Aug. 14, 2003

Virginia, Missouri finding ways to save money on road building

Even in tight economic times, some states are finding ways to save money on transportation construction--money that can be applied to more construction.

Virginia, Missouri finding ways to save money on road building

Even in tight economic times, some states are finding ways to save money on transportation construction--money that can be applied to more construction.

Virginia, for example, expects to save $57 million because of research conducted at the Virginia Transportation Research Council, Charlottesville. Automated pothole patching and improved bridge construction techniques are among the money-saving improvements that the Virginia Department of Transportation is implementing. With a typical annual budget of $9 million, the research council is conducting research that is expected to yield $57 million in savings for VDOT, according to Dr. Gary R. Allen, VDOT's chief of technology, research and innovation.

Automated pothole patching will allow VDOT workers to fill potholes more efficiently, reducing traffic backups for motorists. Self-contained spray-injected asphalt patching systems will be purchased for pothole-filling trucks and will be phased into service over time. The system allows potholes to be filled without workers being out on the roadways, reducing costs and increasing safety. Using the spray-injected asphalt patching system will save $1.2 million annually when available system-wide.

Other research conducted by the research council showed that using stainless steel-clad reinforcement bars could increase the service life of bridge decks to 100 years--two times their service life now. By using these corrosion-resistant reinforcement bars, VDOT expects to see $10 million in annual savings, because concrete bridge decks will not have to be replaced as frequently.

The research council also found that using high-performance lightweight concrete in bridge beams reduces the number of beams needed and significantly increases the service life of the bridge. Bridges that are already being built with this innovative material include the Rte. 10 bridge over the Appomattox River and the Chickahominy River Bridge. The research council estimates that using this high-performance material in all bridge construction should save $25 million a year.

Other research projects that are being put to use include a pavement evaluation vehicle that evaluates the smoothness of a road to make sure the pavement meets the contract specifications.

A Smart Travel Laboratory linked to the Smart Traffic Centers in northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and Richmond could provide an off-line setting for testing new traffic management software, signal timing and incident scenarios.

The Missouri DOT saved about $40 million on highway construction contracts in the past year primarily by paying careful attention to the bidding and estimating process, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials reported.

"Careful attention to every detail during the project development and estimating process allowed these projects to come in more than 5% under budget," said Dave Nichols, MoDOT director of project development. "We worked very hard to anticipate every possible cost and hold down additional expenses. When bids came in too high, we re-bid them until the price was right. Contractors throughout the region also deserve credit for submitting very competitive bids."

The money saved will be carried over to next year's construction program, Nichols said.

"This money will allow us to get more work started than we had originally planned. With so many needed projects, we're excited that we'll be able to bring additional improvements to Missouri travelers."

In the past four years, MoDOT has completed more than $2 billion in highway construction, and the actual cost was only 0.33% different from the estimates.

"Estimates this accurate allow us to budget funds wisely and make sure we get the maximum number of projects built," said MoDOT Director Henry Hungerbeeler.

MoDOT's estimating accuracy was cited as the best in the country earlier this year by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Highway fatalities grow again; deaths per VMT stay steady

Highway fatalities in 2002 reached the highest level since 1990, while crash-related injuries hit an all-time low, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in mid-July.

Though overall fatalities increased to 42,815 in 2002 from 42,196 in 2001, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) remained at 1.51, a historic low. According to FHWA estimates, VMT increased in 2002 to 2.83 trillion, up from 2.78 trillion in 2001.

The number of injured dropped to 2.92 million in 2002, a record low, from 3.03 million in 2001. The largest decrease was in injuries to occupants of passenger cars. Among other factors, the decline in injuries can be attributed to tougher federal safety standards and improved vehicle design, NHTSA said.

Alcohol-related fatalities remained at 41% of the total with 17, 419 deaths in 2002, up slightly from 17,400 in 2001. Historically, the majority of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were not wearing safety belts; that trend continued in 2002 with 59% unrestrained.

Fatalities in rollover crashes accounted for 82% of the total fatality increase in 2002. In 2002, 10,666 people died in rollover crashes, up 5% from 10,157 in 2001. The number of persons killed in sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that rolled over rose 14%. Sixty-one percent of all SUV fatalities involved rollovers.

In fatal crashes between passenger cars and LTVs (light trucks and vans, a category that includes SUVs), the occupants of the car were more often fatally injured. When a car was struck in the side by an LTV, the fatality was 20.8 times more likely to have been in the passenger car. In a head-on collision between a car and an LTV, the fatality was 3.3 times more likely to be among car occupants.

"It is time to acknowledge that history is calling us to another important task. It is the battle to stop the deaths and injuries on our roads and highways," the Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta said during an all-hands meeting with NHTSA, the FHWA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"The Bush Administration is committed to improving safety on our highways--safety is our highest transportation priority," said Mineta. "We have proposed a comprehensive series of initiatives to help make highways safer, and I personally urge states to pass tough laws prohibiting drunk driving and requiring the use of safety belts. Once and for all we must resolve the national epidemic on our highways."

FHWA issues wetland guidance

The FHWA has issued new guidance it hopes will help ensure the effective replacement of wetlands affected by federal-aid highway projects and improve regulatory decision making in the permit process. FHWA made the announcement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We're pleased to be part of fulfilling the first action item in the Bush administration's wetlands mitigation action plan that helps preserve the environment," said FHWA Administrator Mary Peters.

"This guidance further supports market-based approaches to achieving the best environmental results for aquatic resource protection," said G. Tracy Mehan III, EPA's assistant administrator for water.

Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, director of the civil works program of the Corps of Engineers, added, "This action is consistent with the Corps' environmental operating principles. The preference for mitigation banking ensures timely permit decisions. This represents a win-win approach to balancing critical infrastructure needs with the preservation of valuable aquatic resources."

The guidance is available on the FHWA website (www. fhwa.dot. gov/environment/wetland/wet_guid.htm).

Grove Worldwide reaches new ISO 9001 level

Grove Worldwide's Shady Grove, Pa., manufacturing and service complex has been certified to the ISO 9001:2000 standard. In 1994, Grove became the first crane manufacturer to be certified to the ISO 9001:1994 standard and is now one of the first to be qualified under the new, more comprehensive standard.

Grove has been working for the past year and a half under the direction of the auditing registrar British Standards Institute to gain acceptance to this international quality standard.

The previous ISO 9001 standard was focused primarily on the manufacturing process. The new 2000 standard is more comprehensive and now the ISO Quality Management System controls the entire business management system. It covers business process relationships that extend through to the customer and has integrated elements of both the U.S. and European quality awards.

Walnut Creek installing new traffic signal controllers

Traffic signals in Walnut Creek, Calif., will soon be better able to adjust their timing to traffic conditions and let traffic flow more smoothly. The city is wrapping up a $1.65 million upgrade to the signal control equipment at all 96 intersections with signals and the operations center, the Contra Costa Times reported. Federal, state and other sources are paying for most of the work, with the city contributing about $200,000.

New controllers installed at every intersection will be capable of gathering traffic information and changing signals according to a variety of timing plans. For instance, the controllers will recognize the absence of oncoming traffic and allow waiting vehicles to make a left turn through the intersection.

In the operations center, staffers will be able to remotely operate video cameras installed at 16 key intersections and look for problems in traffic flow. A new signal master computer in the operations center will communicate with the controllers and traffic sensors in the field, execute timing plans and even page workers when something goes wrong.

The city hopes the improvements will boost traffic flow by 3-5%.

DOT awards research grants

The U.S. DOT has announced 13 grants totaling over $14.7 million in support of advanced transportation-related research at University Transportation Centers (UTC) nationwide.

More than 75 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. participate in UTCs to conduct combined programs of transportation research, education and technology transfer. Last year, the UTC colleges and universities graduated more than 1,000 students with advanced transportation-related degrees, offered almost 2,000 undergraduate and graduate transportation courses, conducted more than 400 research projects and trained more than 24,000 practicing transportation professionals.

The biggest winner was the University of Minnesota's Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, which was awarded $2 million.