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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

 
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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-15-003    Date:  March/April 2015
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-15-003
Issue No: Vol. 78 No. 5
Date: March/April 2015

 

On The Frontlines of Innovation

by Jeffrey Paniati and Bud Wright

A State-based approach to adopting new technologies as standard practice puts transportation stakeholders in the driver’s seat.

Minnesota is one of a number of States championing the use of innovations. The Minnesota DOT built this Highway 61 Hastings Bridge over the Mississippi River on an accelerated schedule using a design-build approach. The Hastings Bridge now boasts the longest freestanding arch main span in North America.
Minnesota is one of a number of States championing the use of innovations. The Minnesota DOT built this Highway 61 Hastings Bridge over the Mississippi River on an accelerated schedule using a design-build approach. The Hastings Bridge now boasts the longest freestanding arch main span in North America.

Road users in the United States value personal mobility and freedom of movement, so they expect a lot from their highway system. They want it to be safe, accessible, and convenient. They want to experience minimum traffic congestion. And they want the best value for the tax dollars that support the building and repair of roads and bridges.

But the Nation’s highway system faces a significant challenge: an aging infrastructure requiring extensive rehabilitation, coupled with heavy and growing traffic volumes throughout the country. This combination means that necessary repair and construction activities often result in lengthy traffic backups. Facing such a difficult environment, highway agencies need to figure out how to use their limited resources more efficiently and effectively while providing a transportation system that meets the expectations of the traveling public.

One solution is more extensive use of innovative but proven technologies and processes that can help highway agencies complete construction projects faster, more safely, with fewer negative effects on drivers, and sometimes at lower cost. It is in the best interest of the motoring public and State departments of transportation for these innovations to be deployed quickly and extensively.

To that end, State DOTs have adopted new processes and technologies to transform how they plan, design, construct, and maintain highway projects. Several State DOTs across the country are leading the way by embracing innovation. In many cases, long-held methods have given way to approaches that are faster, safer, more cost effective, and of better quality, all with less impact on both the environment and existing traffic during construction.

The Time Is Right

There was a time when innovation was not a focus in the transportation sector, and practices were driven by tradition. In fact, the norm was for it to take years for a new technology to become a standard practice. In many cases, highway agencies reserved innovation only for emergency situations, such as the rapid repair of a bridge damaged by a major crash or a road wiped out by a powerful flood or a hurricane’s storm surge. Also, it was common to see an important innovation fully used in some States, but unheard of in others.

Today, transportation organizations recognize that widespread use of innovation is essential to meet customer needs and expectations. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Research Board, other Federal agencies, State DOTs, local and regional public agencies, industry groups, and private companies are collaborating to deploy innovations quickly and mainstream their use across the country.

Shown is one of the I–84 bridges over Dingle Ridge Road under construction.
The New York State DOT used accelerated bridge construction techniques to erect two bridges on I–84 over Dingle Ridge Road in southeast Putnam County in just two weekends. The project leveraged research from SHRP2 and FHWA funding to minimize delays to motorists on this major route between New York and Connecticut.

To facilitate the innovation movement, national transportation organizations have developed several programs to help States implement new technologies and processes. These programs include AASHTO’s Innovation Initiative (AII); FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative; and the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2).

These programs focus on encouraging DOTs and their partners to try innovations and make them standard practice for developing and delivering highway projects. The initiatives emphasize using proven marketing approaches and dedicated teams to deploy innovations faster and more effectively. Some also offer incentives to implement innovations when constructing projects or to demonstrate the use of new tools, techniques, processes, and training.

State-Based Approach

A common feature that contributes to the success of programs such as AII, EDC, and SHRP2 is a State-based approach to innovation deployment. This approach recognizes that the diverse characteristics that make each State unique--people, geography, climate, economy, urban and rural areas, laws and regulations--also make their transportation requirements different.

Although all States can benefit from using proven innovations to build and maintain transportation infrastructure better, faster, and smarter, the importance or usefulness of any given technology or practice will vary by State. For example, using accelerated techniques for bridge construction to reduce traffic disruption may be a priority in some States, while applying alternative contracting methods to speed up project delivery and save money may be a higher priority in others.

The State-based approach enables DOTs to make decisions about trying innovations and adopting those that benefit their agencies and customers. It recognizes that DOTs serve as innovation leaders for their States and, working with local, county, and industry stakeholders, play a pivotal role in innovation deployment. This approach also acknowledges that State DOTs and their partners are in the best position to determine how to apply specific innovations in their transportation programs and to implement them quickly.

Many States have formed councils, task forces, committees, or similar groups to aid with innovation deployment. These State Transportation Innovation Councils (STICs) bring together transportation stakeholders from all levels of the transportation community to evaluate which innovations are most appropriate for their States. Members come from public agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, transportation associations, environmental and historical preservation groups, industry, and academia.

Each State council meets regularly to consider all types of innovation, including those fostered by AII, EDC, and SHRP2 as well as other sources. The councils decide which innovations to adopt, develop implementation plans and performance goals, and set the pace for implementation. The councils put their respective States’ transportation stakeholders in the driver’s seat to select the innovations that best consider a variety of perspectives, from government to industry, and that fit each State’s particular business needs and challenges. These councils also affirm their stakeholders’ commitment to institutionalize innovations and ensure that innovation deployment will continue as a routine practice for years to come.

Combined, the State councils create a national network to exchange best practices on innovations and encourage their widespread use. For more information on State Transportation Innovation Councils, see “Implementing Innovations” in the July/August 2013 issue of Public Roads.

For example, the Iowa Highway Research Board, founded in 1950, serves as the State’s innovation council. According to a resolution it adopted in 2014, the council will “decide the number of innovations to adopt and set the pace for implementation by establishing a baseline and setting a target goal.”

Similarly, the Pennsylvania council, created in 2010 as part of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) Next Generation initiative to modernize processes and technologies, acts as “a catalyst for rapid deployment of those nationally and State-identified technologies, techniques, and tactics that have been demonstrated in ‘real-world’ applications and can offer improved performance/effectiveness in Pennsylvania.”

AASHTO’s Innovation Initiative

In 2001, AASHTO created AII, then known as the Technology Implementation Group, to identify proven advancements in transportation technology and to accelerate their adoption. Each year, the program selects a group of worthwhile, but underused technologies, processes, software, or other innovations to promote as focus technologies. Each technology has been adopted by at least one State agency, is market ready, and is available for use by other agencies.

 

Current Programs to Deploy Highway Innovations

Program Date Started Administered By Number of Technologies Promoted to Date List of Current Focuses

AASHTO Innovation
Initiative

http://aii.transportation
.org/Pages/FocusTechs.aspx

AASHTO logo

2001 (as the Technology Implementation Group) AASHTO 34 focus technologies, plus
21 selected technologies
  • Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Strands
  • e-Construction
  • Right of Way Plans Index Site
  • Automated Traffic Signal Performance Measures
  • Intelligent Roadway Information System
  • UPlan Phase II
  • Watershed Resources Registry
  • Embedded Data Collector
  • Sequential Flashing Warning Lights for Work Zones
  • Towing and Recovery Service Partnership

Every Day Counts

www.fhwa.dot.gov
/everydaycounts

Every Day Counts logo

2009 FHWA 32
  • Smarter Work Zones
  • Data-Driven Safety Analysis
  • Road Diets (Roadway Reconfiguration)
  • Ultra-High Performance Concrete Connections for Prefabricated Bridge Elements
  • Improving Collaboration and Quality Environmental Documentation (eNEPA and IQED)
  • 3D Engineered Models: Schedule, Cost, and Post-Construction
  • e-Construction (also an AII innovation)
  • Regional Models of Cooperation
  • Improving DOT and Railroad Coordination (also a SHRP2 Solution)
  • Locally Administered Federal-Aid Projects: Stakeholder Partnering
  • Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil–Integrated Bridge System

Second Strategic Highway
Research Program

www.fhwa.dot
.gov/goshrp2

SHRP2 Solutions logo

2005 FHWA and AASHTO, in partnership with TRB 64 products implemented as 41 product/product bundles (resulting from more than 100 research projects)
  • PlanWorks (C01)
  • Utility Locating Technologies (R01B)
  • Precast Concrete Pavement (R05)
  • Identifying and Managing Utility Conflicts (R15B)
  • New Composite Pavement Systems (R21)
  • Guidelines for the Preservation of High Traffic Volume Roadways (R26)
  • WISE: Work Zone Impact Estimation Software (R11)
    (Note: This list includes those products anticipated in Round 6 only.)

 

AII advances innovation through a peer-to-peer model. Once AII has chosen a technology to fast-track, a team from a lead State develops a plan to deliver the technology to users. They tailor activities to each technology, which may include developing training programs and materials, as well as sending out teams to help agencies learn how to apply the technology. Each lead State team is made up of individuals representing agencies, industry, and other organizations with experience using the focus technology, or a knowledge and commitment to supporting its broad implementation.

AII selected three new focus technologies in 2014: carbon fiber reinforced polymer strands, e-Construction, and the Right of Way Plans Index Site. Carbon fiber reinforced polymer strands are prestressing and post-tensioning materials for bridge construction that offer a noncorrosive alternative to traditional steel materials. e-Construction uses technological tools, such as digital data and secure file sharing, to improve document management and save time and money on construction projects. A user-friendly Web site, “Right of Way Plans Index Site,” provides existing right-of-way plans and maps with the click of a key.

Since AII’s establishment as the AASHTO Technology Implementation Group more than a decade ago, the program has promoted a number of innovations now used throughout the country. These innovations include cable median barriers, which are a cost-effective way to help prevent crossover crashes on highways separated by traversable medians; self-propelled modular transporters, which are computer-controlled platform vehicles used in accelerated bridge construction to move prefabricated bridge components into place quickly; and TowPlow, a trailer-mounted plow that can be pulled by a snowplow truck and swung out to the side to double the truck’s plow width.

Every Day Counts

Launched by FHWA in 2009, the EDC initiative aims to shorten project delivery times and accelerate deployment of market-ready innovations. Like the other initiatives, EDC also has a collaborative, State-based focus. Through the initiative, FHWA works with State DOTs and their partners to make innovations standard practice, but States take the lead in determining which innovations to try and how to deploy them.

Every 2 years, FHWA introduces a new round of a dozen or so proven innovations with potential to benefit the Nation’s transportation system. FHWA then encourages States to adopt those that fit their needs. Collaborative planning techniques, smarter work zones, and easier-to-build bridges are among the 11 technologies and practices included in the third round of EDC, announced in August 2014. Transportation stakeholders learned about these innovations at regional summits, and State agencies are developing plans for implementing their chosen innovations in 2015 and 2016.

Roundabouts were one of the innovations FHWA promoted during the second round of EDC. The North Dakota DOT built this roundabout, its first, at the intersection of State Highway 22 and Highway 200 south of Killdeer in 2012.
Roundabouts were one of the innovations FHWA promoted during the second round of EDC. The North Dakota DOT built this roundabout, its first, at the intersection of State Highway 22 and Highway 200 south of Killdeer in 2012.

FHWA’s role in the EDC deployment process is to provide national leadership in incorporating key innovations into the transportation system. The agency assembles teams of experts to offer technical assistance and training to help the transportation community deploy the EDC innovations. It also offers funding to kick-start use of innovations of all types through its Accelerated Innovation Deployment Demonstration and State Transportation Innovation Council Incentive programs.

Since the initiative’s launch, every State DOT has used two or more innovations promoted through EDC, and several are now standard practices in many States. Forty-seven State DOTs and all Federal Lands Highway divisions, for example, now have specifications or contractual language allowing the use of energy-saving warm-mix asphalt, which is produced and placed at lower temperatures than traditional hot-mix asphalt. Warm-mix reduces paving cost, extends the paving season, improves compaction, enables asphalt mix to be hauled longer distances, and improves working conditions. Plus, with reduced emissions, fumes, and odors, warm-mix is better for the environment.

Second Strategic Highway Research Program

The SHRP2 partnership of FHWA, AASHTO, and TRB is designed to advance highway performance and safety for users and complement other research programs. The program has addressed critical State and local challenges, such as aging infrastructure, congestion, and safety, by undertaking more than 100 research projects in four strategic focus areas. It builds on the success of the first SHRP (1988 to 1993), which produced, among other innovations, Superpave (SUperior PERforming Asphalt PAVEments)--a process for creating more durable roads--and new technology for addressing snow and ice on roadways.

The SHRP2 research produced results that are now available in a series of ready-to-use solutions that agencies can apply in their transportation programs. Through its Implementation Assistance Program, SHRP2 helps State DOTs, local transportation agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and other groups deploy and implement SHRP2 Solutions. Few of the SHRP2 Solutions introduce totally new products or technologies. Instead, most improve on, broaden the application of, or standardize known approaches in ways that can save lives, money, and time.

Shown is the Checkered House Bridge in Richmond after VTrans widened it.
The Checkered House Bridge in Richmond, VT, needed upgrading or replacement to widen the lanes, and to fix aging steel elements and a deteriorating road surface. To preserve the historic structure, VTrans opted to use an innovative design-build approach in which the contractors cut the structure in half lengthwise and widened it by 12.5 feet (3.8 meters).

Organizations can apply for pilot incentives to evaluate the readiness of a product, lead adopter incentives to help offset the costs of implementing a product, or take advantage of user incentives to carry out implementation activities. Those activities include executing changes to system processes or organizing peer exchanges to accelerate knowledge transfer from early users.

Like Vermont, Texas is using innovative design-build contracting to speed up project delivery time and reduce associated costs. The Texas DOT’s $1.1 billion Dallas-Fort Worth Connector, shown here, links the two cities, the airport, and numerous other communities in the metroplex. This design-build project simultaneously designed and built 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometers) in Grapevine, Irving, and Southlake, and it doubled the size of the existing highway system around the north entrance to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The initial project reached final acceptance in March 2014.
Like Vermont, Texas is using innovative design-build contracting to speed up project delivery time and reduce associated costs. The Texas DOT’s $1.1 billion Dallas-Fort Worth Connector, shown here, links the two cities, the airport, and numerous other communities in the metroplex. This design-build project simultaneously designed and built 8.4 miles (13.5 kilometers) in Grapevine, Irving, and Southlake, and it doubled the size of the existing highway system around the north entrance to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The initial project reached final acceptance in March 2014.

The SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program has issued four rounds of incentives to the States, beginning in 2013 and running through 2014. The program has engaged all 50 States, utilizing SHRP2 products on more than 250 transportation projects. SHRP2 Solutions for which organizations received implementation aid in the fourth round include nondestructive testing of concrete bridges, technologies for enhancing quality control on asphalt pavements, and managing risk in rapid renewal projects, among others related to improved planning and safety. The program will continue to offer SHRP2 products and the opportunity for incentives through additional rounds of implementation assistance planned in 2015.

Standardizing Innovations

Many State Transportation Innovation Councils use FHWA’s STIC Incentive Program to boost their efforts to mainstream the new technologies and practices that they choose to implement. Under the program, groups can apply for up to $100,000 a year to carry out projects to standardize innovative practices. States are using these funds to advance a variety of innovations--from alternative contracting methods to three-dimensional engineered models for construction to ground-penetrating radar. For more information on the incentive program, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/stic/guidance.cfm.

“With dwindling revenues, it can be difficult to get new things implemented,” says Jennifer Harper, research engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). “Providing an incentive to offset costs is sometimes the only way to get that initial deployment.” For example, Missouri’s STIC voted to apply incentives to MoDOT’s collaborative project with the Missouri University of Science and Technology to design a full-depth, fiber-reinforced polymer bridge deck panel that is stronger and more economical than those currently in use. The incentives helped fund research on developing connection details and specifications, working through constructability issues, and compiling the information in a report, all to support adoption of the innovation.

Innovations at Work

In Vermont, the STIC used FHWA funds for a project to institutionalize the design-build contracting method. In contrast to the traditional design-bid-build method, design-build combines the design and construction phases of a project into one contract, speeding up project completion and offering potential cost savings. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) has used design-build on five bridge projects since 2009 and has another in procurement. After relying on a small team to implement design-build on early projects, VTrans is documenting key design-build processes and procedures for consistent use throughout the agency to help make the method a standard practice.

This portion of U.S. 33 through Nelsonville, OH, had a history of safety problems. Ohio DOT’s recent $200 million Nelsonville Bypass project included construction of a four-lane bypass highway and other local road improvements. The project reduced travel time through the area by 30 minutes. To protect the nearby natural habitat of the Wayne National Forest, Ohio DOT invested $10 million for a wildlife bridge and tunnel, wildlife fences, and lighting.
This portion of U.S. 33 through Nelsonville, OH, had a history of safety problems. Ohio DOT’s recent $200 million Nelsonville Bypass project included construction of a four-lane bypass highway and other local road improvements. The project reduced travel time through the area by 30 minutes. To protect the nearby natural habitat of the Wayne National Forest, Ohio DOT invested $10 million for a wildlife bridge and tunnel, wildlife fences, and lighting.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) used incentives to buy computer-aided design workstations and to develop design standards that support its transition to 3–D modeling from the traditional two-dimensional design process. The project is part of a push to make 3–D modeling--a technology that can expedite project completion, increase productivity, and reduce manual tasks associated with construction projects--an everyday practice in New Hampshire.

Another project enabled NHDOT to obtain ground-penetrating radar equipment and software to expedite project development and improve design practices. Ground-penetrating radar uses radio waves to collect data on the thickness and other properties of pavement layers, information traditionally obtained by drilling core samples. The agency is using the equipment to assess concrete bridge components, including validating estimates of concrete quality on rehabilitation projects for bridge decks and determining rebar depths on new construction. The data gathered from these rapid collection methods enable projects to advance more quickly with more accurate information.

The Ohio STIC obtained funds through the STIC Incentive Program to develop guidance on how to improve the quality and streamline the production of feasibility studies and alternative evaluation reports, environmental documents important to project development. The Ohio Department of Transportation will use the guidance to produce documents that ensure more efficient decisionmaking. The project is part of Ohio DOT’s ongoing effort to improve the quality of project documents required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“By using these two types as examples of how to develop quality documentation, we hope to greatly influence all other documents in our process,” says Tim Hill, administrator of Ohio DOT’s Office of Environmental Services. “This is the start of reworking many documents [Ohio] DOT uses and hopefully a realization of the money and time we can save by simply communicating better.”

Pennsylvania’s innovation group is another example of the many success stories for the State-based approach to mainstreaming innovation. STIC members meet quarterly to discuss potential innovations and deployment plans. In addition to its leadership group, the STIC has technical advisory groups that evaluate innovations from a variety of sources and produce papers on their benefits and impacts. STIC leaders use the papers to help them make decisions about implementation.

As a result of STIC efforts, some 50 initiatives are in the deployment phase or in the works with the technical advisory groups. Several are already making a difference on Pennsylvania roads.

For example, Pennsylvania has constructed 10 bridges using geosynthetic reinforced soil–integrated bridge system technology, which combines alternating layers of compacted granular fill and geotextile sheets to support bridges. The technology enables agencies to build bridges more quickly and at a lower cost, from 25 to 60 percent less than conventional construction methods.

Pennsylvania also is using several SHRP2 Solutions. PennDOT, for example, is applying tools and techniques to manage risk in rapid renewal projects (R09), such as on its proposed Potters Mills Gap project to improve a section of U.S. 322 in Centre County. The agency also is implementing railroad-DOT mitigation strategies (R16) that streamline the permitting processes and support rapid decisionmaking to reduce delays on highway projects in the vicinity of railways.

The Oregon Department of Transportation constructed this Willamette River Bridge along I–5 between Eugene and Springfield. The project employed an innovative management method called construction manager/general contractor, in which the agency had the design firm and contractor on board at the same time so that the construction contractor informed the designer during the design process.
The Oregon Department of Transportation constructed this Willamette River Bridge along I–5 between Eugene and Springfield. The project employed an innovative management method called construction manager/general contractor, in which the agency had the design firm and contractor on board at the same time so that the construction contractor informed the designer during the design process.

According to former Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, the State is putting these innovations into mainstream practice to enhance safety and reduce costs, project delivery time, and construction congestion. “The faster we can get innovations into action, the better,” he says, “because it demonstrates that the industry is pushing hard to best use taxpayer dollars and make the transportation system better.”

Creating an Innovative Culture

With the help of coordinated programs to advance innovation, the Nation’s transportation community has adopted many new technologies and processes to solve transportation challenges and established the foundation for a culture committed to innovation. The key to the success of this effort is the national leadership from AASHTO, FHWA, and TRB, combined with a State-based approach. The State-based approach enables DOTs and their partners to determine how to use innovation for maximum benefit, and it has fostered the creation of State groups that involve stakeholders in turning innovations into everyday practices.

“The State-based approach has led to the development of a national network of transportation professionals skilled in the rapid deployment of innovation,” says U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, who launched EDC when he was FHWA administrator. “We have an ambitious goal, which is to change the culture of the transportation community to one that embraces innovation as the standard way of doing business.”


Jeffrey F. Paniati, P.E., is executive director of FHWA and serves as the agency’s chief operating officer. A 30-year veteran of FHWA, he also worked as associate administrator for operations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland.

Frederick G. “Bud” Wright is executive director of AASHTO. Before becoming a transportation policy consultant, Wright spent 33 years with FHWA in various posts, including executive director. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

For more information, contact Jeffrey Paniati at jeffrey.paniati@dot.gov, or Bud Wright at bwright@aashto.org.

All photos are from entries in AASHTO’s 2014 America’s Transportation Awards. For more information, visit http://americastransportationawards.org/2014-entries

 

 

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