Testing Biometric Sensors for Use in Micromobility Safety

Biometric sensors have long been used in cognitive psychology to measure the stress-level of individuals. These sensors can measure a variety of human behaviors that translate as stress: the movement of eyes, stress-induced sweat, and heart rate variability. Recently, this research strategy has moved beyond psychology and into disciplines like transportation planning, to provide an alternative approach to researching micromobility and stress.  

We spoke with Dr. Wenwen Zhang, associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, about her experience learning about and using biometrics for a micromobility study. Dr. Zhang’s research, “Rider-Centric Approach to Micromobility Safety” examines the stress levels of micromobility users as they transverse a varied path through an urban space.  


Q. How is your research funded? 

A. Funding comes from multiple sources. The first source is a seed grant from the Rutgers Research Council which supports an interdisciplinary pilot project. Through this grant, we purchased biometric sensors and hired students to conduct a literature review and develop a research design. We also processed the collected pilot data and paid for participation incentives under this funding. I presented preliminary findings from this study, Rider-Centric Approach to Micromobility Safety, at the 2023 NJDOT Research Showcase. At the time that I presented it, I had 24 samples. The presentation ended up inspiring several people who attended the Research Showcase to volunteer as participants—which increased the sample size to 30.

Our other source of funding came from an external grant from the C2Smart University Transportation Center (UTC) at NYU. We used this resource to support obtaining additional stress sensors, data analysis, cleaning, preprocessing, and modeling, as well as collecting more sample data for the E-scooter and bicycle experiments.

Q. How did you get interested in using biometrics sensors (e.g., eye tracking glasses, galvanic skin sensor, heart rate monitors) to study micromobility safety? How does this research differ from your past work? 

A. Before I used biometric sensors, most of my work used passive travel behavior data. For example, to determine the revealed preferences of mode and route choices and risk factors, we used travel trajectory or existing crash big data to develop statistical models. I have found that the entire process is very passive, especially since we only explore risk factors after traffic accidents. It’s surprising that in the research field today we know so little about how human beings actually navigate urban environments while using different travel modes and how it relates to perceived safety. I wanted to explore questions like what is their gaze behavior? How do they feel while they travel using different modes? How do they feel traveling on roads with different design features and how is that going to influence their travel satisfaction or experience overall? 

Dr. Robert Noland, Distinguished Professor at the Rutgers Bloustein School, suggested I investigate the use of biometrics in planning studies. As I dug more into the literature, I realized that biometrics in transportation is a very fascinating topic that I wanted to get into. Once I did experiments in the field, I realized that I really enjoyed talking with different people about how they perceive the built environment while they travel. Biometrics provide richer data compared with revealed preference data that I used to work with.

Q. In your research, you noticed that some corridors were more stress-inducing (according to biometric sensors) than expected, despite properly designed safety infrastructure. How do you think this discovery may affect how planners and engineers look at urban road design and micromobility safety? 

 A. This study collected one-time cross-sectional data. We asked people to walk around an area and tell us whether they feel stressed or not. If they are feeling stress, even in the presence of a safety improvement, it does not necessarily mean that the implemented safety design is not working. For example, in New Brunswick, we observed that a lot of people found it stress-inducing to cross Livingston Avenue, although it has been the subject of a road diet and has several pedestrian safety features incorporated into the new design. While outside our scope of research, one way to understand the impact of the safety infrastructure would be to conduct a “before” and “after” study. This leaves an opportunity for more research, to see how effective the pedestrian-only infrastructure is in reducing stress level. Potentially, it can provide evidence to support pedestrian-only design. Biometric sensors used in a “before and after” study can help us to answer which infrastructure is more preferred. 

Q. You are in the process of collecting data for cyclists and e-scooters using the same method, what are your principal objectives in addressing this segment? Do you expect the results to be different?

Dr. Zhang conducted one pilot e-scooter experiment at Asbury Park, NJ in 2022 to test out the devices and examine how to set up research experiments. She equipped the e-scooter rider, Dr. Hannah Younes, post-doc researcher at the Rutgers Bloustein School, with an eye tracking glass, a GSR sensor on the hand, and a 360-degree camera on top of the helmet.

A. Yes, absolutely, different travel modes will likely alter a person’s expectation for a safe travel environment. For example, we noticed a big difference in the enjoyment of pedestrians and e-scooters on the same path through a park. We had thought that the e-scooter users would enjoy the ride as the pedestrians had, however, the pavement was too rough for the small wheels of the e-scooters. Although the park was walking-friendly, it was not friendly for e-scooters. This shows that each of these micromobility modes needs different kinds of support to feel safe and comfortable.

Q. What are the limitations to this study? Do you have plans for future research to address this? How would you like to expand your research in this topic?

A. Each of the biometric sensors has limitations. For example, eye trackers face some difficulty when identifying the pupils of a participant in direct sunlight. As a result, the eye tracker renders a low eye tracking rate. Eye trackers also work better with darker eyes as the eye movements are more readily recognized. The eye trackers, kept on glasses, also restrict individuals who wear glasses from participating. The unfortunate result of this is that it often excludes a lot of senior people from the experiment. This issue may be alleviated as we are obtaining additional funding to obtain prescription lenses for eye trackers.

GSR sensors use low voltage on skin to measure skin conductivity, which may interfere with electric health devices. This limits individuals from participating if they have an electric health device like a pacemaker on or in their body. We purposefully excluded this population from participating to align with IRB (Institutional Review Board) protocol and to mitigate any risks.

Another limitation of the study is that we must collect sample data one by one, which is a time-consuming process. We can only collect a very small sample compared to a traditional statistical model kind of study, which may have access to thousands of records in the sample. From our literature review, biometrics sensor studies typically involve 20 to 30 participants, but for each participant we have a very rich dataset. For each participating volunteer, we end up with over one gigabyte of data. The limited number of participants may make it harder to generalize results to the entire population, and people may question the results applicability. In some ways this data is similar to the results of qualitative studies, where we have richer information but small sample size, rendering some generalizability issues. 

Feelings of safety were measured using the traditional self-report survey as well as biometric trackers like Heart Rate Trackers, Eye trackers and GSR (pictured above).

Q. What challenges have you found in working with biometrics sensors, or in the interpretation of output measures?

A. The eye tracker and heart rate measures are reliable, but some biometrics have posed challenges. The GSR (galvanic skin response sensor), which tests your sweat level, is very sensitive to humidity and time of the day. The sensor also picks up on sweat resulting from physical exertion, making it difficult to distinguish between stress-induced sweat and physical sweat.

Interpretation of output measures for this metric requires data cleaning and processing to eliminate the effect of sweating from physical exertion. We try to decompose the data to separate the emotional peak from the sweating caused by physical activity using various algorithms. We are still underway testing out different algorithms to clean up the data. So far, we have found that GSR data are very real-time in nature and a good indicator for stress level but are very noisy data and requires some manual processing. This means we spend a lot of time preprocessing the collected data before conducting data analysis. 

Q. How do you expect this research to inform transportation agencies in New Jersey and elsewhere?

A. This type of research captures such rich data on travel behavior itself. Most of the literature using biometrics has been focused on driving, so this research expands the perspective. Here we’re focusing on slow mobility, like active travel and micromobility. Individuals who participate in slow mobility are more vulnerable road users, and we want to see how they behave in different travel environments. This can help agencies gain more insights into how to design safety infrastructure. Beyond that I can also envision the technology being used to evaluate whether certain improvements or infrastructure designs help to improve travel satisfaction or improve people’s experience at the same location by doing “before and after” studies. This type of study also allows you to measure and quantify the effect of the improvement. 

The use of biometric sensors in the field can also be used to foster meaningful public engagement processes to show the lived experience of different people in a neighborhood or traveling through a different corridor, which can be very powerful.

Q. Do you feel the research methods are at a stage where they are “ripe” for use on other demonstration projects, planning or project development studies?

A. After one year of experimentation, our project team can readily work with biometrics. We have a good understanding of sensor limitations and how to set up the sensors to correctly reduce noise as much as possible. Our experience has also helped determine what kind of metrics can be extracted successfully and reliably through the sensors.  

The most useful case for those sensors is to evaluate before and after, so that we can quantify how much people appreciate those implementations in a more accurate way. Beyond that, the sensors can also be effective infrastructure assessment tools. For example, imagine that you ask people to wear biometric sensors and do a bicycle infrastructure evaluation; the agencies can get more realistic and rich data compared with a more traditional survey approach. This rich data can help determine the most effective improvement. It ends up being more inclusive that way.

The tools can be very useful for fostering community engagement with vulnerable populations. For example, if agencies want to improve the accessibility for wheelchair users, they can ask individuals in wheelchairs to wear the sensors and move about an area. Recording and reviewing how they experience a journey is more powerful compared with just asking individuals with needs about their travel patterns. It’s going to be a more straightforward way to show the world how we can make the streets more inclusive for those vulnerable populations. 

Q. Do you think local governments and non-governmental organizations could make use of biometrics sensors as a strategy to promote community engagement and outreach to local communities, or to address specific community safety or livability issues?  Would it be cost-prohibitive to employ such tools for such community-based planning issues at this time?  

A.  From my point of view, the most effective way would be for the agencies to identify where there are needs and promising projects and then work with skilled researchers or practitioners who have these sensors already and have begun to climb the learning curve in the use of sensors and interpretation — for example, they could work with us. They would need to pay for the researchers’ time and participation incentives, or if they were to collaborate with a UTC (University Transportation Center) to conduct such research collaboratively.  

The sensors are not the most expensive part of the study. The most expensive item is the researcher’s time to collect and analyze the data. The data are very complicated to analyze in the first place because it’s a large amount of data with noises. The researchers need to put in a lot of time to get it to the state where you can extract the relevant variables out and start to interpret them.

Q. How would you characterize the “state-of-training” in using biometrics for students or early career or mid-career professionals in transportation?    

A. The biometric sensor itself is not very new, but new to the transportation field, especially for slow modes. It has been widely used in cognitive psychology, where there are classes to interpret those as well. Generally, I don’t think the current transportation and urban planning curriculum for students includes enough classes to cover those sensors. We probably need to teach not only biometric sensors, but urban sensing in general. 

In an ideal course, students could get their hands dirty by putting those sensors in the field and then once the data are collected, they can learn how to preprocess and analyze the data. It would have to be a one-year kind of curriculum design to get people involved and ready for it. Of course, instruction on the use of sensors will differ by topic. For example, if you are working in the air quality field, then there are many different air quality sensors and each of them come with different data formats and require different experiment design and analytic skills.

Regarding the mid-career transportation professional, at this moment I believe the research is more in the academic field and focusing on testing and evaluation. I wouldn’t suggest that the research is so ripe that a mid-career transportation or urban planner professional should need to invest their time in learning how to use biosensors unless they have a research project that may benefit substantially from using the sensors.  


Resources

To learn more about the use of biometrics in the field of active transportation, see:

Ryerson, M., Long, C., Fichman, M., Davidson, J.H., Scudder, K.N., Kim, M., Katti, R., Poon, G. & Harris, M., (2021). Evaluating Cyclist Biometrics to Develop Urban Transportation Safety Metrics. Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 159, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457521003183?via%3Dihub

Fitch, D.T., Sharpnack, J. & Handy, S. (2020). Psychological Stress of Bicycling with Traffic: Examining Heart Rate Variability of Bicyclists in Natural Urban Environments. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behavior, Volume 70, 2020, Pages 81-97. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1369847819304073?via%3Dihub.

To read more on Dr. Zhang’s work, see:

Zhang, W. (2023). Rider-centric Approach to Micromobility Safety. 25th Annual NJDOT Research Showcase. Presentation. Retrieved from https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Zhang-Safety-2nd-Presentation.pdf.

Zhang. W. 25th Annual NJDOT Research Showcase. Recording starts at: 59:00. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/D_rQP-Dv8gU

Zhang, W., Buehler, R., Broaddus, A. & Sweeney, T. (2021). What Type of Infrastructures do E-scooter Riders Prefer? A Route Choice Model. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Volume 94, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1361920921000651.

For more information about the use of biometrics in the broader transportation field, see NYU’s C2SMART’s research project on Work Zone Safety:

Exploring the Future of Environmental Product Declarations at NJDOT: Q&A Interview with NJDOT’s Project Lead


Under the FHWA’s Climate Challenge, state DOTs and local agencies receive training and work with various stakeholders including those from industry and academia to implement projects that quantify the environmental impacts of pavements using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). EPDs provide an in-depth look at the use effects and environmental impacts of materials, processes, and mixtures. With a general goal to reduce carbon emissions, DOTs are moving towards the use of EPDs for selecting pavement uses and processes.

We spoke with Nusrat Morshed, Project Engineer in the Pavement Design & Technology Unit at NJDOT, about two FHWA project grants funded under the Climate Challenge initiative that she supervises. Both projects focus on the potential use of EPDs and LCA in New Jersey and will allow for NJDOT to develop a strong baseline understanding of EPD use.


FHWA Funded Climate Challenge Projects

Q. Can you tell us about two FHWA-funded Climate Challenge projects listed for New Jersey. How is NJDOT currently involved in these FHWA funded projects? What are tasks for these projects?

A. NJDOT applied for this research project funding in early 2023 after the advertisement was released. I had spoken with representatives from Rowan University and Rutgers University to gauge their interest in this research, and both were on board. EPDs is a very new concept and term within the transportation field. This made it challenging to determine what the project scope should be for our grant applications. We received funding from FHWA immediately, but there were some technical issues in the allocation of state and federal funding shares that we needed to sort out before we could proceed. Both research teams officially began work in September and October of 2023 and they will have until the end of 2024 to carry out the work.

The research team for Project 1, Utilization of EPDs and LCAs to Promote Sustainability in NJ’s Pavements, is led by Dr. Yusuf Mehta from Rowan University and they are teamed with the research sub-consultant, Advanced Infrastructure Design (AID). The objective of this project is to utilize EPDs and LCAs to promote consideration of sustainability in maintaining NJDOT’s pavement infrastructure. The tasks within this project scope include: conducting a literature review, defining the goals and scope of the comparative LCA analysis, data collection, and analysis of results and interpretation.

The research team for Project 2, Improve Sustainability of Asphalt Pavement Overlay in NJ, is led by Dr. Hao Wang from Rutgers University. The research project objective is to improve the sustainability of asphalt pavement overlay in New Jersey. The project’s basic tasks include: documenting experiences and lessons of using FHWA’s LCA PAVE tool based on analysis of pavement overlay project in New Jersey DOT, evaluating quantification methods for calculating carbon emissions at the use phase of pavement, providing recommendations for use of LCA in decision making of pavement overlays, and preparing a final report and presentation.

Example EPD summary, retrieved from USDOT FHWA Tech Brief: Building Blocks of Life-Cycle Thinking

I am the key point person for both projects.

Q. What is the status of these FHWA funded projects? What resources have been helpful so far?

A. Both projects are underway now but still in the early stages. I received a status report from Project 1 about a month ago and expect a status report from Project 2 before March. For both projects, the focus has been to complete a literature review. One resource that was particularly helpful was the National Asphalt Pavement Associations (NAPA) website, as they have a lot of information on EPDs — 15 EPDs thus far have been identified — which are NJDOT specifications. We have also reached and had a meeting with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to get information on their own EPD process.

Q. The FHWA Climate Challenge program seems like it has established an approach to promote knowledge sharing and fostering a community of practice. Can you tell us about it?
A. Every quarter, FHWA conducts a climate challenge webinar, and on this webinar there is usually a featured presentation from an expert and then brief update presentations from climate challenge project teams. These project teams extend beyond New Jersey, so other states can hear how NJDOT is doing with these projects and we can learn from our peers in other states.

Previously our updates have been limited to 2 or 3 slides, however, later this spring I will have two reports to base our presentation upon, which will be more comprehensive and reflective of NJDOT’s progress.

Attendees at a Climate Challenge Training session. source: FHWA

The quarterly webinars have been helpful and instructive. EPDs and sustainable resiliency are also very hot topics and several other resources are emerging that we can reference. For example, there was an entire session on EPDs at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting. Published literature has also been very helpful.

As a part of the project grants, FHWA is providing EPD-specific trainings. Both research teams and I have brainstormed about trainings our teams require. I have coordinated with FHWA as a Climate Challenge member and explained our training needs for accomplishing these two projects. FHWA and I drafted an agenda based on these research needs and we have scheduled a day and a half in-person training for March 2024. I requested that both of my teams submit their findings, as a status report before that training. So it also will be our official first status meeting for both project teams.

As a Project Engineer overseeing these projects, I am not able to work directly with the research, but I provide guidance to the universities and have been the communication bridge between them and FHWA. The training is hosted by FHWA and conducted by FHWA and a third-party organization that specializes in EPDs. These trainings are hosted throughout the U.S. To make this happen, FHWA provided us with their schedule, and we negotiated a time for them to do the training in March 2024.

Q. Who was in attendance for this training?

The training was done on March 12-13, 2024 at NJDOT. This training was focused on team members from both projects. There were representatives from the NJDOT Bureau of Materials, NJDOT Bureau of Statewide Strategies and NJDOT Division of Environmental Resources who participated.

Q. How has this funding assisted with NJDOT’s Every Day Counts (EDC) EPDs related goal?

Unless a NJ STIC Incentive Grant is awarded, FHWA does not provide any funding directly for advancing the EDC-7 innovation, but instead supports the deployment goals through the mobilization of FHWA resource specialists or subject matter experts who are farther along with innovation’s deployment. Luckily, the research of EPDs is a goal within EDC-7, so both of the funded Climate Challenge projects are indirectly supporting that EDC-7 goal.

Q. Have any pilot programs begun?

As we are still in the research stage for EPD use, we have not created any pilot programs yet.

Environmental Product Declarations in the Future

Q. Can you describe the status and implementation goal for NJDOT’s EDC-7 goal for advancing EPDs in New Jersey?

NJDOT’s EDC-7 goal for advancing EPDs in New Jersey is still in the preliminary stages of information gathering. Both of these climate challenge projects will assist with building up a robust set of literature that is necessary for next steps. Our goal is to get ideas for future recommendations. As of now, I would say we need to identify a few plants or suppliers and get some real-time data for different types of considerations based on research needs. Then we need to identify which way we can achieve EPD targets like lowering carbon emissions.

The stages of Pavement’s life cycle. Retrieved from USDOT FHWA Sustainable Pavements Program.

Q. What challenges, if any, has NJDOT faced while working to incorporate EPDs into pavement considerations?

EPD is based on many stages, which require their own literature review. For example, a product category rule, or a set of rules for measuring life-cycle analysis must be developed first. EPDs have different stages that all must be measured — specifically, the production stage, transportation stage and construction stage, or as they are called the A1, A2, A3. Achieving the goal of reduction in carbon emissions through EPDs requires a lot of research and literature review, and it will not be easy to get all the needed information, even when speaking with experts. Starting from scratch, the ability to quantify an EPD could take at least two years. So, it’s not that you will be getting something very quickly. We are just exploring now what is out there and how we can think about something in terms of New Jersey’s pavement mixes.

Q. How does NJDOT use or reference the published EPDs in New Jersey as reported by the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s Emerald Eco-Label tool?

We have looked at the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) website and reviewed their own PAVERS tool. It has been helpful to see how they do life-cycle analysis. They have their own LCA tool and we use the FHWA LCA tool — so there will most likely be differences. The FHWA LCA tool is expected to be updated soon.

Q. Do you foresee NJDOT having an embodied carbon clause added to NJDOT contract specifications? Will contractors be expected to submit an asphalt mix that provides EPDs to be considered for future contracts?

LCA PAVE Tool assists with analysis and quantification of the environmental impacts of existing products or processes. Retrieved from USDOT FHWA

Yes, definitely, we can dream, but it will take time. We need to identify and set the product category rule. More research is needed, maybe there will be future training opportunities on this topic from FHWA.

Q. Where is the biggest research gap when it comes to the incorporation and use of EPDs? Is it research on the pavement itself, or life cycle analysis, or something else?

EPD is not a single term, but a combination of a lot of things. In the process of determining an EPD for one pavement treatment, you must consider the process of installation, the type of pavement or asphalt mix, the binder and aggregate within the mix, etc. Because each of these processes require their own considerations, we must make the decision on what process and pavement, or asphalt mix should be evaluated first. We can then use our results to determine where the use of EPDs would be most helpful, or which process should be studied next. In other words, we cannot do everything at once, but rather start very specifically and focused, and then move out.

The five steps of developing Environmental Product Declarations (EPD). Retrieved from Tech Brief: Building Blocks of Life Cycle Thinking

 Q. Has NJDOT had an opportunity to use or test the FHWA LCA Pave Tool? If so, how does it use the tool?

I have used that tool before, but I just use it as a general gauge as I don’t have any real-time data currently. I will need training in the future on how to efficiently use the tool based on actual data. I also think this tool will be helpful in the future for determining if our results are realistic. Our research team members are using this tool.

 Q. How are you feeling about this initiative?

As a state government employee, I see this initiative as an effort that will help NJDOT be aligned with NJ’s clean energy policies. EPDs are a new topic for us, and everyone is very interested in learning more about it, including me. The funding opportunity that FHWA provided allows DOTs throughout the U.S. to explore this new topic and determine its applicability in the future of pavement and asphalt design.


Resources

FHWA Climate Challenge – Quantifying Emissions of Sustainable Pavements. FHWA webpage. Retrieved at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/climatechallenge/projects/index.cfm

LCA Pave Tool. FHWA webpage. Retrieved at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/lcatool/

Emerald Eco-Label. Webpage. Retrieved at https://asphaltepd.org/published?state=NJ

What is Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for Sustainable Project Delivery? Webpage. Retrieved at: https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/epds-for-sustainable-project-delivery/

Life Cycle Assessment: Part I Fundamentals. Webinar, FHWA Sustainable Pavements Webinar Series. Retrieved at: https://youtu.be/uaJ8wGMAPD0?si=oBHnBSN2K1589JEa

An Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment: Part II – EPDs and PCRs, FHWA Sustainable Pavements Webinar Series. Retrieved at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4OqVR6U2Us

Sustainable Pavements Program. FHWA Webpage. Retrieved at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/sustainability/

Sustainability Analysis: Environmental. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). FHWA Webpage. Retrieved at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/sustainability/environmental/

Meijer, J., Harvey, J., Butt, A., Kim, C., Ram, P., Smith, K., & Saboori, A. (2021). LCA Pave: A Tool to Assess Environmental Impacts of Pavement Material and Design Decisions-Underlying Methodology and Assumptions (No. FHWA-HIF-22-033). United States. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/lcatool/LCA_Pave_Tool_Methodology.pdf

Milleer, Lianna; Ciaviola, Benjamiin and Mukherjee, Amlan. (February 2024). EPD Benchmark for Asphalt Mixtures, SIP-108. Prepared for National Asphalt Pavement Association by WAP Sustainability. Retrieved at: https://www.asphaltpavement.org/uploads/documents/EPD_Program/NAPA-SIP108-EPDBenchmarkForAsphaltMixtures-Feb2024.pdf

Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) Applications in New Jersey – An Update

UHPC for Bridge Preservation and Repair is a model innovation that was featured in FHWA’s Every Day Counts Program (EDC-6).  UHPC is recognized as an innovative new material that can be used to extend the life of bridges. Its enhanced strength reduces the need for repairs, adding to the service life of a facility.   

This Q&A article has been prepared following an interview with Jess Mendenhall and Samer Rabie of NJDOT, who provided an update on the pilot projects of UHPC around the state. The interview has been edited for clarity. 

Q.  While EDC-6 was underway, we spoke with your unit about the pilot projects being undertaken with UHPC.  Some initial lessons were shared subsequently in a featured presentation given to the NJ STIC.  Can you update us on results of those projects, and did they yield any benefits in the fields of safety or environmental considerations?

For the NJDOT Pilot Project, the thickness of the overlay was limited by the required depth for effectiveness, as well as the cost of the UHPC material and environmental permitting. To mitigate environmental permitting, we avoided any modifications to the existing elevations and geometry of the structure. Essentially, any removal of asphalt and concrete needed to be replaced to its original elevations.

UHPC overlays can significantly extend the service of bridge decks and even increase a structure’s capacity. Although safety improvements were not the primary objective of this application, there were rideability and surface drainage considerations in the design to enhance the conditions for the road users.

The environmental impacts of structural designs must be compared on the cradle-to-grave use cycle of the design at a project scale.  Having a focus on sustainability is imperative; however, it is more meaningful when resiliency is also considered.  While the greenhouse gas emissions of a volume of UHPC are higher than those of the same volume of concrete, UHPC enables the reduction in the amount of material required in structural designs and improves the durability of structures. Its exceptional compressive strength and toughness allow for the reduction of material usage. By minimizing maintenance requirements and extending the lifespan of infrastructure, UHPC reduces the consumption of materials, energy, and resources over time.

For example, we installed this overlay on 4 bridges as a preservation technique. Had we done nothing, they would have lasted approximately 10 more years. During that time they would have needed routine deck patching resulting in further contamination of the decks and in a condition that is no longer preservable and requires total deck replacement, with large volumes of concrete and much more environmental impact.

UHPC allowed us to take these decks that are still in decent shape and preserve them now with a relatively thin layer to make them exceed the service life of the superstructure and substructure.

Q. Has UHPC been incorporated into the design manual?

Figure 1. UHPC being placed by workers

It is not in our current design manual, but we are working on the revised design manual. UHPC is presently being used for all closure pores between prefabricated components, overlays, and link-slabs. I don’t think we are ready to standardize it quite yet. We used it on the 4 bridges and it will continue to be used, but we will not standardize it until the industry is more predictable and we get more experience to develop thorough guidelines and specifications. It is incorporated into projects as a special provision with non-standard items.

Q. Have you been receiving more requests to use this technology from around the state?

It is much more commonly specified by designers or requested for use on many of our projects. We have responded to nationwide inquiries from state transportation agencies and universities seeking our specifications or input on specific testing and procedures.

Q. What efforts do you think can be taken to encourage more adoption amongst local agencies, counties, etc.?

We are keen on inviting the counties to any training or workshop that we are hosting as well as sharing our lessons learned thus far.  I think they are aware of it.

Q. What kind of hurdles do you think exist that may limit widespread adoption?

It is possible that initial cost and industry experience with the material are still major limiting factors in adoption. We have also learned from specialty UHPC contractors that the innovation and availability of construction equipment geared for UHPC implementation are also lacking.  Bringing into focus the life cycle costs and with more implementations, we think many of these hurdles will be overcome. Additionally, once UHPC is used more in routine maintenance the implementation would be more frequent and widespread; we know there is interest specifically in UHPC shotcrete once it is available.

Q. Are you familiar with any training, workshops, or conferences that have been done for staff or their partners on this topic?

We participated in the Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) conference in Miami, Florida, the International Bridge Conference (IBC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the New York State DOT Peer Exchange. In Delaware, we presented at the Third International Interactive Symposium on UHPC. We also participated in the development of a UHPC course for the AASHTO Technical Training Solutions (TTS formerly TC3) which is now published on the AASHTO TTS portal and available on our LMS internally. 

Q. Do you think there is any special training needed for the construction workforce to start using this technology?

Absolutely, the AASHTO TTS course and the EDC-6 workshops are geared towards the design and construction, TTS is more focused in the Construction. It’s an introduction to what to expect and how to implement it. UHPC is often used for repair projects, and many contractors may not have the experience or comfort with using the material.

Figure 2. UHPC Testing at Rutgers’ CAIT

Q. What are the results of the pilot projects of UHPC?

This Pilot projects program demonstrated that UHPC overlays can be successfully placed on various structures, the work can be completed rapidly to minimize traffic impacts — we estimated roughly four weeks of traffic disruption per stage, and the benefits of UHPC can help preserve the existing infrastructure. Compared to deck replacement, UHPC overlays can rehabilitate a bridge deck at exceptional speeds with unique constructability and traffic patterns, as implemented in all four structures. However, limitations exist, and further research is necessary to investigate the issues identified in the pilot project, but the potential of this material outweighs the existing limitations.

Q. Has there been long-term testing data developed to gather performance data?

To assess the performance of the UHPC overlay, we put together a testing program to include NDT as well as physical sampling and lab testing. This objective will be accomplished by first establishing baseline conditions through an initial survey followed by periodic monitoring of the UHPC-overlaid bridges over succeeding years. This will help NJDOT assess the performance of UHPC as an overlay. Overall, the results show the overlay bond is performing well.

Q. Has the data from the pilot project been used to research further applications?

Further applications for UHPC overlay are on new bridge decks/superstructures, and the data from UHPC overlay research project are being used for these projects. There is an interest in header reconstruction with UHPC. If deck joints need to be replaced, they should be constructed with conventional HPC with UHPC at the surface to provide the same overlay protection over the entire structure. Also, self-consolidating and self-leveling UHPC was preferred for the full-depth UHPC header placement to ensure proper consolidation around tight corners and reinforcement. This will be further explored for maintenance operations as well.

For future projects, in lieu of full-depth header reconstruction in a single lift, a partial depth header removal and reconstruction or alternatively two lifts of header concrete should be evaluated to coincide with the deck overlay, in which case the benefits of the fast cure times from UHPC can still be realized. Two of the four bridges experienced air voids throughout the placement. A UHPC slurry with no

fibers was placed in the identified air voids; since the voids contained exposed fibers, they were considered to create adequate bonding with the UHPC slurry.

Resources

NJDOT Technology Transfer (2021, November). Stronger, More Resilient Bridges: Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) Applications in New Jersey.  Interview with Pranav Lathia, Retrieved from:  https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/11/29/uhpc-stronger-more-resilient-bridges/

Mendenhall, Jess and Rabie, Samer. (2021, October 20). UHPC Overlays for Bridge Preservation—Lessons Learned. New Jersey Department of Transportation. https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/NJDOT-UHPC-Overlay-Research-Project-EDC-6-Workshop.pdf

New Jersey Department of Transportation. (2021, October 20). NJDOT Workshop Report. New Jersey Department of Transportation. https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/NJDOT-UHPC-Workshop-Final-Report.pdf

Rabie, Samer and Jess Mendenhall (2022, December). Design, Construction, and Evaluation of UHPC Bridge Deck Overlays for NJDOT.  NJ STIC Presentation and Recording.  Retrieved from:  https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2022/12/18/nj-stic-4th-quarter-2022-meeting/

Q&A: What’s EPIC2 about Internally Cured Concrete?

Enhancing Performance with Internally Cured Concrete (EPIC2) is a model innovation in the latest round of the FHWA’s Every Day Counts Program (EDC-7). EPIC2 is recognized as an innovative new technique that can be used to extend the life of concrete bridges and roads. Internal curing increases concrete’s resistance to early cracking, allowing the production of higher-performance concretes that may last more than 75 years.

This Q&A article has been prepared following an interview and follow-up correspondence with Samer Rabie and Jess Mendenhall of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The Q&A interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Q. What is Internally Cured Concrete, and how does it differ from traditional concrete?

A common issue with high performance concrete (HPC) bridge decks is that soon after the curing is done, they develop fine shrinkage cracks spread throughout the deck. Even this fine cracking can reduce the service life. In the past, we have used crack sealing materials as a mitigation effort, but when we learned about internally cured concrete, we shifted our focus to see if we could adopt it in New Jersey.

Figure 1. Illustrating the difference between conventional and internal curing

Autogenous or chemical shrinkage is specific to HPC concrete, where the w/c ratio is less than 0.42. It is due to self-desiccation, which is water consumed by the cementitious materials after setting, and that is one where internal curing can help.

There are multiple methods to implement internal curing. The method that we are considering involves  modifying a conventional concrete mixture to an internally cured concrete mixture by replacing a portion of the fine aggregate (sand) with lightweight fine aggregate. This lightweight fine aggregate (LWFA) is saturated with internal curing water, typically estimated at 7lbs of water for every 100lbs of cementitious materials used in the mixture. Next, the amount of LWA required for this amount of internal curing water is determined based on the mass of the internal curing water and the absorption of the LWFA. Once the total volume and mass of lightweight aggregate are determined, the volume (and mass) of the fine lightweight aggregate are adjusted so that the volume of LWFA and fine aggregate in the internally cured mixture is equal to the volume of the fine aggregate in the original mixture.

The LWFA will provide internal curing water within the concrete mix during curing, and prevent a condition that occurs in low W/CM ratio systems where the capillary water within the concrete matrix pores will be consumed without complete cement hydration, which can lead to cracking of the concrete matrix.

Q. How does Internally Cured Concrete improve performance?

Internal curing improves the performance of concrete by increasing the reaction of the cementitious materials and reducing internal stresses that typically develop in high-cementitious content mixtures if insufficient internal curing water is present. However, in addition to conventional curing which supplies water from the surface of concrete, internal curing provides curing water from the aggregates within the concrete. This provides a source of moisture from inside the concrete mixture, improving its resistance to cracking and overall durability.

Q. Are there any limitations on the use of internally cured concrete?

Internal curing is extremely versatile and  can generally be used anywhere traditional concrete is used. Most of the process is the same, and aggregates can be pre-saturated as needed. It follows the norms of industrial concrete production, making it accessible to any producer already familiar with the state of practice. Most of the implementation process is similar to conventional concrete.

Figure 2. Workers applying internally cured concrete to a bridge deck.

Q. What New Jersey sites were picked for use in internally cured concrete, and why?

We started with a list of all of our bridge projects, specifically projects that needed deck replacement and superstructure replacement. We then further targeted projects that allowed us to focus on implementation and quick delivery time rather than constructability and other additional challenges. We looked at projects with straightforward staging and geometry and prioritized projects with twin bridges (for example, northbound and southbound). This would allow us to do one bridge with traditional HPC and the other with internally cured HPC, providing us with an excellent controlled opportunity to study and compare the results.

Various sites have been screened throughout the state. Currently, eight bridges are under consideration, with a project scope of work of deck and superstructure replacement. The rationale included the project scope of work, CIP deck slabs, project schedule, staging constraints, and avoiding heavily skewed bridges.

Q. Have any life cycle cost analyses been performed?

We have not prepared one ourselves, but we do plan on doing so in the future. First, we will need to get these projects out to construction and get actual cost data. We’re expecting higher upfront costs, but if cracking is reduced then the life cycle costs and future maintenance and reconstruction needs can be significantly reduced.

Q. In what ways do you think people can be better educated on the implementation of EPIC2?

We have presented to many of our stakeholders in our capital program to discuss the topic, and now that it is an EDC initiative,  decision makers are acknowledging its value. The Federal Highway Administration is also planning on conducting workshops and peer exchanges between contractors, concrete suppliers, and other agencies like New York State DOT, which have already done this. All of these are extremely valuable.

We first heard about internally cured concrete during a peer exchange in 2021 with the New York State DOT. It was under the banner of EDC-6, and they took us out on several bridges where we noted that they have significantly reduced the typical shrinkage cracking that is common with High Performance Concrete. So that was an eye opening experience for us, and I know it would be valuable to others. The fact that it is now its own initiative in EDC-7 helps facilitate implementation.

Q. Is special training needed for contractors to work with internally cured concrete?

From our research and experience with other agencies, the finishing should not be significantly different from conventional HPC. The process at that point will be almost identical to placing traditional concrete, so there won’t be any learning curve or time spent on getting workers to learn how to deal with a new material. In fact, most contractors say that the mixture is easier to work due to improved pumpability as the material is quite smooth. I think the crucial step will be to coordinate with concrete production plants that are creating the mixes.

Figure 3. States that have implemented EPIC2 on their roads or bridges

Q. Where else has internally cured concrete been implemented?

So far it has been used in bridge decks in many states, including New York, Ohio, and North Carolina, among others. It has also been used in pavement and pavements in Kansas, Texas and Michigan.

Q. What is the future of internally cured concrete in New Jersey?

We hope these projects will be successful, and that our current crop of projects will result in some valuable lessons learned. In the long term, I believe the goal would be that all of the bridge decks would use an internally cured mixture. I can also see this being used for patching and deck repair jobs. But ultimately, the goal would be for this to become the new standard for bridge decks across the state.


Resources

Federal Highway Administration. 2023 Internally Curing Concrete Produces EPIC2 Results. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/innovator/issue98/page_01.html

Federal Highway Administration. 2023. Enhancing Performance with Internally Cured Concrete. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_7/docs/EDC-7FactsheetEPIC2.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2018, June). Concrete Clips: Internal Curing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6WREFmacaM

New York State DOT Standard Specifications (2021). Standard Specifications. New York State DOT. https://www.dot.ny.gov/main/business-center/engineering/specifications/busi-e-standards-usc/usc-repository/2021_9_specs_usc_vol2.pdf

National Concrete Pavement Technology Center Internal Curing Resources. (2022). Internal Curing. Iowa State University. https://cptechcenter.org/internal-curing/

Internal Curing. (2020). Oregon State University. https://engineering.oregonstate.edu/CCE/research/asphalt-materials-performance-lab/materials-research-concrete-materials/Internal-Curing

Pacheco, Jose. (2021, October). USDOT Workshop Report, Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Wisconsin Department of Transportation. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/62607

Weiss, Joseph. (2015, July). Internal Curing Technical Brief. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/concrete/pubs/hif16006.pdf

Strategic Workforce Development: Preparing Justice-Impacted Individuals for Transportation, Engineering and Construction Careers

Strategic Workforce Development, an innovative initiative of the Every Day Counts Program, suggests the importance of fostering an environment and partnerships favorable to training programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, and support for women and minorities in the construction workforce, among other strategies. The Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP), housed in Rutgers’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), has provided several strategic workforce development programming to vulnerable populations in and around Camden, NJ. While the program supports a variety of individuals, a majority of those served are justice-impacted and from historically underserved or vulnerable populations. With the continued success of these services, RYSP has grown and developed, most recently starting a new program focused on enhancing employment access in the transportation, infrastructure, and construction fields, called PACE (Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education), sponsored by the Apprenticeship Office of NJDOL. The program has also taken a new name to reflect its expansion into serving adults and focusing more closely on employment: Rutgers Employment Success Program (RESP).

We interviewed Todd Pisani, the Training Director of Rutgers Employment Success Programs. Todd has been working for the past ten years on strategic workforce development programs for justice-impacted individuals in Camden, NJ. His work started with the creation of the Rutgers Youth Success Program and has developed into several Camden, New Brunswick, and South Jersey based programs focused on bridging employment gaps for justice-challenged individuals.

Q. Can you tell us about the Rutgers Employment Success Program?

A. The Rutgers Employment Success Program (previously the Rutgers Youth Success Program) supports up to 120 justice-impacted youth in and around Camden, NJ, with job readiness, career exposure, work experience, education, and legal services. The program addresses some of the challenges many young people face following involvement in the juvenile justice system, especially with employment and accessing education. The program is funded by the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development (NJDOL) and is a collaboration between Rutgers University and the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT).

Participants of the Rutgers Youth Success Program learn from field professionals about automotive repairs

By the end of 2024, we will be serving 400 individuals and hope to increase this number going forward. While the program began with serving young individuals, we have found that expanding into an older age cohort, 18+ years, has been successful. We work directly with vulnerable populations — for example, black and brown people, individuals from historically underserved communities, returning citizens, or otherwise justice impacted people — to address employment barriers. Our approach includes consideration and support for people with mental, behavioral, or psychiatric health challenges. In addition to our on-the-ground work, we advocate for the change of harmful systems that pose barriers to employment by initiating a change in language and policy that have historically slowed progress and support for the populations we serve.

Q. How did you get involved in the Rutgers Youth Success Program and what has kept you involved for the past 10 years? 

A. After several years as an employee affiliated with the Cooperative Extension program at Rutgers, Camden, we were successful in putting together a team that included Dr. Clifton Lacy, former Commissioner of Health and head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that attracted federal funding. That 1.2 million dollar longitudinal research project studied recidivism and violence among justice impacted youth over 3 years, and led me to collaborate with Rutgers CAIT. When a staffing change presented an opportunity, we were able to move the continuation of funding from Cooperative Extension to CAIT. The program remained consistent with its goals and mission and our support for individuals remains the same, but we have been able to expand the program and strengthen our ties to the engineering, transportation, and infrastructure realm.

Q. One of the goals of the Rutgers Employment Success Program is to address some of the barriers under-represented, or justice-challenged individuals face when pursuing a career. What do some of these barriers look like and how is this program targeting these? 

A. The barriers are baked into the system as a whole — and there are many organizations and even political movements that are working to change that trajectory. The most prevalent barriers include:

  • The outrageous and arbitrary time individuals must wait after incarceration to even be considered for some positions. We combat that by pushing for improved hiring policies, advocacy efforts in a variety of environments including discussions with trade unions, partnerships with community colleges and their affiliates, and developing relationships with specific employers and helping them see the value in hiring returning citizens.
  • Trauma and PTSD are common effects of incarceration and experience in the justice system. These conditions may make finding or receiving employment challenging and advocating for oneself even more so. We lead our program from a strengths-based trauma-informed approach, ensuring that everyone is treated with respect, honor, and dignity.
  • Justice-impacted individuals are often restricted from decision-making rooms. We utilize our privilege by inviting in justice-impacted leaders to rooms they often are kept from. We have several justice-impacted individuals on our team, so we lead by example. The resulting interactions with Judges, attorneys and law enforcement encourage human to human interactions and help those in power rethink their language and approaches.
  • Low exposure to higher education. We encourage individuals to dream and follow their professional interests. Our program also provides individuals with tours of colleges and supportive conversations, proving that it is a viable option for them.

Q. How has the Rutgers Employment Success Program been received by justice-challenged individuals? 

A. There are hits and misses, like any group of individuals. We hire people who are reflective culturally of the communities we serve — most of the team are black or brown people, including the team leads. We have several Spanish speakers on the team. And 2 have been justice impacted themselves, one a well-known community leader who spent over 30 years in prison for a crime committed as a teenager. He earned  his degree in Criminal Justice from Rutgers while incarcerated as part of the NJ STEP (Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons) program, and has emerged as an amazing advocate for returning citizens, and has helped us link to the returning citizens  community in an authentic, immersive, and heartfelt way.

Our past participants have been extremely helpful with refining our practices by voicing their own experience and suggestions for improvements. Most recently we changed some of our intake paperwork to make it easier to access and friendlier, as requested. Participants have also identified system challenges, like the selective service status letter requirement which automatically creates a barrier for some. We really appreciate this feedback, and we also look to our sponsors for advice and suggestions.

Q. Are there any populations you are having difficulty reaching?

A. The population we serve is mostly minorities and men. We have promoted and recruited our programs across gender identities and have had female program coordinators. However, our most recent research project was a 90/10 split male to female. This is most likely a result of the gender disparity of justice-impacted youth; there are far less women and girls entangled by the justice-impacted world. We have engaged young women in our apprenticeship projects and have a black female instructor who teaches occupational safety and heavy equipment—she is very active and vocal about bringing women into the trades. Our hope is to encourage more women into the field; however, we don’t necessarily want more females to be impacted by justice. Since the NJDOL has infused the importance of targeting other populations into their grant opportunities by listing the variety of individuals traditionally harder to reach or less likely to consider the trades, we expect that employers and trade unions will follow suit and make diversity and inclusion a priority, if they haven’t already.

Q. Why are transportation and infrastructure important fields for the population you serve to connect to?

A. Many of our individuals we serve or have served identify hands-on work as appealing to them. They tend toward less office-based employment and more toward the trade industries, including transportation. Other fields of interest include construction, heavy equipment, offshore wind and other green energy solutions.

Q. Speaking of participant interest in construction and transportation careers, tell us about the new RYSP program, PACE.

A. The Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education program, or PACE, is an exciting new apprenticeship program that has recently been added to the suite of Rutgers Youth Success Program services. The program is modeled after past NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development models and will prepare participants with the necessary experience to apply for apprenticeships. Our program began in July 2023 and currently has funding for 30 participants from around the North Brunswick area. PACE goes beyond the foundational support that RYSP provides to disconnected or justice impacted youth, by increasing direct services to emerging adults 17-24 years old who are not immediately interested in or applying to college but would like to explore immediate career options.

Flyer for PACE Program Targeted to Heavy Equipment Operations

This program follows several successful programs through RESP, and in many cases incorporates the lessons learned from previous participants. Individuals not pursuing a degree following high school are often encouraged into service industry fields and healthcare, as preparation programs are more readily available. However, past participants have really expressed interest in hands-on skill training and work. Therefore, PACE is aiming to address this gap by establishing pathways for underserved populations to work in the transportation, infrastructure, or construction fields. In this case, participants will move through the Operating Engineers introductory curriculum, which includes:

  • 10 hours of on-the-job shadowing, with placement support through Hudson County Community College;
  • 30 hours of training to receive OSHA construction industry certification that will be provided by our long-standing partnership with Myers Crossing LLC.
  • Taking the Operating Engineers introductory course at Hudson County community College
  • Exposure and connections to Local 825, the International Union of Operating Engineers, which has a hands-on training facility and a training initiative with Hudson County Community College, its Earn and Learn Program.  

The goal is to expand the possible futures of each participant, allowing them to:

  • Begin an entry-level job in the transportation, infrastructure, or construction field.
  • Participate in a registered apprenticeship program.
  • Enroll in an educational program, like the Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies at Hudson County Community College

We anticipate making employment, apprenticeship, or full-time training or education quality placements   for at least 20 of our pre-apprentices in operating engineering by December 2024.

Debbie Myers of Myers Crossing, LLC instructing a PACE participant during an OSHA training session

We also have built a relationship with NJ Transit, NJDOT, and other large infrastructure related employers and are hopeful this will assist with job placements for younger people (18-19 years), which can be more challenging.

Q. In addition to the new PACE program, you are listed as the part of the lead research team for the EDC-7 Pilot Evaluation of Strategic Workforce Development for Justice-Challenged Youth research project. Could you tell us more about this work?

A. This is a very new research project, so I don’t have a lot to share yet. Our team will develop a set of best practices for strategic workforce development in the transportation and infrastructure fields using a nationwide survey of current workforce development programs that assist justice-impacted youth. The research is managed by the National Center for Infrastructure Transformation, led by Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and performed by Rutgers University and the Prairie View A&M. My hope is to strengthen our current efforts and support multiple projects through this project.

Q. What types of agencies will benefit from these best practices for Strategic workforce development? 

A. We are voting members of the Camden Youth Services Commission; each county has a version of this. The biggest benefactor for this research project will be the local youth justice system folks who are always seeking alternative methods for creating positive preventive and diversionary pathways as well as providing alternatives to detention or other punitive responses especially for young, justice-impacted individuals. Partner organizations that include the community colleges, Pathstone, Volunteer’s of America, and others will benefit from having access to a database of models for moving impacted young people into the workforce or training sectors. The transportation employer sectors, and other employers can benefit when presented with supportive data from other areas where these projects have found success. For example, if they are doing something amazing and successful in California that we can replicate and demonstrate its efficacy using data, it can potentially erode resistance and allow for larger organizations to overcome the risk factor and partner with organizations like Rutgers providing the support services to lean toward success for all. 

Q.  Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?

Todd Pisani takes group selfie with participants and colleagues from the Youth Success Program.

A. We had an 82 percent benchmark attainment rate at the conclusion of the pilot Bridges program, which we are now in the first year of a 3-year continuation cycle. That project grew from serving 40 during the beginning of the pandemic when no in-person contact was allowed, to 100 served in the Camden area alone in 2022, and we are now on track to serving 120 in Camden and New Brunswick.

We have sought to successfully intertwine research and community-serving initiatives through multiple projects – our four NJDOL projects have been specifically project-based with no research specifically attached to them.  The EDC-7 Pilot Evaluation Study of Strategic Workforce Development for Justice-Challenged Youth, as well as others, can help to attract attention, provide reinforcement for our effort, and place the work itself into a scholarly context. We believe we can use the research to refine our projects, but also improve the design of research about the populations we serve.

Language is an important component of our work; for instance, we started using the term “justice impacted” instead of justice involved, primarily to demonstrate that nobody really wants to be “involved’ in justice world, and to plant the seed that there is an impact here that can shift the whole picture for many folks, especially black and brown individuals who have been disproportionately targeted and treated differently at all levels of the justice system, including in policing, sentencing structure and disciplinary policies in schools. Research helps solidify philosophical or observational notions, and provides an undergirding for the work itself, which for our implementation teams is the most important factor—helping to shift the trajectory for a young person, or an older individual for that matter. 


Resources

Rutgers Youth Success Program
https://cait.rutgers.edu/facilities-equipment/rutgers-youth-success-program/

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 7, Strategic Workforce Development
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_7/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825
http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development
https://njworkforce.org

Camden Youth Services Commission
Youth Services Commission | Camden County, NJ

National Center for Infrastructure Transformation Prairie View
National Center for Infrastructure Transformation (NCIT) – Led by Prairie View A&M University (pvamu.edu)

Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies at Hudson County Community College
Technical Studies AAS (hccc.edu)

Operating Engineers Local 825 Earn and Learn Program
825 Earn and Learn

For information on current workforce development programs see:

NJ Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships
https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities
https://njpathways.org/centers-of-workforce-innovation/

For information on re-entry support programs in New Jersey visit: Governor’s Reentry Training & Employment Center NJRC (njreentry.org)

For information on re-entry support for women, visit: The_Womens_Project_2023.pdf (njreentry.org)

Strategic Workforce Development: A Follow-Up Conversation with Hudson County Community College and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.
The IUOE has named the hybrid apprentice program “Earn and Learn.” The first student cohort began class in January 2022.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 and 7 innovation, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies, and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction, and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. The recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector is integral to the initiative. Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping the future workforce, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Lori Margolin, the Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) and Greg LaLevee, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 for an update on their apprenticeship program entitled Earn & Learn.

Earn & Learn Program Background

The IUOE Earn & Learn program is an advanced manufacturing initiative supported by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant. HCCC and IUOE Local 825 established the program in November 2021 through an articulation agreement. The program gives students the opportunity to be dually enrolled in the union apprenticeship program and HCCC, where they will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies degree after they complete 60 credits.

During an 18-month period, participants earn 30 credits from on-the-job training and education provided by the union and are scheduled to earn the other 30 credits from HCCC over five semesters. They attend HCCC part-time, taking two classes per semester and earning six credits per semester on average.  All classes are offered in a virtual modality.

Q. The Earn & Learn program has been operating for a little over one year. How is program implementation going so far?

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.
HCCC Continuing Education and Workforce Development works with employers to provide training to meet a diversity of needs.

A. Implementing the program with this first cohort of students has been a learning experience for both the HCCC and IUOE Local 825, as this initiative is the first of its kind. Program implementation is going well overall, with challenges noted below. Twenty-four of the 30 students initially accepted into the program remain enrolled. Factors influencing departures included health issues and struggles for some with the academic or other program requirements. The program is on-track to initiate a second round of applications later this year for the spring 2024 semester.

Q. Are you making modifications to either the academic component or the hands-on training based on your experience in the first year of implementation?

A.  As initially planned, students would earn an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies degree after they complete 60 credits. However, we have reconfigured the degree to more closely align with the construction industry; students will earn a degree in Technical Studies with a construction concentration.

The course work has been altered to be more directly relevant to the construction industry and to what students are learning at IUOE Local 825. For example, we have replaced some of the math and science courses more directly aligned with the HCCC construction management course work.

While all participants take the same coursework, some modifications are available to accommodate students on different pathways. For example, a student seeking to continue their studies at a four-year university should likely take a Calculus course, whereas those not wishing to continue their education beyond an Associate Degree may opt for other available math courses.

Q. What have been the key challenges you have encountered so far in the program implementation? How have you addressed those challenges?

The IUOE Training Center offers simulations to prepare for operating in-field equipment.

A. One of the main challenges can be scheduling as students must meet the demands of their on-the-job training, as well as their classroom instruction requirements. Construction jobs may be located far from one’s residence and/or require off-peak work hours, which compounds this scheduling challenge.

Many of the participants have not had recent experience with balancing academic demands with on-the-job training. Many of the students are 25 years of age or older and have not been enrolled in school for several years. For such students, re-entering the classroom can be a “culture shock,” and requires them to learn how to prioritize academic studies.

This is often an issue in adult learning so both a HCCC Student Success Coach and the IUOE Local 825 chief academic officer are vital partners in the program. Many HCCC initiatives include a Student Success Coach as a best practice to provide adult students with additional supports with navigating the college in terms of scheduling, instruction, and identifying resources to address other demands so they can attain success. The Student Success Coach often functions as a student advocate and navigator. The value of the Student Success Coach to the Earn & Learn program must be emphasized.

Q. What have been some key takeaways and lessons learned so far with the program?

HCCC and the IUOE are training workers for the construction industry, including highway construction.

A. Creating connections among the student cohort has been an important and contributing factor to students’ ongoing success. Students have been able to develop relationships virtually through class, as well as through the Earn & Learn in-person orientation. We also convened an in-person meeting with students after the first semester to discuss issues and challenges with the Earn & Learn program. The students receive both academic and emotional support and camaraderie from one another and benefit from cohort learning.

Also vital to identifying and addressing program challenges has been the open and clear communication channels established and nurtured between the HCCC Student Success Coach and the IUOE Local 825 chief academic officer.

We have learned that overall program flexibility is key as well. For example, to give students the greatest scheduling flexibility and to accommodate diverse comfort levels, they are given some choice with how their HCCC academic instruction is delivered. Specifically, for some classes student can take asynchronous online classes, or opt for synchronous instruction with a live instructor.

Q. What benefits have been achieved so far from the Earn & Learn program?

A. Many students are surpassing their own expectations for their performance in the program, which is wonderful to experience. As one student shared, “I didn’t think I could do school again.” Most are maintaining high GPAs. I feel that the personal growth experienced by these students will also translate into them becoming better members in the IUOE union and better employees.

Q. Are you aware of any other similar programs generating interest in the construction trade?

Students get “hands-on” time for operating heavy equipment at the IUOE Training Facility.

A. The Earn & Learn program is a bit unique. However, I believe the Carpenter’s Union is working on something with the state Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development and they are referring to their training centers as technical colleges. Some of the other construction trades also have arrangements with higher education institutions, such as with Thomas Edison State University.

Other Construction-Focused Career Initiatives

Q. During our interview last year, the goal of bridging the gap between student age when graduating Vo-Tech (17 years) and entry into an apprenticeship (age 18 required) was discussed. You were trying to arrange for a direct entry from Middlesex County Vo-Tech to a union apprenticeship with IUOE Local 825. Have you gotten any traction on that effort? Are there other construction-focused career initiatives you want to bring to our attention?

A. Opportunities are never lost! We continue to work on advancing this goal with Middlesex County Vo-Tech of bridging student age when graduating Vo-Tech and apprenticeship entry with us. The Vo-Tech’s East Brunswick campus is located 2.5 miles from the IUOE Local 825 training center, so there is a genuine opportunity here for those students.

Ocean County has a heavy equipment program in their Vo-Tech and we [IUOE Local 825] had an initial meeting to learn more about that effort. We also had some of their students come to our training center for a site visit.

There are other exciting education-focused initiatives happening as well. For example, Local 825’s sister organization located in the Midwest has developed a mathematics curriculum for high school students that local districts can use. The curriculum speaks to how the student would resolve math questions as an operating engineer. IUOE Local 825’s academic officer is working to bring that curriculum to New Jersey, perhaps in collaboration with the non-profit Junior Achievement organization, which is focused on developing youth skills to promote economic success.

An innovative Rutgers initiative led by the Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP) in partnership with Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) recently received new funding through a PACE grant. The RYSP program will seek to place under-represented and justice-challenged young people in transportation and infrastructure careers. The grant will support development of a pre-apprenticeship program for Operating Engineers. HCCC will be the training partner for this 18-month program.

Middlesex County is home not only to Rutgers and IUOE Local 825, but also to many of the construction equipment dealers such as John Deere, Caterpillar, and Komatsu. However, there remains limited interaction between all these potential partners to discuss opportunities to diversify and strengthen the construction workforce.

Q. HCCC is a co-leader with Rowan College in the Construction Center of Workforce Innovation. Can you give us a brief update on that work? Do you collaborate directly with Rowan on these initiatives and, if yes, in what way?

A. This Construction Center of Workforce is part of the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities (NJ Pathways), a collaborative program between the NJ Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) and the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Year one work has been completed. There are ten centers for workforce innovation, including one focused on construction. HCCC is the administrative lead along with Rowan College of South Jersey for the construction innovation.

The Construction Center of Workforce is one of ten workforce centers partnering with the state’s community colleges.

HCCC’s efforts related to the Construction Center of Workforce Innovation, as well as through several other initiatives including the Earn & Learn Program, helped focus our successful work to expand the offerings in our construction management program. We have had an Associate Degree in construction management for a while, and now we also offer a one-year academic certificate requiring 34 credits and 2 proficiency certificates in either construction administration or construction technology requiring 13 or 14 credits. We also offer seven-to-nine individual courses that offer certification in specific areas of construction management. Students can opt to take one or two courses or all the offerings. If students opt to take these offerings as a noncredit course, they can transfer or articulate for credit in the HCCC Construction Management academic certificate or degree program.

HCCC also offers the opportunity to earn a National Institute of Certified Engineers and Technicians (NICET) certificate for the field of Asphalt Testing and other similar offerings, all of which have been very popular. In all, by offering these different degree and non-degree options, students are afforded flexibility to acquire skills that best meets their career advancement goals. This work also helps us advance equity goals as well, as students can learn at their own pace and effectively build their own career pathway beginning where they wish to start.

Q. Do you see any ways that NJDOT’s Civil Rights, Human Resources, or other units could engage with you to advance programs in NJ?

A. The State and NJDOT are seeking greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the construction field and on job sites. To achieve this goal, we need to operationalize strategies that will encourage greater diversity among persons who are considering construction as a viable career path and who may apply for construction jobs. Incremental progress in this regard is possible if we work together. We must look beyond meeting a requirement for a specific number of diverse workers on a job site – instead we should focus attention on developing a plan to generate overall interest in the field and set mid-point goals toward achieving that plan.

On another note, generating interest for a career in heavy equipment operations among youth, especially among youth living in urban areas, is challenging as these individuals often have little exposure to our trade compared to those who reside in more rural areas and who may have experience or familiarity with farm and other heavy equipment. Working with the Junior Achievement organization may provide another pathway for us to identify a new generation of prospective heavy equipment operators and other construction workers.

We would welcome opportunities to sit at the table with NJDOT to advance careers in construction and are open to developing and refining training and education programs to meet the diverse needs of the workforce.


Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 7, Strategic Workforce Development
https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/swd/

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

Hudson County Community College Center for Construction Management
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/academic-pathways/stem/center-for-construction-management.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825
http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development
https://njworkforce.org

NJ Department of Labor, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants
https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships
https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities
https://njpathways.org/centers-of-workforce-innovation/

Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP)
https://cait.rutgers.edu/facilities-equipment/rutgers-youth-success-program/

How Foamed Glass Aggregate is Being Used on Transportation Infrastructure at NJDOT: An Interview

NJDOT, like other State departments of transportation (DOTs), has become increasingly conscious of infrastructure’s environmental burdens and are seeking more environmentally sustainable materials in construction.  Recently, we spoke with Kimberly Sharp, Manager, Structural Design, Geotechnical Engineering and Geology, and Mohab Hussein, Project Engineer, Deputy Chief Technical, Geotechnical Engineering about NJDOT’s adoption of Foamed Glass Aggregate which serves an example of the deployment of an innovative, sustainable material.

To make foamed glass aggregate, crushed container glass is collected from recycling companies, finely ground into powder and mixed with a foaming agent, and sent through a kiln and softened. Bubbles form within the softened glass. When it cools, the material cracks and forms lightweight, coarse, foam-like aggregate pieces that can be used in various transportation construction projects.


Q. How did you learn of this material?

Foamed glass aggregate in use on the pilot project at Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge, Kearny

Aero Aggregates in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, reached out to the Department in 2018 to provide a technical presentation on foamed glass aggregate. An industry presentation is an established step in NJDOT’s process for exploring new technologies. If we are interested in the product, as we were in foamed glass aggregate, we start a pilot project.

Q.  When did NJDOT begin using foam glass aggregate?

Our pilot project was the Rt. 7 Wittpenn Bridge in Kearny, NJ in 2019. Use of this material replaced 32,000 cu.yds. of regular fill and saved almost 28 million bottles from the landfill. We used the material for a crossover from one side of the road to the other. We built it and let the contractor use the area for six weeks with heavy equipment traveling over it. We maintained survey equipment at the site and looked for settlement and any lateral spreading and nothing moved.

Q. What have been the most common uses?

For us at NJDOT, the most common uses have been as fill underneath roadways to raise the profile, behind existing abutments where we were putting in a new backwall and new girders and we wanted to lighten the lateral forces on the backwall, as backfill to the approach to a bridge, to resolve sheeting issues on a project, and as backfill behind a temporary wire wall.

Foamed glass aggregate placed behind an abutment on I-80 over Rockaway River, Denville

We have very soft, compressible soils beneath some of our roadways, and in areas of high tide or frequent flooding, therefore we want to raise the elevation of the roadway. Using heavy, natural fill material beneath the pavement box can lead to pavement that ultimately would ride like a roller coaster due to uneven settling.  A less costly approach is to over-excavate the existing soil and place with the foamed glass aggregate. At 22 lbs./cu.ft., the aggregate is buoyant, so regular weight soil is placed over it to weigh it down, and then the pavement box is built on top of the soil. Use of the aggregate lessens the amount of settlement and results in a nice smooth roadway.

Q.  Who are suppliers of this material?

Aero Aggregates is the supplier that we work with. They recycle glass from Pennsylvania and from a southern New Jersey recycling center. We appreciate that they are using local materials.

Q.  What are the environmental benefits of using this material? What is it replacing?

Foamed glass aggregate is saving millions of bottles from landfills. This material is made of 100 percent recycled material. In addition, the material replaces traditional backfill that would be quarried, and so minimizes depletion of natural resources. It also minimizes use of other material such as rebar, concrete and other foundation elements. In addition, it is lightweight, about half the weight of regular lightweight fill material, and so reduces transportation emissions. There are associated cost savings to its use.

Aggregate being applied behind wire wall on Fish House Road, Kearny

Q. Is there an ongoing assessment process for use of this material, or is it an established process?

We had questions in the beginning. The material was so light that we worried about its durability. The manufacturer provided results from testing and we tested the material in the field. Use of foamed glass aggregate is an established process at NJDOT. The material was first used in Germany in the 1980s, and in Norway in the 1990s to prevent rutting of pavements because it has good insulating qualities. It is useful in cold regions.

Q.  Are there limits to the transportation construction applications where this material can be used?

Foamed glass aggregate has its own compaction requirements; it is lightly compacted or graded out with lightweight equipment to avoid crushing of the aggregate. As mentioned above, it requires capping to weigh it down. Pavement design engineers want several inches of regular weight soil between the lightweight aggregate and the pavement box.

Q.   What is the state of industry knowledge and acceptance of the use of this material?

It is still early in the process of nationwide adoption. New Jersey is one of the first states to implement use of the material on our projects. We have received calls from many state DOTs asking how we began using it, and about our experience of using it in lieu of other lightweight material, so word is getting around. Aero Aggregates used it in Philadelphia around I-95. The industry is working on starting up new plants. Word is spreading through the contracting community. The first contractor that used it with us liked it so much they eliminated all other lightweight types of materials in the contract bid items. Through word of mouth, other design consultants and Contractors have picked up on use of the material.

Q.   Do you have current projects where this is being used and do you anticipate continued use of the material in the future?

View video on YouTube or access it from the NJDOT Platform

Yes, and we have some in design, and we will include foamed glass aggregate in the contract for future projects for consideration.

For future projects, we have not used foamed glass aggregate behind structural walls as yet, although we know it has been used in Philadelphia, and we are considering that application.

The Department is also considering applications related to temporary water storage in flood areas. Our current and past projects are using closed cell foamed glass aggregate, but an open cell aggregate is available. Its porosity might be beneficial in flood mitigation and other resiliency projects.

We really like the product and look forward to expanding its use. We are always looking for new technologies and this is one that will continue to be of great benefit.

Q.  What do you consider to be the keys to the successful adoption of the material?

Agency willingness has been the key to successful adoption of this innovative material.


Resources

Foamed Glass Aggregate [Video].  Retrieved at: https://youtu.be/3mdDeKTKB1I

Foamed Glass Aggregate [Presentation].  Retrieved at:  https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/FGA-Presentation-2023-01-27.pdf

From Landfill to Commitment to Communities Newsletter. How NJDOT Uses Non-Recyclable Materials for a Sustainable Future, Vol. 27, Spring 2023.  Retrieved at: https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/about/townhall/doc/ctcnews_vol27.pdf

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program

Strategic Workforce Development, an innovative initiative of the Every Day Counts Program, suggests the importance of fostering an environment and partnerships favorable to training programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, and support for women and minorities in the construction workforce, among other strategies. NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program promotes workforce development by supporting transportation-related community projects that engage youth and young adults in underserved communities. NJDOT partners with local government agencies, not-for-profits, community-based organizations and other entities with established youth programs to provide summer employment, as well as training and other supportive services, to the program participants working to improve gateway areas at state highways.

We interviewed Chrystal Section, Supervisor of the Non-Discrimination Programs Unit in the NJDOT’s Division of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action. The unit includes Title VI, Environmental Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act, Limited English Proficiency, and two special programs: the Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement program and the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI).

Q. The Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program has been operating since 1998. What prompted the start of the program?

Members of the Division of Civil Rights attended an AASHTO subcommittee conference on the program. Our division became very interested seeing that it would be beneficial to our youth and young adults in underserved communities. At the time, Civil Rights worked with NJDOT’s Adopt a Highway program to develop the Urban Gateway Enhancement Program.

Q. Is the NJDOT program affiliated with the NJ Department of Labor’s Youth Corps Program in New Jersey?

No. We do not work directly with the NJ Department of Labor Urban Youth Corps program. NJDOT implements the Urban Gateway Enhancement Program with the support of federal funding.

Q. What is your role with the program?

I am the project manager, and I work with the supervisors at the various agencies that are participating. I am responsible for outreach, the website presence including grant cycle announcement and application availability statewide, review of applications, award announcement letters, the kick-off meeting with all the funded organizations, ensuring recipients provide close-out documents for reimbursement, and providing the final project report to FHWA.

Q. How much funding is available to each applicant?

Up to $32,000 is available to each applicant organization.  At least 50 percent of the budget must be dedicated to the youth participants in earnings, training and supportive services. Teams are formed with approximately 6 to 10 youths. The funding also pays for the local supervisor, and equipment and supplies as needed.

Some of the applications request less than the grant cap, especially if the organization has participated previously and has purchased costly equipment already.

Q. What might be a typical hourly wage or stipend?

Participants are paid minimum wage, $15/hour, although some of the participating organizations have stipends, so they would pay them based on the stipend. The youths and young adults are not paid less than minimum wage. The participants work four to six hours per day for up to six to eight weeks during the summer.

Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.
Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.

Q. How do you get the word out about the program?

Our outreach includes sending letters to previous participants and mayors in underserved communities, and we send out a blast on all NJDOT social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and post the notice on the NJDOT website on the Civil Rights and Clean Up NJ webpages.

Q. How are participating organizations chosen?

We accept applications from any entity that fits the criteria set forth in the application. When I first started with the program, I worked primarily with Urban Enterprise Zones but the program has spread through word of mouth. We continue to focus on underserved communities. The applicants must have established youth programs. The goal of NJDOT’s program is to benefit youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 who are economically or socially disadvantaged and who have experienced barriers to employment (e.g., the lack of a high school diploma, homelessness, teen parenting, being physically or mentally challenged, or an ex-offender).  These program participants receive training while receiving a paycheck.  Depending on the project, they will have an opportunity to learn the basics of urban forestry, landscaping, fabrication and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements, horticulture, construction inspection and materials testing.

Applicants have included cities, youth corps, churches, school districts, and other not-for-profit community-based organizations. Each community organization provides the program’s structure and supervision and also provides life skills, and safety and technical skills training. For examples of grantees and projects, please see Table 1.

As previously noted, some former funding recipients apply in subsequent years, often to continue maintenance on the original project site.

Q. Can you describe the process once you have received the applications?

We receive 14 applications on average each year, and we can usually fund up to 12. A team of 11 NJDOT subject matter experts (SMEs) serve on the application scoring team. These individuals are from several areas including Civil Rights, Local Aid & Economic Development, Community Outreach, Landscape, Project Management, Statewide Planning, Capital Planning and Management, and Operations. Representatives from these departments volunteer their time to review and individually score the applications and then we discuss the scoring and make the awardee selections.

In their applications, the organizations can list up to three site locations and specify the type of projects they will be working on at each location. The projects must be located at gateways to state roadways and be sited on land owned by the State, as NJDOT does not have jurisdiction over county and municipal roadways. Clean-up, maintenance, on-going maintenance from previous projects, anti-graffiti initiatives, planting flowers and trees, and other landscaping are typical projects.

Scoring of the applications takes into consideration whether the project is feasible and provides meaningful and productive work for the participants. Skills training, including work skills, life skills, and safety skills training should be included. Ensuring a safe environment, including providing COVID 19 personal protective equipment and protocols during the pandemic, is also a consideration. Scorers also look for local support for the projects.

Q. Once projects are awarded, what’s next? Does the program leverage the expertise or capabilities of NJDOT employees? How do NJDOT employees get involved in teaching or mentoring in the program?

When we have our kick-off meeting there are representatives from NJDOT Operations and Landscape present to answer any questions. As the project moves forward, we provide technical support as needed, either by meeting with the teams at the project site or answering questions by phone.

Members of the committee visit the project sites during the summer to provide feedback on the great work participants are doing, and to answer questions they may have

Q. What are the benefits of the program?

There are numerous benefits to both NJDOT and the program participants. NJDOT benefits from the opportunity to partner with non-profit agencies and community-based organizations and local governments. The program also provides a prospective employee pool for the Department. The participants benefit from learning about transportation and jobs that are available in the field, and in some cases from the mentorship by NJDOT employees. The participants also gain a sense of ownership of the sites, of pride in their accomplishments and their community. They learn new skills, including life skills, while earning a pay check. This work experience, and employment services offered through the organization, can help them when applying for jobs in the future. The community benefits from an improvement project that beautifies gateway areas so they are inviting to residents and visitors, and from having citizens who are engaged and better equipped to find a job.

Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.
Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.

Q. What are challenges of the program?

There are three main challenges: continued maintenance of the project sites, obtaining increased funding for the program, and closing out projects in a timely manner at the end of the year.

Ensuring that maintenance is continued for these projects depends on the participating community organizations, as maintenance is not a grant requirement although highly desired. Many recipients have strong relationships with the municipal Department of Public Works (DPW), which may accept responsibility for continued maintenance of the project sites. Others apply for additional funding to maintain the sites.

We would also welcome increased funding that would enable us to support more projects and open the program up to more organizations in the state.

Regarding program close-out requirements, this program is a reimbursement program. At the end of the project, the organizations have to submit payment vouchers and receipts. Delays in the process are common due to the other priorities of the organizations, but NJDOT’s ability to secure new funding from FHWA depends on the successful close-out of the year’s projects. Sometimes, we have to skip a year of the program due to late reporting. For example, we awarded grants in 2021 but skipped the 2022 cycle.

Q. Are there any program changes being discussed?

I have been managing the program independently for the past two years, but I now have two new staff members who are excited about the program. Now that they have joined me, I will have capacity to reach out and see what other states are doing with similar programs to gather lessons learned.

Q. Is there a workforce development component to the program? Are program participants encouraged to apply to NJDOT for employment in Operations or other divisions, bureaus or units?

Our goal is to not limit our investment in these individuals to only summer employment, but to also open the door to employment at NJDOT. In January 2022, we invited our partner organizations to a meeting to make them aware of the Highway Operations Technician (HOT) positions available in Operations. We worked with Human Resources and the Manager of Operations to discuss the way the HOT program works, and the application process at NJDOT. Although there were no promises made for hiring, the organizations could make their youth and young adult program participants aware of these existing job opportunities. NJDOT considers this outreach a continuing investment in the on-the-job training. We hope to hold other meetings in the future when these or similar positions are available – positions that require the skills these individuals have developed through the program. We are looking at this initiative as a component of our workforce development program.

Q. Do you have an example of what you would consider a successful project?

I will give you the example of a Trenton-based program operated by Isles, a non-profit organization, which has been a funding recipient for several years. Their work has focused on a variety of beautification and land management tasks, including installation of a TRENTON sign at Barlow Circle, and improvements at plaza gateways, at the Motor Vehicle Commission building, and at ARTWORKS.

Projects led by Isles, Inc. in Trenton serve as some of the examples of this successful program.
Projects led by Isles, Inc. in Trenton serve as some of the examples of this successful program.

When our team of committee members went out to meet with the program participants who worked on this project, these young people were a little resistant to engage with us at first. But when we toured the project sites together and they had the opportunity to explain their contributions and what they learned, you could see a positive change. They were proud of their accomplishments and happy to share that with us. They were not only earning money but learning skills, including how to prepare a resume and other life skills. It is truly meaningful when we as NJDOT employees have the chance to go out and meet with these young people and have an exchange where they can ask questions about the work we are doing, and we can build relationships.

You can always give funding, but it becomes so meaningful when you have the chance to spend half the day with these young men and women and find out about their work, interests and goals. Overall, it is a wonderful experience to oversee this program for NJDOT, to help make communities beautiful, and see lives positively changing from our efforts.

Grantee OrganizationMunicipalityCountyProject Locations
The Work GroupCity of CamdenCamden• Grassy triangle at Admiral Wilson Boulevard and Bank Street
• Exit 3 off 676 North at Morgan Street
City of East Orange Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training (MOET)  City of East OrangeEssex• Freeway Drive-East
• Freeway Drive-West
• North Oraton Parkway (Main Street overpass)
• Ampere Plaza- 4th Avenue
Groundwork ElizabethCity of ElizabethUnion• Kellogg Park
• Mattano Park
• McPherson Park
City of Long BranchCity of Long BranchMonmouth• Jackson Woods Park, Route 36
New Brunswick Board of Education/New Jersey Youth Corps of Middlesex CountyCity of New BrunswickMiddlesex• War Memorial Park, New Brunswick- Route 27- Lincoln Highway (Northbound) and Route 91 a spur of Route 1- Jersey Avenue (Southbound)
• Buccleuch Park, New Brunswick- County Road 527- Easton Avenue (Northbound) and New Jersey State Road Route 18 (Northbound)
• Recreation Park, New Brunswick- Route 171 Jersey Avenue (Northbound)
City of PassaicCity of PassaicPassaic• Madison Street, NJ Route 21 Exit
New Jersey Youth Corps of PatersonCity of PatersonPassaic• Route 80
• Route 20
• Various entrances or gateways to the City of Paterson, NJ
City of Perth AmboyCity of Perth AmboyMiddlesex• Route 35 (Convery Boulevard) and Route 184 (Pfeiffer Boulevard)
• South-West Corner of Smith Street Convery Boulevard (Route 35) and Riverview Drive
• Outer High Street and Route 440 Ramp
• NJ-184 (Lincoln Drive)
New Jersey Youth Corps of PhillipsburgTown of PhillipsburgWarren• NJ 122 (Alt 22) South Main Street 900 Block
• South Main Street (Union Square to Walters Park)
• US Rte. 22 and Roseberry Street (NW Corner)
New Jersey Youth Corps of Atlantic CountyCity of PleasantvilleAtlantic• Delilah Road and Franklin Avenue
Isles, Inc.City of TrentonMercer• Route 1/Perry Street. Interchange & adjacent Roberto Clemente Park- on/off ramp, strip between on-ramp and park
• Route 1/Market Street at Stockton/Mill Hill Park- on/off ramps, MVC building, planned Artwalk and “Trenton” landscaped sign
• Market Street Plaza- gateways that connect Route 1 with Mill Hill and Market Street/Broad Street intersection and corridor
Table 1: NJDOT Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program Grantees for 2021

Resources

NJDOT Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program
https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/community/cleanupnj/youth.shtm

NJ’s Fuel Cell Task Force – An Interview with NJDOT’s Representative

The New Jersey Fuel Cell Task Force is an interdisciplinary board of experts established in 2020 by an act of the State legislature to provide policy and regulatory recommendations to the government and stakeholders relating to the development of fuel cell technology in New Jersey. Within a wider national and state context of decarbonization, the Task Force’s advocacy and expertise for this green technology is intended to assist the State of New Jersey reach climate and pollution commitments, and diversify its energy mix towards the vision established in the 2019 New Jersey Energy Master Plan. Fuel cells chiefly derive energy from chemical processes that combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce water vapor and heat.

We spoke with the Fuel Cell Task Force’s appointed member from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Jamie DeRose, to learn about the mission and activities of the Task Force, the State’s climate and energy objectives, the current capabilities of the technology, and the future of the fuel cell industry.

Background

Q. Can you tell us about the Fuel Cell Task Force’s principal mission and your role and involvement on behalf of NJDOT?

New Jersey’s Fuel Cell Task Force’s purpose is to inform policy and identify opportunities for New Jersey to realize the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology and broadly to help the State reach its principal climate goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050. As part of this purpose and the wider goal of switching to clean energies, the Task Force is looking to increase the usage of fuel cell technology throughout the State. The Task Force is a resource for the state and local government for recommendations to grow our fuel cell industry.

The processes of a hydrogen fuel cell in a vehicle do not emit the same air quality pollutants as traditional fossil fuels like diesel: just vapor and heat. Source: Fuel Cell Technologies Offices, US DoE, https://www.energy.gov/articles/celebrate-hydrogen-and-fuel-cell-day-energy-department

The processes of a hydrogen fuel cell in a vehicle do not emit the same air quality pollutants as traditional fossil fuels like diesel: just vapor and heat. Source: Fuel Cell Technologies Offices, US DoE, https://www.energy.gov/articles/celebrate-hydrogen-and-fuel-cell-day-energy-department

My background at NJDOT is as a travel demand modeler and as an air quality modeler. Much of what my group handles has to do with the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. Until recently, alternate fuel sources to traditional fossil fuels, such as hydrogen fuel cells, were considered somewhat “exotic” to our purposes, but EVs are becoming increasingly germane to CMAQ (particularly with funding from the State’s side of CMAQ). Fuel cells will play a part in improving air quality on the road. My involvement with the Task Force reflects that aspect of the technology’s potential.

Q. What roles do you feel that hydrogen fuel cells could play in advancing a low-carbon energy mix in the future in New Jersey? In what areas do the natural and/or present advantages of fuel cell technology show the most promise as a green energy source?

The advantages in storage efficiencies and fueling time for hydrogen fuel cell technology prime it to evolve into a cleaner, more convenient source of fuel for transportation and power stations. The chief byproduct of fuel cells is water vapor and heat. Fuel cells’ ability to retain this clean energy without the same level of loss as electric batteries give it a potential role in transportation and freight facilities that is already being realized in New Jersey and the country as a whole.

Fueling at hydrogen pumps is generally comparable in terms of time and convenience of fueling at gasoline stations. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hydrogen_fueling.jpg Dick Lyon, Wikimedia

Fueling at hydrogen pumps is generally comparable in terms of time and convenience of fueling at gasoline stations. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hydrogen_fueling.jpg Dick Lyon, Wikimedia

Q. What is the current status of the Task Force deliberations and development of the main report?

We have been working toward completing a full report on New Jersey’s potential within the fuel cell space. During this process, a consortium has been formed to pursue one of four prospective awards for a federal Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program. The scope of the report evolved to support the State’s efforts – as a part of the multistate coalition with New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – to attract this part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s funding for the fuel cell industry. The Task Force decided to take some of the recommendations from the report and distill them into a smaller, interim report to assist the State in preparing materials for this competitive grant application for the regional clean hydrogen hubs program.

[The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) subsequently released its Notice of Intent to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs. DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations–in collaboration with the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office and the DOE Hydrogen Program–anticipates issuing a related funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in the September/October 2022 timeframe].

Further Development

Q. What are some of the most important developments happening in the testing or deployment of fuel cell technology in New Jersey? What are some of the most noteworthy fuel cell operations and deployments within NJ’s transportation sector or other sectors?

There are a number of hydrogen-powered equipment deployments in New Jersey’s warehouses and ports that fill present use-cases for the technology. The 2021 law that formed the Task Force states that NJ agencies should consider fuel cell technology when putting out contracts for items such as generators, portable floodlights, and telecommunications equipment. In general, this greater recognition of the portability of fuel cells is a major development in how the state government approaches the technology, and alternative energy sources more broadly.

An early 2014 showcase from Toyota shows the potential seamlessness of incorporating hydrogen into personal vehicles and this reality is increasingly being actualized. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toyota_hydrogen_fuel_cell_at_the_2014_New_York_International_Auto_Show_(13956809802).jpg Joseph Brent, Wikimedia

An early 2014 showcase from Toyota shows the potential seamlessness of incorporating hydrogen into personal vehicles and this reality is increasingly being actualized. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toyota_hydrogen_fuel_cell_at_the_2014_New_York_International_Auto_Show_(13956809802).jpg Joseph Brent, Wikimedia

Q. What types of infrastructure can NJDOT develop, or financial and technical assistance can it provide to support the use of fuel cells in New Jersey?

At this stage, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the NJ Board of Public Utilities are leaders among the state agencies in seeking ways to encourage the development of the fuel cell industry in New Jersey. Nonetheless, NJDOT can play an important role through installation of fuel cell pumping stations on its properties and support for acquisition of fuel cell waste-trucks or other heavy equipment that the technology is serving well at the moment.

New Jersey’s Electric Vehicle Act of 2020 mandates that 25 percent of State-owned non-emergency light duty vehicles are to be electric by 2025, moving to 100 percent by the end of 2035. Presently, the thinking is mostly focused on EVs, but NJDOT could incorporate fuel cell vehicles into that vision. The Task Force would certainly like to see this inclusion.

Q.  Within a transportation context, current discourse suggests that hydrogen fuel cells may be more suitable for heavy-duty vehicles such as freight trucks and forklifts than EV, but less suitable for personal automobiles. Would you agree with this assessment of the capabilities of the fuel cell and EV technology? 

It increasingly seems that any technology that relies on electric batteries such as EVs could have a fuel cell version. The fueling times for hydrogen fuel cells are comparable to what we are accustomed to at the pump; that is, a 2-3 minute refuel as opposed to a 30-minute refuel for EVs. Even within the present developments for the technologies, fuel cells have filled a niche for larger vehicles such as freight trucks and forklifts, and are arguably the best of all green fuel sources. Fuel cells may eventually become the next generation of transportation energy after EVs.

Fuel cell technologies’ current advantages for larger sized vehicles lend itself to buses as well. China is more heavily invested that application than other nations, but this MBTA bus shows the innovation occurring at home. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MBTA_hydrogen_fuel_cell_bus_at_Malden_Center,_December_2016.jpg Jason Lawrence, Wikimedia

Fuel cell technologies’ current advantages for larger sized vehicles lend itself to buses as well. China is more heavily invested in that application than other nations, but this MBTA bus shows the innovation occurring at home. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MBTA_hydrogen_fuel_cell_bus_at_Malden_Center,_December_2016.jpg Jason Lawrence, Wikimedia

Q. Can you comment on how hydrogen fuel cells could be used to address equity gaps? Can deployment of hydrogen fuel cells help historically disadvantaged communities receive opportunities and benefits connected to this transition?

A number of industrial partners, trade groups, and state government officials are involved in the roll out of fuel cell technology, helping to ensure the economic and environmental benefits touch all of society. The environmental justice aspect of what hydrogen fuel cell technology represents has been discussed and is regarded as especially important to the Task Force. Many of New Jersey’s ports and warehouses are located in North Jersey urban areas, and many of those communities are historically disadvantaged environmentally and otherwise. Improvements in air quality from fuel cell sourced equipment, trucks, and forklifts lend themselves well to addressing social justice and social equity in New Jersey.

Further Possibilities

Q. Are there barriers to deployment with respect to the different use-cases for fuel cells that you would like to highlight?

The absence of refueling infrastructure and stations is a significant barrier to proliferation of fuel cell trucks and personal vehicles. With the technology as it is today, fuel cell freight trucks could reasonably fill their niche with enough supporting physical infrastructure, and overcoming that gap is important to the Task Force. Another barrier is the EV focus of a lot of alternative fuel tax credits; you might get a tax credit from the State for buying an electric car or vehicle but not for a fuel cell one. Including fuel cell vehicles in the incentives for decarbonizing transportation will help remove some of the cost barriers that were removed for EVs by policy.

In addition, certain regulations prevent hydrogen vehicles from traveling in Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tunnels. Such regulations exist in some states but not in others, and it is a barrier that the Task Force has also discussed. According to the vehicle experts, the technology has mostly evolved beyond this concern.

Q. According to the USDoE, “95 percent of the hydrogen produced in the United States is made by natural gas reforming in large central plants”; what does a connection between hydrogen fuel cell production and natural gas mean to NJ Fuel Cell Task Force’s mission of promoting the growth of the fuel cell industry?

The topic of green hydrogen – generally hydrogen produced through a more renewable process known as water electrolysis – has been an interest of the Task Force. The fuel cell industry of the future will likely focus on such cleaner modes of hydrogen production, though these efforts may rest more with the NJDEP or the federal Department of Energy than with NJDOT at this time.

Presently, most hydrogen gas is produced from natural gas processes, but the proliferation of more green methods, such as from water electrolysis, is increasingly important to the direction of the industry.  Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US DoE https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydrogen/production-of-hydrogen.php

Presently, most hydrogen gas is produced from natural gas processes, but the proliferation of more green methods, such as from water electrolysis, is increasingly important to the direction of the industry.  Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, US DoE https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydrogen/production-of-hydrogen.php

Q. What initiatives or projects in other states regarding fuel cells is NJ’s Fuel Cell Task Force benchmarking itself against, or looking towards in terms of formulating their own approach?

As with many environmental policies and priorities, California is a leader in the deployment of hydrogen vehicles, stations, and infrastructure. More so than a particular project, we view California’s general success with the deployment of fuel cell technology as a benchmark and make efforts to facilitate a conversation across state lines. The Task Force has spoken with the California Hydrogen Business Council to better understand how advocates for the industry side of the deployment equation are helped by the State’s efforts.


Resources

Further information on the Fuel Cell Task Force:

Alternative Fuels Data Center. (2022). Fuel Cell Task Force.
https://afdc.energy.gov/laws/12425

New Jersey Fuel Cell Coalition. (2021, August 28). New Jersey’s Fuel Cell Task Force Members Have Been Appointed.
https://njfuelcells.org/senate-environment-energy-committee-passes-fuel-cell-task-force-bill/

Further information on the federal Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program:

Transport Topics. (2022, May 27). States Make Plays to Become Federal Hydrogen Fuel Hubs, Transport Topics.
https://www.ttnews.com/articles/states-make-plays-become-federal-hydrogen-fuel-hubs-0

New York State. (2022, March 24). Governor Hochul Announces Multi-State Agreement Signed with Major Hydrogen Ecosystem Partners to Propose a Regional Clean Energy Hydrogen Hub.
https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/About/Newsroom/2022-Announcements/2022-03-24-Governor-Hochul-Announces-Multi-State-Agreement-on-Hydrogen

Further information on the hydrogen fuel cell industry:

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. (2020, September). 2019 Fuel Cell Technologies Market Report.
https://publications.anl.gov/anlpubs/2021/08/166534.pdf

Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association. (2020). Road Map to a US Hydrogen Economy.
https://www.fchea.org/us-hydrogen-study

Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association. (2022, March). Summary of Hydrogen Provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ab1feee4b0bef0179a1563/t/623206bc8d2d786ffe929c65/1647445692646/FCHEA+IIJA+Hydrogen+Program+Summary+2022.pdf

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development – Model Programs, Partnerships and Lessons from Oregon

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private firms communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector. Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We interviewed representatives from Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI), including Angela Crain (ODOT Civil Rights Manager), Cye Fink (ODOT Workforce Development and Civil Rights/EE Manager) and Larry Williams (BOLI, Operations and Policy Analyst).  We sought to explore the distinct roles and partnership between the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) in funding, promoting, and providing technical assistance for on-the-job training programs, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, to support all workers including women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter highway construction and other related fields.

Highway Construction Workforce Development Program

Q. Can you please share with us, based on your experience, your thoughts on what seems to be an overall lack of awareness– especially among women and minority persons – of jobs or careers in the highway construction industry?

The ODOT Office of Civil Rights uses FHWA funding to support On the Job Training and Supportive Services.

The ODOT Office of Civil Rights uses FHWA funding to support On the Job Training and Supportive Services.

The lack of awareness primarily stems from the school systems. For years, school guidance counselors have not promoted any path but college to most of their students.  Highway construction is presented as a viable career only to those students who are not going on to college.

We work to raise awareness of careers in highway construction by disseminating information on these opportunities to school counselors and parents, as they are the support system for children. Careers in highway construction offer competitive paying jobs with family- supporting wages. We are trying to reach the students, beginning at the elementary school level because, unless students know someone who works in construction, they are mostly unaware of the career options in the field.

Some of the most successful linkages have been made by teachers who work in construction during the summer months and bring their experience back to the students. For example, they will use construction-related math curricula in the classroom. Shop classes, which were useful in helping students become familiar with tools and various trades, are rarely offered anymore due to budget cuts.

Information about the majority of our DOT programs is spread by word of mouth. We use the testimonials of individuals who have been through our programs, and we do a lot of outreach to communicate personal success stories of program participants. We also work with our partners, Building Trades Councils of Oregon, Akana, Oregon Tradeswomen, and other stakeholders and agencies, to get the word out. And we, of course, participate in career fairs, and high school Career and Technical Education programs to build the career pipeline. As far as encouraging Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and women candidates, our numbers are growing steadily each year with more starting and finishing our programs, but the ratio is still not where we want it to be.

The Oregon Bureaus of Labor & Industries is responsible for pre-pre-apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship programs.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries is responsible for pre-pre-apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship programs.

Q. We understand that 2009 legislation created Oregon’s Highway Construction Workforce Development Program (HCWDP) designed to diversify six heavy construction trades related to highway construction including carpenters and cement masons. This nationally recognized innovative initiative enables registered apprentices and those preparing to enter an apprenticeship in one of these trades to receive support in ten areas, including child care, travel expenses, lodging/meal allowance, tools, and PPE, among others. Are all of these efforts supported through HCWDP?

We use FHWA and state dollars to fund the program and follow federal regulations (23 CFR Part 230) that lay out what these 10 supportive services have to look like. In 2009, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that required ODOT to provide On-the-Job Training and workforce development supportive services, applying language from the federal regulations. Once this law was established there could be no question that the funding would be dedicated to the program rather than other priorities, such as road repair. Since this focus on workforce development is embedded in Oregon statute, ODOT has a pathway for consistent funding.

In 2016 we added hardship assistance to the list of available supports offered by HCWDP. Overall, we are working to support people in getting on a career track by offering supportive services that enable them to stay in the programs and eventually reach journey worker status, which offers meaningful long-term career development. The heavy highway trades are the focus of the program because the workers are mobile. Although there may be layoffs or projects end, as long as they stay in the system, participants will continue to have the opportunity to work on ODOT projects so they can graduate to journey worker status.

Q. ODOT and the BOLI have partnered to meet the goals of adding more diversity in hiring, increasing apprenticeship numbers and providing resources for training. What have been the key benefits of ODOT partnering with BOLI?

Our partnership with BOLI has been vital to our success. In Oregon, BOLI oversees apprenticeships and approves pre-apprenticeship programs. BOLI’s key value to HCWDP comes from their connections with their subcontractors who have experience in promoting and supporting workforce development in the highway construction trades, particularly among women and minorities. BOLI works with the contractors affiliated with the training programs, has authority over the contractors, and maintains a database to track the apprentices. When workers graduate to the journey worker level, they can work anywhere within the state and nationwide. This program offers meaningful, long-term career development.

The ODOT/BOLI collaboration provides needed supports to help people stay in the apprenticeship programs.

The ODOT/BOLI collaboration provides needed supports to help people stay in the apprenticeship programs.

There is no value in ODOT having its own apprenticeship-type programs when BOLI is providing them in alignment with US DOL. We at ODOT are embedding elements in the program including respectful workplaces, Green Dot, Riseup, and third party oversight through Portland State University, who are helping us with planning. Additionally, BOLI receives grants to target particular workforce areas; they leverage our resources at ODOT, while we simultaneously leverage their resources.

From the BOLI perspective, the partnership with ODOT allows BOLI to provide the support side to the apprenticeship programs. If you have the apprentices out there, you need to have the supports in place to help them succeed.

In most cases, BOLI has closed gaps in terms of completion rates for underrepresented demographic groups. For African American men, there has been improvement, but we want to close the gap further. There may be barriers that still need to be addressed. In addition, we have shown that the program works, as it is improving success rates, but it is only available to those apprentices associated with the highway construction trades. For example, we provide child care for a cement mason but not a brick mason. That is an area of concern for BOLI as they seek to determine ways to provide similar supports for other trades moving forward.

Apprenticeships and Pre-apprenticeships

Q. ODOT and BOLI have focused on improving opportunities for individuals who graduate from a pre-apprenticeship program to get more trade-specific training and improved access to registration into a highway trade apprenticeship program. What can you share about this work?

Apprenticeships in Oregon are regulated and supported by BOLI and offer on the job training and classroom training and typically require 2-5 years to complete and may be union-based or open shop. We focus on connecting pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships.

Under the BOLI umbrella, there are apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and pre-pre-apprenticeship programs. Pre-pre-apprenticeships help people overcome basic gaps to complete prerequisites needed for pre-apprenticeships, such as needing a driver’s license, GED or high school diploma. The pre-apprenticeship might provide skills training for those who need hours learning to use tools.

We have worked on direct entry with some of the trades so individuals can join an apprenticeship program without completing the ranking process or interview because the pre-apprenticeship has helped them prepare for the job, with some individuals also bringing work history that enables them to skip one or more levels of training. They have to complete the application and meet minimum qualifications that can be simply being 18 years old and having a high school diploma or GED, and in other cases, may require a minimum level of math proficiency, for example.

Q. Is this effort the same as, or part of, your On-the-Job Training (OJT)? Could you speak about your On-the-Job Training (OJT) program?

Supportive services can increase diversity in apprenticeship programs and the highway construction workforce.

Supportive services can increase diversity in apprenticeship programs and the highway construction workforce.

On-the-Job Training/Supportive Services program funding from FHWA is internally directed to STEM/Engineering outreach, recruitment, and support. OJT is a very small piece of what we at ODOT do; only about two people every year go through this OJT training because most contractors are affiliated with a formal apprenticeship program.

ODOT and FHWA created OJT for candidates with no experience to offer them a chance to begin work with a contractor directly. As part of the federal regulations, OJT is provided through each project. If the contractor awarded the contract has no affiliation as a training agent themselves or they are not Oregon-based, and have no formal apprenticeship program, they can use one of our in-house training programs to fulfill the contractual requirement.

It is the small contractor or the first-time prime who would use this OJT option.  We provide some incentives, including reimbursing $20/hour for every apprenticeship hour. An individual with no prior experience who applies off the street with that contractor must receive training. The contractor is paying journey worker level pay, and OJT does provide a means to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups. It’s a business choice that the contractor makes. The 2,000-hour OJT program trains for labor skills sets, and we also have a 6,000-hour construction project management program. This informal training is not tied to a path to journey worker status but there is the potential for the individual to have direct entry into the apprenticeship system after completing the OJT training.

Q. We know that reliable transportation and childcare are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. Can you tell us how supportive services such as childcare and payment of travel costs help sustain apprentices?

Offering incentives and support services for apprentices is critical to their success. Childcare is a big issue. It’s not only single moms who face childcare challenges, but any single parent and/or underemployed families. Awareness of the HCWDP childcare support options has spread through word of mouth.

Work hours for highway construction are long. For example, apprentices may leave their house at 4:00 am to travel 40 miles to the worksite and work 10-hours. The challenges for us in supporting childcare include the costs and finding a provider that has capacity and offers their services in off-peak hours. ODOT/BOLI uses the state childcare provider certification system to identify providers. We give incentives to providers so that they can offer alternative hours to accommodate the long work days. We don’t have enough funds to subsidize all the childcare needed. Childcare is provided using a BOLI-determined sliding scale formula based on economic need and wage rate; the support level declines as the individuals progress through the system and earn higher wages.

The Pre-Apprenticeship Child Care Initiative (PACCI) program began as a pilot to provide childcare supports to pre-apprentices but is now a part of the general operation. Pre-apprenticeship programs, which are often 8-12 week courses in the classroom, may provide on-site child care. We are indirectly supporting these childcare opportunities.

Everything we do helps keep people on the path to journey work. With the regional wildfires displacing workers, we have been distributing hardship funds. Apprentices are eligible for this support. The transition between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeships is accomplished through Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATCs) and we work with them to connect to the primes and contractors. There is usually a waiting list of apprentices available.

One difficult challenge that we are seeing is that primes are looking for apprentices with three to four years of experience. They have less incentive to pick up the first-year apprentices who will require more supervision and training. We are trying to address this issue and find ways to support these individuals within the system to acquire experience.

BOLI helps individuals find where to start on the path to a journeyworker position and, through its partners, provides support along the way.

BOLI helps individuals find where to start on the path to a journeyworker position and, through its partners, provides support along the way.

Q. What can you share with us about the newer “Build your future. Build Oregon.” initiative and what special efforts are being undertaken to generate interest among underrepresented demographic groups?

ODOT receives federal and state funding for the workforce development program. Through an interagency agreement BOLI provides contract administration and ODOT holds BOLI accountable for the 10 required support areas of the program. BOLI then contracts out all these deliverables through a competitive process. We collaborate with BOLI on the subcontracting deliverables At any one time, BOLI might have six to eight subcontractors. One of the partners, Akana, embraced how to implement all these support services through one of these contracts, and they branded the supportive services piece as “Build your future. Build Oregon.” This effort has helped broadcast information about the workforce development program throughout Oregon and helps make more people aware of various program elements and assistance available.

Q. Are you aware of any model practices currently in use among community-based organizations to support women, minorities, and others looking at the construction trades?

Three Oregon-based organizations that provide support for underrepresented populations are: Oregon Tradeswomen which helps women build economic independence; Constructing Hope which is a pre-apprenticeship program in Portland; and Akana which is a Native American-owned, private sector, for-profit organization.

To increase awareness in careers in construction, Akana presents a podcast occasionally. Oregon Tradeswomen historically runs a women and trades fair with dedicated times for adults and for students. This is an opportunity for individuals to meet with people in the trades and talk about those trades and what careers paths they offer. (The fair has been on hiatus due to Covid-19.)

Q. How do you reach people who are no longer in school?

The average age for apprentices is 29 for males, and a little older for women. Some are seeking a second career, or maybe they have some construction experience, but it was limited to residential construction. To raise awareness of the HCWDP program, we work with various membership groups including: the National Association of Minority Contractors; Portland business development groups; Project Working Groups; Chambers of Commerce; veterans; advisory groups; and Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance programs on and near tribal reservations.

We have found that it is important to help people know where to start. We are working on simplifying the on-ramp to the whole system and providing a flow chart to help describe access to the system. We are looking forward to in-person recruitment events again after the last couple of years of virtual meetings.

Looking Ahead

Q. Do you have any concluding thoughts or advice on what strategies NJDOT can pursue to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry?

Seek and access the available FHWA funding, and direct it to your workforce development or OJT/Supportive Services programs. You can accomplish what we have in Oregon without legislative mandates. A lot of states work off their annual FHWA allocation but this would be only about $78,000 for Oregon – definitely not enough to build a workforce development program. Instead, work with your organization and your FHWA division field office to access other federal funding and more recently available Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) dollars.  Without these additional funds, we would not have adequate funding for all our programs and to grow the pipeline and help people move to journey worker status.

In terms of career progression opportunities beyond journey worker, participants could start their own business, maybe becoming a DBE or WBE, and graduate from a DBE program and become a contractor.

It is important to recognize that time is needed to measure success of initiatives like HCWDP, as participants will need two to six years to progress through the system. We have been at this for years and have dedicated partners. You need the sustained funding. There will be no big impact achieved if you can only give out a little bit of money each year to support efforts.

Resources

Akana
http://akana.us/
http://akana.us/odot-boli-main/odot-boli-apprentices/
http://akana.us/odot-boli-main/odot-boli-applicants/

Constructing Hope
https://www.constructinghope.org/

Federal Highway Administration On the Job Training and Supportive Services
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/civilrights/programs/ojt.cfm

National Association of Minority Contractors
https://namcnational.org/

ODOT/BOLI Highway Construction Workforce Development Program Final Report IAA 30668 July 2015 – June 2017
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/Business/OCR/SiteAssets/Pages/Workforce-Development/ODOT_BOLI_Highway_Construction_Workforce_Development_Program_2017.pdf

Oregon State Building Trades Council
https://www.oregonbuildingtrades.com/

Oregon Tradeswomen
https://oregontradeswomen.org/

Real Help for Working Oregonians – The BOLI_ODOT Workforce Development Program
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sNS5xV9Pa8