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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66 · No. 5 > Technology Goes Local

March/April 2003
Vol. 66 · No. 5

Technology Goes Local

by John J. Sullivan IV

A showcase program in Florida spurs local implementation of proven highway technologies.

Small and rural transportation agencies are responsible for building or maintaining nearly 4.8 million kilometers (3 million miles) of roadways and more than 29,000 bridges in the United States. Ensuring that these local agencies have access to the knowledge and tools they need to do their jobs effectively depends on getting information about proven, new technologies and processes from the laboratory into the hands of the transportation professionals who can implement them in the field.

Aerial view of roundabout
This well-designed roundabout reduced congestion and improved traffic flow in the beach community of Clearwater, FL.

Federal and State agencies and metropolitan planning organizations often have the talent, funding, and communication mechanisms in place to stay abreast of new technologies and implement those offering the most promise in a timely manner. But at the local agency level, technology buy-in is complicated by financial and political risk, and implementation can take years, even decades.

In the 1980s, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) introduced the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) to facilitate information exchange in support of local road and bridge agencies. Today, LTAP has 58 centers across the United States, one in each State and Puerto Rico plus seven Tribal Technical Assistance Program centers. Through training, workshops, and reference materials, the LTAP centers quickly proved to be an effective mechanism for raising awareness of new technologies at the local level. Facilitating the actual implementation of new products or processes or the discontinuation of inefficient ones, however, remains an ongoing challenge.

In 1995, to meet the technology needs of local agencies, the LTAP center in Florida launched an innovative Product Demonstration Showcase (PDS) program with the goal of reducing the timeline for moving new technologies from "state-of-the-art" to "state-of-the-practice" at the local level. The purpose of the showcase program is to speed up the implementation of roadway and bridge technologies in the municipal arena by providing decisionmakers with unbiased, hands-on project experience with field-applied technologies and processes.

Given that post-showcase investment in the demonstrated technologies is running into the millions of dollars, the realized value of the program speaks for itself. Energized by the success of the showcase program in Florida, organizers are eager to spread the word about this innovative format for technology transfer to other States.

The Showcase Format

The showcase program unites a user agency—a municipality or other public agency—and a vendor in delivering a presentation on a successful technology. Each 1- to 3-day showcase includes workshops, demonstrations, and site visits focused on demonstrating the value of a particular product or process that the user agency has implemented successfully. Attendees hear about the agency's motivation for implementing the product or process, satisfaction to date, and cost/benefit analysis. They also have the chance to participate in real-time demonstrations and site visits.

According to Gib Peaslee, coordinator of the showcase program at Florida LTAP, the showcases target decisionmakers at the local level, including crew chiefs, road supervisors, public works directors, and elected officials. "We were flabbergasted by the breadth of talent representing different professions that showed interest in attending the demonstrations," Peaslee admits. "With the goal of speedy implementation, we encourage attendees to bring the decisionmakers."

Each showcase must consist of five essential elements: (1) a neutral sponsor (usually a State LTAP center), (2) a user agency to host the showcase, (3) an industry contractor or consultant, (4) site visit(s) to facilitate real-time evaluation of the technologies in use, and (5) a live demonstration of the technology.

The typical showcase agenda begins in the morning with representatives from the local agency and the company or manufacturer making presentations on product development, the agency decisionmaking and approval processes, costs and benefits, and results to date. In the afternoon, participants visit completed project sites and witness hands-on demonstrations.

Neither the LTAP nor participating public entities present a showcase event as an endorsement, implied or otherwise, for a particular product, service, technology, or vendor. Industry demonstrations are limited to products or services currently in field use by the hosting agency.

According to Peaslee, city and county engineers proposed and endorsed the showcase format as the most effective method for providing professionals and elected officials with the information balance needed for a practical evaluation.

Van outfitted with pavement testing equipment
Attendees at the Coral Springs showcase had the opportunity to ride in a van outfitted with pavement testing equipment.

Overcoming Barriers

The showcase format is designed to reduce traditional barriers to technology implementation. In consulting with transportation personnel at local agencies, Peaslee found that one of the greatest barriers to technology transfer is risking professional reputations.

"Local officials put their jobs on the line when they embrace a new technology," Peaslee says. "They don't want to listen to a salesman telling them how great a new product or service is. Before they buy something, they want to hear how it works from a satisfied customer, see the product or process in person, and make their own call about the benefits."

The showcase program, as a mechanism for information exchange, reduces or eliminates the financial, professional, and political risk public agencies face when committing limited funding to the implementation of technologies where little or no practical field experience exists. Through the workshops and site visits, professionals and elected officials can get the answers to their questions and gain the insights necessary to evaluate promising products objectively.

Peaslee continues, "So much impressive research was coming through that could have an immediate impact at the local level, but there was no mechanism to get the information to the people that need it most. With enough experience with the technology, local personnel have the confidence to go to the city commissioner, put their reputations on the line, and say, 'We've got to have this.'"

Another barrier to information exchange at the local level is limited budgets for travel. Seed money from FHWA has helped the Florida LTAP keep the cost low for participants in showcases. The cost of attendance has ranged from $30 to $130, which covers written handouts, lunch, and transportation to and from demonstrations and site visits. Registration fees are kept reasonable, and the showcase Web site, www.pdshowcase.org, provides information about affordable lodging in the showcase area.

Since 1998, the Florida LTAP program has sponsored showcase events around the State highlighting proven techniques for gathering pavement data, paving rural roads, improving pedestrian safety in crosswalks, reducing urban congestion with a roundabout, and building a 64-kilometer (40-mile) pedestrian and bicycle trail.

Pavement Management

Since the early 1990s, FHWA has encouraged road and bridge agencies to implement pavement management programs to help managers make decisions about how and when to resurface or apply other treatments that keep roads performing properly. Traditional methods for collecting data involved field inspections, road surveys, and other by-hand techniques. Since a pavement management program is only as reliable as the data input into the system, engineers in Coral Springs, FL, began looking for a means to collect data more accurately and efficiently.

The City of Coral Springs discovered a company that had developed vehicle-mounted equipment that not only reads the road and base conditions electronically, but also transfers the data directly to a software package. Impressed, Coral Springs implemented the technology and offered to host a showcase presentation to share it with other agencies.

In January 1998, Coral Springs helped sponsor the first Florida LTAP showcase event, which featured presentations on the technology and offered each attendee the opportunity to ride in a van outfitted with the testing equipment as it collected real-time data from streets in Coral Springs. The showcase concluded with a demonstration of the ways that the city engineers compile and evaluate the data to make financially sound decisions on pavement management.

Louis Aurigemma, P.E., the city engineer for Coral Springs, helped implement the technology. "What's nice about the showcase format is that it has both classroom presentations and practical applications," he says. "The vendor actually had a vehicle sitting in our parking lot. He showed us the equipment outfitted in the van and took each attendee for a ride to see the vehicle in operation. It's always helpful to see a product firsthand rather than look at a photograph."

According to follow-up interviews with attendees, Florida LTAP estimates that local agencies that sent participants to the showcase have invested more than $2.3 million in the implementation of similar technologies for pavement management.

Classroom of people listening to a speaker
Engineers and public officials listened to representatives from Orange County describing the application of open-graded emulsified mix for paving unpaved roads.
Attendees watching a paving machine place a layer of open-graded emulsified mix   Attendees gather around paving machine
During the field demonstration in Orange County, showcase attendees watched a paving machine place a layer of open-graded emulsified mix.   Showcase attendees gathered around a paving machine to learn more about how the machine mixes and processes the aggregate.

Paving Unpaved Roads

Unpaved roads complicate routine transportation for mail delivery, emergency vehicles, and dust control, and they are costly to maintain. When public works engineers in Orange County, FL, discovered that their counterparts in the Pacific Northwest had used an asphalt mix known as open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM) to pave low-volume logging roads cost-effectively, they decided to try the technology themselves.

Local field tests proved that OGEM offered a better alternative to clay road, because it is more porous, resists erosion, reduces grading and maintenance costs, takes less time to install, and costs nearly 80 percent less than traditional methods. OGEM enabled Orange County to pave all 402 kilometers (250 miles) of unpaved roads in the county within 6 years at a cost of approximately $100,000/mile.

Thrilled with this success, Orange County hosted a showcase event in July 1999. The Orange County engineering staff and two contractors discussed every aspect of the project from initial development through base preparation and stabilization, including the permitting process with local environmental protection agencies and water management districts in Florida. Attendees then visited an actual construction site to witness the paving process.

To date, local agencies that sent representatives to the Orange County showcase, including Volusia and Osceola counties, have invested more than $26 million in similar projects.

Pedestrian Safety

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas and more than

75 percent occur at nonintersection locations. Add to that the human tendency in residential areas to cross randomly mid-block, and urban traffic planners face a significant challenge.

When an engineer with the City of Lakeland, FL, became aware of an experimental, in-roadway warning system designed to alert approaching motorists of an occupied crosswalk, the city elected to pilot test the system. The device activates automatically when a pedestrian enters the crossing zone. Lakeland found the system particularly effective at mid-block crosswalks in school zones and in residential areas where no signals or other traffic control devices are present or feasible.

In December 1999, staff from the City of Lakeland's public works and traffic operations department and the manufacturing vendor presented a showcase on the crosswalk system. Because the technology was experimental at the time, the presentation covered in detail the process that agencies need to follow to install similar control devices. Participants visited several sites to witness the effectiveness of the device from the viewpoint of both the pedestrian and motorist.

More recently, the in-roadway lighting system was incorporated into the 2000 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as a standard traffic control device.

Mitigating Urban Congestion

Traffic congestion is a challenge for every urban center, but when the affected area is a major vacation destination, economic competitiveness is at stake. Today, costs for right-of-way property acquisition have all but eliminated the easy answer—widening streets—as a likely corrective measure. In Clearwater, FL, a network of streets provided beach access through a configuration of nine intersections, three of which were signalized, and handled a traffic volume that fluctuates seasonally between 30,000 and 60,000 vehicles per day and 2,000 to 6,000 pedestrians per day—well beyond efficient capacity.

Aerial view of cars using Clearwater Beach roundabout
Cars using the roundabout at Clearwater Beach.

As a solution, the City of Clearwater decided to install a modern roundabout. Although other States are using roundabouts to address traffic-calming issues, Clearwater raised the bar by using one to solve urban congestion and revitalize the beach district. And the city completed the project in just 1 year—in time for the millennium celebration.

Representatives from the city's engineering and construction staff, design consultants, and construction and landscaping contractors shared their experiences in a showcase held in September 2000. Presenters discussed everything from pedestrian accessibility and safety to traffic-calming efficiency and reductions in vehicle emissions. As this was the first project completed under the city's new "One City, One Future" vision, and because the roundabout as a traffic design element was unfamiliar to many citizens, the Clearwater Beach Entryway Roundabout project had become a lightening rod for negative media attention. The presentation therefore included a discussion of how the city handled the challenging public relations aspects.

Guided walking tours provided an opportunity for showcase attendees to experience the roundabout's pedestrian-friendly aspects and enabled participants to interact individually with the project engineers. In addition, observation from the 10-story rooftop of the meeting site provided a unique perspective on the roundabout in operation. Engineers and public officials from as far away as California and Canada attended the Clearwater showcase.

Fountain in the center of the roundabout
From the rooftop of a nearby hotel, showcase attendees enjoy a bird's eye of the fountain in the center of the roundabout.

According to Ken Sides, PE, a project engineer for the City of Clearwater, having the LTAP center host the showcase enhances credibility for attendees. "If the city had sponsored a conference on the project, the perception would be that the city was just tooting its own horn," he says. "Having the showcase sponsored by a responsible, independent agency brings prestige to the conference and guarantees objectivity. Attendees appreciate that."

The Coral Springs and Clearwater events represent important milestones in the evolution of the showcase program. One of the early hurdles for the program was the concern that the showcases would deal only with actual products, but these two events demonstrated that technology transfer solutions could include processes and design elements. In Coral Springs, the

showcase demonstrated that pavement management can be computerized and automated, offering more accurate data collection than traditional methods. In Clearwater, the roundabout provided a design-related solution to urban congestion.

Multiuse Pedestrian And Bike Trail

Building a pedestrian-bicycle path within an existing right-of-way along coastal highways in Florida's panhandle took the cooperation of seven agencies. To create a 64-kilometer (40-mile) loop trail around Santa Rosa Sound, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the National Park Service, the City of Gulf Breeze, the Escambia-Santa Rosa Community Traffic Safety Team, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, Santa Rosa County, and a private developer each constructed parts of the path, using different design criteria, funding sources, and priorities in their design goals. As a result, there is tremendous variety in the visual elements of the trail design.

Fountain in the center of the roundabout
Attendees at the Gulf Breeze showcase walked a section of the pedestrian and bicycle trail to see the design techniques firsthand.

In October 2001, in the first showcase event cosponsored by FDOT, the Florida LTAP center presented a 2.5-day workshop in Gulf Breeze exploring the design and construction of four multiuse trails within the loop. Presenters included the project managers, designers, contractors, and agencies that funded the projects. Attendees had the opportunity to experience the path firsthand, witness construction on an unfinished portion of the path that passes through a sensitive beach environment in the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and tag along on an optional guided tour of the beautiful 13.5-kilometer (8.5-mile) Blackwater Heritage Trail—a Florida State Park and popular destination for walkers and cyclists.

Among the features highlighted during the showcase were construction techniques for beach environments, meandering sidewalks to manage speed and provide aesthetic relief, techniques employed to accommodate existing users (such as anglers), methods for meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, specialized signal timing and equipment to support trail users at intersections, tree root protection, and solar versus standard electric flashing beacons.

According to Peaslee, what was unique about the Gulf Breeze showcase is that it involved cooperation among so many different agencies and interest groups. And, despite happening just 1 month after September 11, 2001, 38 attendees representing 27 different entities turned out for the event.

Qualifying for a Showcase

For a product or service (technology) to qualify for a showcase, it must meet four guidelines. First, the technology must address a common professional problem, and it must be in current use and nominated by a user agency. Second, the technology must hold promise for a substantial improvement over the currently accepted practice. Third, the vendor or contractor must conduct a real-time demonstration of the technology in actual use by the user agency. Finally, the user agency must participate actively and have personnel available to discuss all aspects of the project.

According to Peaslee, all the showcases to date were initiated by local agencies that were so pleased with the outcome of a new technology that they were excited and willing to share it. If a manufacturer wants to see its product in a showcase, then it needs to seek out a municipality that wants to use the technology. "Our interest is only in information exchange," Peaslee says. "It is not our place to judge a technology or product. We just provide the format for information distribution."

Measuring Success

By coordinating with industry, local agencies, State DOTs, and the research community, the Product Demonstration Showcase Program provides a proven method for hastening technology implementation and justifying investment in research. Since the first showcase in 1998, local investment in technologies similar to those demonstrated during the first five showcases exceeds $104 million. This figure does not include the investments made by the hosting agency or any Federal, State, or private enterprise, so it truly reflects implementation by local agencies as a direct result of knowledge acquired through a specific showcase.

Although the first five showcases took place in Florida, the goal is to expand the program nationally. "A small city or county isn't going to send people across the country to attend one of these events," says Peaslee, "so our next phase is to encourage showcases on a regional basis."

Until recently, information about upcoming showcases was available only through LTAP newsletters and word of mouth. But, thanks to a new Web site and partnerships with the American Public Works Association and the National Association of County Engineers, the showcase program now has the capacity to reach a much broader audience.

"With a demonstration, people learn from seeing and doing," says Bill Evans, the LTAP manager with FHWA's Office of Professional Development. "The Florida LTAP center has done a professional job of putting the demonstrations together and creating a credible entity for the distribution of information about new technologies."


John J. Sullivan IV is a contract writer and assistant editor for Public Roads magazine.

To learn more about the showcase program or see the list of showcases planned for 2003, visit www.pdshowcase.org or contact Gib Peaslee at 352-392-2371 ext. 245, gib@ce.ufl.edu.

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