Reflection of an Industry

Dec. 28, 2000
Training, industry partnerships, and implementation of new technology are emerging themes in the traffic control industry. True to the industry, these themes were reflected in events at the American Traffic Safety Services Association's (ATSSA) 27th Annual Convention and Traffic Expo in February.

Approximately 3,000 delegates filed through the Orlando Convention Center to view the products and materials of 197 exhibitors.

Training, industry partnerships, and implementation of new technology are emerging themes in the traffic control industry. True to the industry, these themes were reflected in events at the American Traffic Safety Services Association's (ATSSA) 27th Annual Convention and Traffic Expo in February.

Approximately 3,000 delegates filed through the Orlando Convention Center to view the products and materials of 197 exhibitors. Products and materials on display at the show included pavement markings and equipment, changeable message signs, signage, traffic attenuators and traffic control devices, such as delineators, barrels and barricades. ROADS & BRIDGES was among the exhibitors who occupied a total of 432 booths.

In addition to technical sessions, this year the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation sponsored a special public officials forum, wherein government officials were able to discuss a variety of issues in an open roundtable format. The well-attended event drew officials interested in warranties, downsizing and outsourcing, legal issues and communication between state and local governments. The roundtable dealing with use of proprietary materials drew spirited participation. The foundation staff indicated another public forum would be held in 1998.

The need for added training for workers is being addressed in all segments of the highway industry. Together with the American Association of Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), ATSSA has developed a training course as part of a national flagger registration program. The two components of the program are a flagger training system and a national database to provide easily accessible flagging information. The goal of the program is to provide trained and responsible flaggers on the nation's roadways, enhancing traffic safety for workers and road users. A "train the trainer" system will be used to service the program. In the system master instructors will be trained by ATSSA staff who then will train flagger instructors. These instructors will then train the flaggers.

Product partnering

"Partnering" is a word commonly used to describe a process in which road agencies and contractors work together instead of as adversaries to produce a road- or bridge-related project. Manufacturers of traffic-control and work-zone safety equipment are partnering not to complete road projects, but to increase sales. Companies such as electronic sign maker Addco, St. Paul, Minn., and highway attenuator producer Energy Absorption Systems, Chicago, are realizing the value in packaging equipment for sale that complement each other.

Company officials say the idea is customer driven. Agencies that needed changeable message signs for use on their public works vehicles also were inquiring about crash cushions, which also are attached to the rear of the vehicles. Addco then approached Energy with the idea of marketing the equipment in combination with one another.

Competing sign and attenuator manufacturers American Signal Co., Atlanta, and Roadway Safety Service, Ronkonkoma, N.Y., also are discussing a similar collaboration. According to Ken Smith, national sales manager for American Signal, the industry at large is beginning to discover areas such as this where products can be used to enhance the sellability of another product.

Smart work zones

In this age of high technology, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are being used to reduce congestion on highways through the use of road sensors, weather systems, electric signage and surveillance equipment. This technology is being used to create portable traffic management systems. The portable systems use message signs and surveillance equipment to control traffic in areas where special events are taking place. Such applications have spawned the use of this portable equipment, which connects to a remote mobile traffic management center, to form "smart work zones".

With 800 fatalities occurring in work zones each year nationally, the Minnesota DOT (MnDOT), in cooperation with Gopher State-based Addco and the FHWA, has began implementing the smart work zone on highway projects.

According to Marthand Nookala, P.E., director of MnDOT's Office of Advanced Transportation Systems, the smart work zone has been made a part of the state's Minnesota Guidestar ITS network. Through use of the smart work zone in test cases, officials are hoping contractors will buy into the practice of using the technology to control traffic in work zones. The system was tested successfully last summer on a section of IÐ94 in Minneapolis that carries 170,000 ADT.

The portability of the system together with its economy are benefits of the smart work zone. "Contractors can move the systems from job to job," said Nookala. "The smart work zones are economical because not everyone can afford a total traffic management system."

The concept of the smart work zone utilizes portable changeable message signs placed several miles ahead of the work zone so motorists can decide if they want to proceed on the route or detour before they enter the work-zone area. The information on the signs can be changed and updated manually from the remote traffic control center, but it can also be done automatically. With the use of portable surveillance equipment, up to six different sites can be monitored using a standard 486 computer.

Addco has developed a portable tower on which surveillance equipment can be attached along with signage. The trailer-mounted tower is 40-ft tall and weighs less than 2 tons. "It can be set up by one worker in less than half an hour," said Nookala. He adds that operation of the system can be taught to a student worker in three hours.

Additional applications of the smart work zone are planned this summer on a bridge project and on a county road project, Nookala said.

New introductions

The show floor abounded with new technology. A new all-plastic retroreflective stop sign garnered attention at the show. Called the world's first all plastic sign by its manufacturer, All Sign Products, Coral Springs, Fla., the product is designed as an alternative to traditional aluminum stop signs that use retroreflective sheeting.

The signs are engineered using injection-mold and optic-design technology used in the automotive industry to make devices such as tail light casings. The product is undergoing evaluation by the Washington, D.C.-based Highway Innovative Technology Evaluation Center (HITEC). HITEC is a service center of the Civil Engineering Research Foundation created to help products gain acceptance in the market more efficiently.

According to its makers, the recyclable polycarbonate sign is designed to deliver optimal retroreflectivity both at night and during the day. The product also is said to be durable, graffiti resistant, resistant to color fading, wind resistant, and low glare.

Another new product exhibited also is associated with the HITEC program. Ice Ban, a liquid anti-icing and deicing product, is derived from the liquid residue of the fermentation and distillation of alcohols (ethanol) and the processing of other agricultural products. Produced by Ice Ban USA, West Palm Beach, Fla., the product is designed as an alternative to chloride salt deicers. According to its makers, the product melts ice and snow at lower temperatures than sodium chloride, is biologically and environmentally inert and noncorrosive.

A new look for truck-mounted attenuators made its debut with the unveiling of the MPS-350 III (Mobile Protection System) by Syro Inc., Dallas. The system has passed the NCHRP Report 350 Level 3 test criteria, which means it is able to sustain 62.1-mph impacts from three-quarter-ton pickups to 1,800-lb cars. The streamlined TMA features an exposed steel structure that aids visual inspection. According to the product's designer, James Albritton, P.E., the attenuator design incorporates a system that allows repair and reuse of the product by replacing bolts and steel components.

New for this construction season, American Signal is offering the Approach-Only Sensor (AOS) radar system for use on its changeable message signs. Manufactured by MPH Industries, Owensboro, Ky., the system reports direction of motion as well as target speed. According to MPH, the sensor eliminates false speed readings caused by close-in objects moving in the wrong direction.

The 1998 ATSSA convention and Traffic Expo will take place in Long Beach, Calif., Jan. 24Ð29. For more information, contact ATSSA, 5440 Jefferson Davis Highway, Fredericksburg, VA 22407-2673, or call (540) 898-5449, e-mail [email protected], Internet

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