on it? Tim Geiner says "Yes!" He is the Assistant Road Superintendent with the LaMoure County Highway Department in North Dakota. His innovation, the Spring Load Arm Enhancement is the recipient of the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Pioneer Award. Tim says he first got the idea for the Spring Load Arm Enhancement back in 2011 during a conversation with a buddy of his. He thought it was such a great idea that he spent the next several years pondering over how it could work. "I had 3 or 4 different cardboard cutouts of the concept trying to visualize how this could work. Finally, I took my idea to a machinist that I know and he helped me with the measurements to ensure proper angles and clearance," says Tim.
The Spring Load Arm Enhancement is an attachment to the Gravel Saver Disc, which is a contraption that clears away debris and vegetation from roadside to keep them from being a hazard to drivers. The problem with the Gravel Saver Disc is that it would often crack or break from getting hit with rocks or other solid objects and sometimes the vegetation would cause clogging on the machine. LaMoure County would have to spend time and money replacing the disc and it would take longer to complete the job.
The Spring Load Arm Enhancement gives the gravel saver disc flexibility due to its angled positioning. The rocks and vegetation can flow more freely with less clogging and breaking to the Gravel Saver Disc. This innovative idea cost LaMoure County an estimated $300 and only took the work of 2 people to develop the idea.
Tim says he was speechless when he was notified that he won Build a Better Mousetrap. "I get myself into trouble all the time because my mind is constantly trying new things before I do it myself," Tim laughs. His best advice to other agencies is you have to just go for it. "if you see something and wish it could be different, don't stop there. Think about it, figure it out and ponder it. If you think it should be better, there's probably something you can do to make it better."
Congratulations to Tim Geiner and the LaMoure County Highway Department in North Dakota as the recipient of the 2020 Build a Better Mousetrap Pioneer Award. This category celebrates the development of new tools and equipment by agency inventors. The tools should provide a better way to do the job and advance road maintenance and construction.
ROUTES Initiative: Improving access to USDOT grants
Point of Contacts: Alex Clegg and Robert Hyman, USDOT
Photo Credit: USDOT
The Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) Initiative was established in October 2019, to provide rural project sponsors with pertinent and easy-to-use information about the Department's infrastructure programs to help overcome challenges that can be an impediment to competitive applications. Improving the way that DOT engages with rural project sponsors can tangibly enhance the safety and economic competitiveness of transportation infrastructure projects throughout the country.
Rural communities and their transportation networks have been instrumental in building and supplying both rural and urban areas throughout our nation's history, carrying people to and from rural attractions and from city-to-city and carrying freight from bedrock American industries such as agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing. Yet rural transportation infrastructure has significant challenges. Over 70% of America's road miles are in rural areas. While one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, rural America's traffic fatalities are disproportionately high, totaling 46% of fatalities in 2018. Further, of the nation's bridges that are posted for weight limits, 90 percent are in rural areas.
The ROUTES Initiative is addressing these challenges by assisting rural stakeholders in understanding how to access DOT grants and financing products, and developing data-driven approaches to better assess needs and benefits of rural transportation projects. This is complemented by the Department's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loan Program's Rural Project Initiative, which offers lower project-cost thresholds for loan eligibility, subsidized interest rates, and the coverage of fees to encourage use of the credit program for infrastructure projects in rural areas.
As part of the ROUTES Initiative, the Department engaged rural transportation stakeholders at events across the country and through a Request for Information (RFI) to find out more about rural transportation needs. The more than 240 comments received highlighted safety, infrastructure condition, and funding as the top priorities for rural infrastructure, along with issues related to passenger travel and freight movements. To better understand these topics, the ROUTES team has worked with NHTSA and other federal agencies to develop statistics quantifying the disparities in rural transportation systems and the increased risk drivers face on rural roads.
Most recently, to help rural project sponsors navigate US DOT's discretionary grant program, ROUTES launched its Applicant Toolkit for Competitive Funding Programs at USDOT. Discretionary grant applications can be complex and resource-intensive to complete. The new ROUTES Toolkit addresses these challenges by assisting rural stakeholders in better understanding how to access the Department's grants and financing products. It catalogues discretionary grant programs by applicant type and eligible project activities. Specifically, the Toolkit illustrates key applicant requirements when participating in the Department's discretionary grants processes. Additionally, the Toolkit provides resources for applicants to maximize the potential for award success.
$70 million available for Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) grants for cities, States, tribal governments and Federal Lands. The funds will help construct and repair roads and bridges serving Tribal or Federal Lands. The Notice of Funding Opportunity application period will remain open through November 2, 2020. More information is available at https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=328898.
Redefining Transportation Highway Maintenance One College Credit at a time
Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado is not your average educational institution. This college is home to the country's first Highway Maintenance Management Degree Program. A transportation professional with experience working in highway maintenance can go online and pursue an Associate's Degree in Applied Science for Highway Maintenance Management. "This is a collaborative effort between Front Range and several industry partners to ensure that we are developing a workforce that keeps pace with changes in transportation needs," says Susan Baillargeon, Front Range Community College's Program Director for Highway Maintenance Management. "Anyone who is already working in highway maintenance and interested in pursuing a college degree should consider this two-year degree program."
As students in the program take online classes towards earning their degree, they can also use some on-the-job training to earn additional college credits through a "Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Program." The PLA program is based on the premise that students are exposed to training and classes at work that qualify for college credits, and the highway courses are designed to capture that knowledge in ways that demonstrate the student's competency. So, how can students demonstrate competency in highway maintenance through the PLA? According to Susan, "The students must demonstrate their competency by completing a Challenge Exam, creating a portfolio or through transcription agreements with industry training providers like National Highway Institute (NHI), Local Technical Assistance Programs across the country (LTAP) American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), Commercial Driver's License (CDL's), or even with local agencies and their own training providers."
Portfolios are documents that demonstrate the student's competency in a particular skill. The students collect evidence of learning on the job such as certificates, awards, citations, etc.., provide a narrative describing their skills according to our list of competencies, and then describe how they applied the knowledge to their work.
Challenge Exams are simply the final exam for a course and administered by the instructor for a given course. Students can test out of any course in the program as long as they have not previously taken the course.
"The PLA program, in any form, keeps the costs as low as possible for the students, and cuts out a good deal of time that would have been spent in a classroom if they were to actually take a course. Many students have transferred credits from previous college courses that satisfy the general education and/or management course requirements," says Susan.
Front Range Community College (FRCC) only requires a student to complete 25% (15 credits) of the courses to be eligible for a Degree. This is especially beneficial for out of state students whose home state community college tuition rates may be much less than out of state rates for FRCC. Some states even have tuition waivers for state employees which reduces the cost significantly.
Susan says, "All of the students are adults in the industry, which makes an online format more appealing as they navigate working, managing households, and raising families. A typical student takes one or two online classes per semester. They work on challenge exams and portfolios during the breaks and summer months and a few have indicated that they expect to graduate in 2021, just 2 years after starting the program."
CLAS fast forwards into the future for 2020 NLTAPA/NTTD Conference
By: Trinette Ballard, CLAS Program Manager
The Center for Local Aid Support recently led a discussion on "Preparing Today's Workforce for Tomorrow's Technologies" during the National Local & Tribal Technical Assistance Program Association / National Transportation Training Directors Conference. The event was held virtually July 28-30. One of the the most engaging discussions centered around the question on what type of transportation skills will be needed in 2030 to successfully incorporate emerging technologies into the delivery of transportation programs. There were many responses but some of the skills that repeated included data programming, automated construction management, software programming, risk management, asset management, soft skills, and much more. Another engaging discussion centered around a question on what will a career path be for future transportation professionals. Many of the participants agreed that re-training current transportation professionals is going to be essential. Other responses included job-sharing, dual career paths and training targeted for high school students and young adults. Overall, the session provided LTAP and State DOT training directors with perspective on what is needed to keep transportation moving forward and the FHWA Center for Local Aid Support will remain an engaging partner.
A partnership between the Federal Highway Administration's Center for Local Aid Support and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) has opened a new range of online training opportunities for transportation professionals. These free online web-based trainings are geared specifically for local and tribal public agency practitioners in smaller jurisdictions such as counties with fewer than 100,000 population; cities, towns and townships with fewer than 50,000 population; and, all tribal governments.
This training is available through the ITE learning hub and is for government and tribal workers in the areas of highway design, safety, and traffic engineering. The goal of this training is to provide local and tribal transportation practitioners with the knowledge skills to continue to meet changing demands of transportation and advances in technology. The training will also encourage new ways of looking at problems. There is no charge for eligible transportation professionals to access the training modules.
Here is a list of training topics available to eligible participants:
Design and Operation of Road Segments and Interchanges in Rural Areas
Designing for Bicyclist Safety
Finding the Right Tool for the Job - A Safety Data and Analysis Toolbox -
Introduction to Traffic Engineering Studies
Managing Speed: Self-Enforcing Roadway Concepts
Advisory Bike Lanes
Engineering the Uncontrolled Pedestrian Crossing
Understanding Finance for the Engineering/Planning Profession
Recommended Design Guidelines to Accommodate Pedestrians and Bicycles at Interchanges
Safety Fundamentals: A 9-Part ITE Learning Hub Series So Unsafe, It Seems Safe: Reassessing
Safety Via Perceived Risk
Traffic Calming, What Has Changed in the Last 20 Years?
Traffic Control at Intersections
Protected Bikeway Design: An ITE Practitioners Guide & Lecture Series
To confirm eligibility and learn where to find registration information, please contact Kellyanne Broom, ITE Professional Development Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the ITE website.
The FHWA Center for Local Aid Support is sponsoring 24/7 access to hundreds of â€˜need to know' transportation topics for local and tribal agencies. Please use your government email to register for courses. If you have questions, please contact us at CLAS@dot.gov.
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