P/E MARKET: New signage system reduces accidents

July 15, 2011

The Terwiliger Curves on I-5, south of Portland, Ore., is a challenging section of freeway. The curving section is squeezed between a high rock cliff to the west and the Willamette River to the east. The roadway snakes its way into Portland through a number of sharp curves and a posted speed of 50 mph.

The Terwiliger Curves on I-5, south of Portland, Ore., is a challenging section of freeway. The curving section is squeezed between a high rock cliff to the west and the Willamette River to the east. The roadway snakes its way into Portland through a number of sharp curves and a posted speed of 50 mph. Bounded in both directions by concrete barrier and a narrow median, and with traffic volumes over 155,000 vehicles per day and growing, this portion of I-5 continues to be a section demanding caution for commuters and local Oregonians, visitors and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Due to high traffic volumes, highway work is routinely done at night, and closing a traffic lane is a common necessity in completing the nightly work activities. Recently, when setting up warning signs for a nightly lane closure, a contractor’s truck-mounted impact attenuator (TMA) was struck by a passing motorist. Unfortunately the motorist struck the vehicle at an angle, missed the attenuator and seriously injured the contractor’s TMA driver.

From national statistics, rear-end crashes are the most common type of work-zone crash and, like this incident, approximately 42% of the crashes occur in the transition zone, where traffic is being moved or merged into another lane or temporary alignment.

In response to the crash, the contractor began looking for enhancements they could use to conduct these signage operations more safely. The contractor prides itself on its commitment to safety and its dedication to keeping employees safe.

Shortly after the crash, the contractor read an article in a trade magazine about a new remote-controlled, solar-powered signage system called SwiftSign (Circle 911). The system comprises a pivoting sign, solar panel, control box and remote control. With the system, lane-closure warning signs, or any other kind of signage or small message board, could be strategically affixed to concrete barriers or guardrail posts within the work area. Using the remote control, signs could be turned toward or away from approaching traffic, as needed, dramatically minimizing the exposure time for workers and their equipment to live traffic. The system features an RF handheld remote control that can operate signs from up to 0.9 miles away. In addition to making the lane-closure signage operation safer, because each SwiftSign is solar powered and completely independent of any wiring, signs could be quickly installed or relocated as needed. The simplicity of the installation also made the temporary solution viable to the contractor from an economical standpoint.

After reading about the product, the contractor contacted ODOT to discuss the possiblity of using the SwiftSign product. Although SwiftSign had never been used anywhere in the U.S. before, ODOT reviewed the signage system, found it met necessary requirements and came to a similar conclusion: The SwiftSign system would be an effective device for eleviating the exposure of workers and equipment during the lane closures. ODOT approved the use of the device and allowed the installation of the SwiftSign system.

An order was then placed with Versilis Inc., the developer and manufacturer of the system, for three SwiftSign modules to be used on the I-5 project. As suggested by Versilis, optional LED flashing lights were installed on the signs to increase nightime visibility. The installation was conducted quickly as planned (approximately 20 minutes per sign, or module) and they worked as expected. Signage operations were completed more efficiently and safely by reducing the amount of exposure to live traffic for the workers, and since the SwiftSign system was installed, there have been no injury accidents while setting up the multiple lane closures on this challenging portion of I-5.

In a time when the U.S. and other countries around the world are embarking on a “Decade of Action for Road Safety”—a 2011-2020 global plan that seeks to save millions of lives by improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing the behavior of road users; and improving emergency services—the search for new and innovative road-safety technologies and the open mind to implement them is a step in the right direction.

One of the pillars of this global plan is “Safer Roads and Mobility” (www?.who.int/roadsafety/decade_of_action/plan/). It highlights the need to improve the safety of road networks. Activities taking place at national levels within this pillar of the plan include:

  • Identify hazardous road locations or sections where excessive numbers or severity of crashes occur and take corrective measures accordingly;
  • Promote demonstration projects to evaluate safety-improvement innovations, especially for vulnerable road users; and
  • Ensure work-zone safety.
  • The installation of the SwiftSign system on I-5 is a sucessful example of a work-zone safety improvement initiative. In addition to minimizing the exposure time for workers and their equipment to live traffic, it also reduced the “surprise effect” of motorists coming upon work crews and their equipment in the transition zone. Although innovative in the U.S., the SwiftSign system is a proven technology that has been in operation in Quebec, Canada, for several years. The system was originally developed to secure a permanent movable-barrier operation on Highway 13 (A-13) in Montreal. As part of this movable-barrier contract, the operator, QMB Barrier Inc., needed to open and close the left lane of the highway four times daily. From the very beginning of the contract, QMB was very concerned about the safety of its employees who had to work in the left lane of this high-speed highway, turning lane-closure warning signs and moving plastic barrels repeatedly throughout the day. Although protected by a TMA, operations in that specific location were considered hazardous. QMB began working on the development of a safer and more efficient solution for opening and closing lanes on this heavy commuter traffic corridor. The objective was to conduct all lane closure operations remotely, from a safe distance. Following an intense period of research and development, the beta site version of the system, which consisted of remotely activated pivoting traffic signs (SwiftSigns) and pivoting plastic gates (SwiftGates), was installed in 2003. Since that time, every component of the system has gone through years of “live” testing under the most adverse of atmospheric and environmental conditions, such as snow, freezing rain, corrosive deicing agents, low light and high winds. Numerous enhancements have been tested and implemented over the years, including the development of a more powerful actuator and increased long-distance communication between modules; more efficient solar panels and a higher capacity battery with improved recharge logic; the synchronization of LED lighting on panels and gates; and many other improvements designed to increase the efficiency of the system. In 2006, QMB Barrier established Versilis Inc. to continue with the development of its products and promote the use of the innovative safety solutions at an international level. In 2007, following a successful crash test, the SwiftGate obtained Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) acceptance. The updated SwiftSign and SwiftGate modules that were first installed in 2003 are still in use today on the A-13 highway in Montreal. All lane openings and closures are being done remotely without QMB employees needing to work in a live lane on the highway. QMB has experienced no injury accidents during the several years of conducting the movable-barrier operations using the Versilis devices. While gates have been crashed into on some occasions, the embarrassed but unharmed driver often drives away without stopping, and only a few sections of the gates must be replaced. The success of the A-13 application has driven the Quebec Ministry of Transportation to use the system on some of its longer-term construction projects, such as the reconstruction of the Galipeault Bridge (2009-2010). More recently, in April 2011, SwiftSigns and SwiftGates were installed on the northern approach to the Jacques-Cartier Bridge to secure a reversible center lane. The operation of the counterflow lane previously relied on overhead traffic lights. The traffic lights remain active today, but the newly installed gates physically force users to merge, greatly eliminating the risk of head-on collisions in the center lane. Contrary to all other applications, this solution, which needs to be synchronized with the overhead lights, is safely operated by the Bridge Control Center, as opposed to being independently operated using a remote control. On-site cameras ensure that no vechicles are within range when the gates are activated. For this project, Versilis has implemented a number of customizations to secure the system from vandalism, to incorporate safety prompts and to allow communication with existing systems. A future customization will allow for some SwiftGate modules to be activated by a detection loop in order to facilitate the passage of emergency vehicles. The benefits of being able to remotely control warning signs and lane closures are undeniable. With the objective of reducing the number of work-zone accidents, the implementation of safety-related technologies that have proven effective should be encouraged through various demonstration projects. Manages debris Vac-Tron Equipment introduced a new remote debris trap for their Air Series machines. The trap pivots from the rear of the machines and collects the dry debris during the potholing process, keeping it separate from the main debris tank. After dry potholing, the operator can position the remote pivot arm over the hole to return dry material without moving the machine. The main debris tank can be used to collect drill slurry or wet materials without contaminating the dry spoils. The pivot arm also supports a remote suction hose for ease of use. Loads, grabs and dozes Doosan multipurpose buckets add versatility to wheel loaders, allowing them to load, carry and dump granular materials; grab irregularly shaped objects; and doze, level or spread soil and fill. There are five models with widths from 100.5 to 120 in. and capacities from 2.5 to 4 cu yd. The buckets have reinforced mounting points for longer service life and reduced maintenance and double-bottom floor design for greater strength and durability. The user can choose from bolt-on cutting edge or bolt-on teeth. Powerful and productive Wacker Neuson’s BS 50-4s four-cycle rammer features a new engine that offers 10% more power. The rammer hits at 700 blows per minute and has an amplitude (stroke) of 2.56 in., improving productivity, compaction performance and handling in high-lift applications. The rammer features a purge-bulb carburetor: Air is purged out of the carburetor and replaced with fuel, eliminating the danger of over priming and allowing for easier, faster starting. The operator can turn the engine off and stop fuel flow by pushing the throttle to the stop position.

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