Stronger, More Resilient Bridges: Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) Applications in New Jersey

UHPC for Bridge Preservation and Repair is a model innovation in the latest round of the 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 correspondence with Pranav Lathia, an NJDOT Supervising Engineer, Structural & RR Engineering Services, to learn more about current initiatives to test and deploy UHPC on the Garden State’s bridges. The Q&A correspondence has been edited for clarity.

 

Q. What is Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC), and why is it particularly useful for bridge preservation and repair (P&R)?

Ultra High Performance Concrete (UHPC) is a new class of concrete which contains extraordinary properties of durability and strength. UHPC is a cement based composite material, which consists of steel fiber reinforcement, cement, fine sand, and other admixtures. UHPC is a useful alternative for bridge repairs and preservation due to its long-term durability, which will minimize repairs to a specific structure over time.

Q. Why, in some cases, is UHPC a better application than traditional treatments?

Due to its chemical properties UHPC has a compressive strength of seven times that of regular concrete. Therefore, UHPC is mostly used for thin overlays, closure pours, link slabs, beam end repairs and joint headers.

Q. What are some advantages of UHPC?

UHPC overlays appear to have many ideal properties for desk surface, including superior bond strength, compressive strength, lower permeability, greater freeze-thaw damage resistance, good abrasion resistance, and rapid cure times, among others.

Q. What are some disadvantages to UHPC?

There are some disadvantages to UHPC.  UHPC has higher material costs which has to be a factor in the Department's decision process. A life-cycle cost analysis is appropriate for making a determination of whether it is a cost-effective alternative for the Department.  Fresh UHPC does not bond well to hardened UHPC, therefore careful consideration for joint construction is needed, including reinforced staging joints. There is also limited test data for construction materials to determine their ability to perform well with UHPC. In addition, the NJ construction workforce is not very familiar with the use of UHPC as an overlay.

Image of a red rectangular device that works to smooth the UHPC,

Figure 1: It is imperative that contractors establish the proper amount of UHPC fluidity to maintain the bridge deck’s grade. Courtesy of NJDOT.

Q. When is UHPC perhaps not an appropriate solution?

UHPC would not be an appropriate solution for a full deck replacement, superstructure replacement, or total replacement.

Q. What are some examples of UHPC’s previous implementations?

Before our initiation of a pilot program, UHPC had only been used for ABC (closure pours) and pre-cast connections in New Jersey since 2014.

 Q. How is NJDOT approaching the potential implementation of UHPC for bridge preservation and replacement (P&R)?

Currently NJDOT uses UHPC ABC (closure pours) for prefabricated superstructures. NJDOT has launched and implemented a UHPC Overlay Research Project in conjunction with the design engineering firm, WSP Solutions.

Q. Can you describe the how UHPC is applied in the pilot project for P&R?

In the pilot project, a 1.5” UHPC overlay has been applied to four NJDOT structures. The UHPC overlay was constructed on the bridge deck along with the reconstruction of deteriorated deck joints.

Q. What bridges were selected, and what was the rationale for their selection?

Four structures were chosen for the UHPC overlay pilot program and split into two separate contracts, Contract A (North) and Contract B (South):

  • I-295 NB & US 130 NB over Mantua Creek in West Deptford, Gloucester County
  • NJ 57 over Hances Brook in Mansfield, Warren County
  • I-280 WB over Newark Turnpike in Kearny, Hudson County
  • NJ 159 WB over Passaic River in Montville, Morris County

The selected bridges for the pilot program were in good condition to leverage the perceived long life-span of UHPC and not allow other factors to limit the potential service life. Eight candidate structures were fully evaluated and tested before the four structures were advanced. The bridges that were ultimately selected varied in their age, size and design. All the bridges had asphalt overlay.

Q. What were the evaluation criteria used for the selection of the pilots?

All structures included in the program were evaluated for suitability based on the structural evaluations, chloride content within the deck, feasible construction stages, traffic analysis results, and existing overlay depths. Chloride content was obtained from the concrete cores we had completed on each bridge deck.

Q. What best practices were learned from the pilot projects?

It was best to install the UHPC overlays in locations that UHPC would serve as the final riding surface. The Department felt that an UHPC overlay should be constructed on structures which had an existing asphalt overlay. A thinner overlay could have been provided to cut material costs. Using a pan mixer, the supplier had the ability to control the fluidity of the UHPC, which is extremely important when dealing with extreme temperatures and high deflection/ movement structures. A flow test should continue to be required to verify the proper mixing and consistency of the UHPC overlay material.

Q. Were there any innovations from the implementation of the pilot projects?

A deeper overlay could be considered as a viable alternative for structures that need major deck rehabilitation or replacement.

A bridge with a plastic cover at night, waiting for the UHPC to cure

Figure 2. An NJDOT UHPC treatment in the process of curing. Courtesy of NJDOT.

Q. How is data from the pilots being used to research further UHPC applications?

The data from the pilot program will be used to further the Department’s investigation in UHPC for applications other than just bridge deck overlays.

Q.  What can be done to prepare industry and the workforce for UHPC as an overlay?

The implementation of UHPC affects the current workforce because it is a new material to be used in New Jersey. The current workforce does not have enough experience with UHPC’s properties which could make a repair more challenging.  UHPC has only been used for closure pours in New Jersey. This knowledge gap could be solved by supplying the workforce with workshops, seminars, and suggested construction sequences, practices and equipment. A test slab should also be constructed to verify the proposed material and the contractor’s procedures.

Q. Are there needed actions to better educate NJDOT staff on its efficacy and potential uses?

Yes, training and peer exchange activities are valuable for further educating NJDOT staff on UHPC. Recently, we participated in a a two-day UHPC workshop (October 2021) with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The workshop provided participants with a greater understanding of what UHPC is, and explored solutions for using UHPC for bridge deck overlays, link slabs, and steel girder end repairs. Participants were given information on where to obtain guidance for implementing different types of UHPC preservation and repair strategies. The workshop also provided participants with the opportunity to discuss their UHPC implementation strategy, construction specifications, and design details with FHWA EDC-6 UHPC team members.

Image of a bridge with a new white smooth UHPC application on top.

Figure 3. The final product, a UHPC overlay before asphalt paving. Courtesy of NJDOT.

Q. What does the future of UHPC look like in New Jersey?

The future of UHPC in New Jersey could consist of UHPC connection repairs, seismic retrofits, column repairs, concrete patching, shotcrete, steel girder strengthening, bridge deck overlays, and link slabs.

Q. In the current EDC-6 Round, the NJ STIC states that it is planning on performing an assessment of the UHPC pilot projects. When they are complete, how will they be assessed? Could you tell us more about the long-term testing program being developed to gather performance data in the assessment phase?

These are still works in progress. A long-term monitoring and testing program is being developed to gather performance data in the assessment phase. The scope of our current efforts includes further investigation and research, collection and evaluation of performance data, updating the standard specifications and conducting a life cycle cost analysis.

Q. Can you describe the objective(s) and/or provide any other status information about the long-term program goals?

A long-term goal for the department is to incorporate UHPC into our design manual, including for P&R.Eventually we could see UHPC incorporated with bridge deck overlays and concrete bridge repairs. There is currently no timeline on incorporating UHPC into the design manual. We anticipate revising the standard specifications, but there are no updates regarding the revision of the standard specifications for UHPC.


Resources

Federal Highway Administration. (2019, February). Design and Construction of Field-Cast UHPC Connections. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/structures/bridge/uhpc/19011/index.cfm

Federal Highway Administration. (2020, November). Eliminating Bridge Joints with Link Slabs—An Overview of State Practices. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/preservation/docs/hif20062.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2018, April). Example Construction Checklist: UHPC Connections for Prefabricated Bridge Elements. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/abc/docs/uhpc-construction-checklist.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2018, March). Properties and Behavior of UHPC-Class Materials. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/structures/bridge/18036/18036.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2018, February) Ultra-High Performance Concrete for Bridge Deck Overlays. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/bridge/17097/index.cfm

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

New Mexico Department of Transportation. (2010). Feasibility Analysis of Ultra High Performance Concrete for Prestressed Concrete Bridge Applications. New Mexico Department of Transportation. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/24640

New York State Department of Transportation. (2021, June). Item 557. 6601NN16 – Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC). New York State Department of Transportation. https://www.dot.ny.gov/spec-repository-us/557.66010116.pdf

From left to right, image of a camera on a traffic pole, AI computer vision vehicle traveling paths, and AI identifying cars on an interstate, using colored boxes

How Automated Video Analytics Can Make NJ’s Transportation Network Safer and More Efficient

Computer vision is an emerging technology in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) reads and interprets images or videos, and then provides that data to decision makers. For the transportation field, computer vision has broad implications, streamlining many tasks that are currently performed by staff. By automating monitoring procedures, transportation agencies can gain access to improved, real-time incident data, as well as new metrics on traffic and “near-misses,” which contribute to making more informed safety decisions.

To learn more about the how computer vision technology is being applied in the transportation sector, three researchers working on related projects were interviewed: Dr. Chengjun Liu, working on Smart Traffic Video Analytics and Edge Computing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology; Dr. Mohammad Jalayer, developing an AI-based Surrogate Safety Measure for intersections at Rowan University, and Asim Zaman, PE, currently researching how computer vision can improve safety for railroads. All researchers expressed that this technology is imminent, effective, and will affect staffing needs and roles at transportation agencies.   

A summary of these interviews is presented below.

 

Smart Traffic Video Analytics (STVA) and Edge Computing (EC) – Dr. Chengjun Liu, Professor, Department of Computer Science, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Dr. Chengjun Liu is a professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he leads the Face Recognition and Video Processing Lab. In 2016, NJDOT and the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a three and-a-half year research project The project led to the development of several promising tools, including a Smart Traffic Video Analysis (STVA) system that automatically counts traffic volume, and detects crashes, traffic, slowdowns, wrong-way drivers, and pedestrians, and is able to classify different types of vehicles.

“There are a number of core technologies involved in these smart traffic analytics.” Dr. Liu said. “In particular, advanced video analytics. Here we also use edge computing because it can be deployed in the field. We also apply some deep learning methods to analyze the video.”

Video image of interstate highway with bidirectional traffic and AI identifying vehicles using green and red boxes

Figure 1. A video feed shows the AI identifying passing vehicles on I-280 in real-time. Courtesy of Innovative AI Technologies.

To test this technology, Dr. Liu’s team developed prototypes to monitor traffic in a real-world setting. The prototype consists of Video Analytics (VA)  software, and Edge Computing (EC) components. EC is a computing strategy that seeks to reduce data transmission and response times by distributing computational units, often in the field. In this case, VA and EC systems, consisting of a wired camera with a small computer attached, were placed to overlook segments of both Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and I-280 in Newark. Footage shows the device detecting passing cars, counting and classifying vehicles as they enter a designated zone. Existing automated technologies for traffic counting had something in the realm of a 20 to 30 percent error rate, while Dr. Liu reported error rates between 2 and 5 percent.

Additional real-time roadway footage from NJDOT shows several instances of the device flagging aberrant vehicular behavior. On I-280, the system flags a black car stopped on the shoulder with a red box. On another stretch of highway, a car that has turned left on a one-way is identified and demarcated. The same technology, being used for traffic monitoring video in Korea, immediately locates and highlights a white car that careens into a barrier and flips. Similar examples are given for congestion and pedestrians.

“This can be used for accident detection, and traffic vehicle classification, where incidents are detected automatically and in real time. This can be used in various illumination conditions like nighttime, or weather conditions like snowing, raining, and so forth.” Dr. Liu said.

According to Dr. Liu, video monitoring at NJDOT is being outsourced, and it might take days, or even weeks, to review and receive data. Staff monitor operations via video monitors from NJDOT facilities, where, due to human capacity constraints, some incidents and abnormal driving behavior go unnoticed. Like many tools using computer vision, the STVA system can provide live metrics, allowing for more effective monitoring than is humanly possible and accelerating emergency responder dispatch times.

STVA, by automating some manned tasks, would change workplace needs in a transportation agency. Rather than requiring people to closely monitor traffic and then make decisions, use of this new technology would require staff capable of working with the software, troubleshooting its performance, and interpreting the data provided for safety, engineering, and planning decisions.

Dr. Liu was keen to see his technology in use, expressing how the private sector was already deploying it in a variety of contexts. In his view, it was imperative that STVA be implemented to improve traffic monitoring operations. “There is a potential of saving lives,” Dr. Liu said.

 

Safety Analysis Tool - Dr. Mohammad Jalayer, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rowan University

Dr. Mohammad Jalayer, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rowan University, has been researching the application of computer vision to improving safety at intersections. While Dr. Liu’s STVA technology might focus more heavily on real-time applications, Dr. Jalayer’s research looks to use AI-based video analytics to understand and quantify how traffic functions at certain intersections and, based on that analysis, provide data for safety changes.

Traditionally, Dr. Jalayer said, safety assessments are reactive, “meaning that we need to wait for crashes to happen. Usually, we analyze crashes for three years, or five years, and then figure out what’s going on.” Often, these crash records can be inaccurate, or incomplete. Instead, Dr. Jalayer and his team are looking to develop proactive approaches. “Rather than just waiting for a crash, we wanted to do an advanced analysis to make sure that we prevent the crashes.”

Because 40 percent of traffic incidents occur at intersections, many of them high-profile crashes, the researchers chose to focus on intersection safety. For this, they developed the Safety Analysis Tool.

Image of an intersection with overlays of different colors, showing vehicle paths as they drive past, demonstrating different travel paths

Figure 2. The Surrogate Safety Analysis in action, using user behavior to determine recurring hazards at intersections. Courtesy of Dr. Jalayer.

The Surrogate Safety Measure analyzes conflicts and near-misses. The implementation of a tool like the Surrogate Safety Measure will help staff to make more informed safety decisions for the state’s intersections. The AI-based tool uses a deep learning algorithm to look at many different factors: left-turn lanes, traffic direction, traffic count, vehicle type, and can differentiate and count pedestrians and bicycles as well.

The Safety Analysis Tool’s Surrogate Safety Measure contains two important indicators: Time To Collision (TTC), and Post-Encroachment Time (PET). These are measures of how long it would take two road users to collide, unless further action is taken (TTC), and the amount of time between vehicles crossing the same point (PET), which is also an effective indicator of high-conflict areas.

In practice, these metrics would register, for example, a series of red-light violations, or people repeatedly crossing the street when they should not. Over time, particularly hazardous areas of intersections can be identified, even if an incident has not yet occurred. According to Dr. Jalayer, FHWA and other traffic safety stakeholders have already begun to integrate TTC and PET into their safety analysis toolsets.

Additionally, the AI-based tool can log data that is currently unavailable for roadways. For example, it can generate accurate traffic volume reports, which, Dr. Jalayer said, are often difficult to find. As bicycle and pedestrian data is typically not available, data gathered from this tool would significantly improve the level of knowledge about user behavior for an intersection, allowing for more effective treatments..

In practice, after the Safety Analysis Tool is applied, DOT stakeholders can decide which treatment to implement. For example, Jalayer said, if the analysis finds a lot of conflict with left turns at the intersection, then perhaps the road geometry could be changed. In the case of right-turn conflicts, a treatment could look at eliminating right turns on red. Then, Jalayer said, there are longer-term strategies, such as public education campaigns.

Image of Safety Analysis Tool interactive box with parts that read Analysis and Video, with Results, such as Vehicle Red Light Violation

Figure 3. The Safety Analysis tool user interface, which can run various analyses of traffic video, such as vehicle violations, or pedestrian volume. Courtesy of Dr. Jalayer.

For the first phase of the project, the researchers deployed their technology at two intersections in East Rutherford, near the American Dream Mall. For the current second phase, they are collecting data at ten intersections across the state, including locations near Rowan and Rutgers universities.

Currently, this type of traffic safety analysis is handled in a personnel-intensive way, with a human physically present studying an intersection. But with the Surrogate Safety tool, the process will become much more efficient and comprehensive. The data collected  will be less subject to human error, as it is not presently possible for staff to perfectly monitor every camera feed at all times of day.

This technology circumvents the need for additional staff, removing the need for in-person field visits or footage monitoring. Instead of staff with the advanced technical expertise to analyze an intersection’s safety in the field, state agencies will require personnel proficient in maintaining the automated equipment.

Many state traffic intersections are already equipped with cameras, but the data is not currently being analyzed using computer vision methods. With much of the infrastructure already present, Dr. Jalayer said that the next step would be to feed this video data into their software for analysis. There are private companies already using similar computer-vision based tools. “I believe this is a very emerging technology, and you're seeing more and more within the U.S.,” Dr. Jalayer said. He expects the tool to be launched by early 2022. The structure itself is already built, but the user interface is still under development. “We are almost there.” Dr. Jalayer said.

 

AI-Based Video Analytics for Railroad Safety – Asim Zaman, PE, Project Engineer, Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning and Transportation research, Rutgers University

Asim Zaman, a project engineer at Rutgers, shared information on an ongoing research project examining the use of computer analytics for the purpose of improving safety on and around railways. The rail safety research is led by Dr. Xiang Liu, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rutgers Engineering School, and involves training AI to detect  trespassers on the tracks, a persistent problem that often results in loss of life and serious service disruptions. “Ninety percent of all the deaths in the railroad industry come from trespassing or happen at grade crossings,” Zaman said.

The genesis of the project came from Dr. Liu hypothesizing that, “There's probably events that happen that we don't see, and there's nothing recorded about, but they might tell the full story.” Thus, the research team began to inquire into how computer vision analysis might inform targeted interventions that improve railway safety.

Figure showing three vehicles driving over railroad tracks, with color overlays showing that they are detected by the AI

Figure 4. The color overlay of vehicles trespassing on railways demonstrates that the AI has successfully detected them. Courtesy of Zaman, Ren, and Liu.

Initially, the researchers gathered some sample video, a few days' worth of footage along railroad tracks, and analyzed it using simple artificial intelligence methods to identify “near-miss events,” where people were present on the tracks as a train approached, but managed to avoid being struck. Data on near-misses such as these are not presently recorded, leading to a lack of comprehensive information on trespassing behavior.

After publishing a paper on their research, the team looked into integrating deep learning neural networks into  the analysis, which can identify different types of objects. With this technology, they again looked at trespassers, using two weeks of footage this time. This study was effective, but still computationally-intensive. For their next project, with funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), they looked at the efficacy of applying a new algorithm, YOLO (You Only Look Once), to generate a trespassing database.

The algorithm has been fed live video from four locations over the past year, beginning on January 1, 2021, and concluding on December 31. Zaman noted that, with the AI’s analysis and the copious amounts of data, the research can begin to ask more granular questions such as, “How many trespasses can we expect on a Monday in winter? Or, what time of day is the worst for this particular location? Or, do truck drivers trespass more?”

Image of computer vision tool detecting pedestrians on tracks as train is actively using intersection, they are shown highlighted in green

Figure 5. Similar work shows AI identifying and flagging pedestrian trespassers. The researchers are currently working on using unreported “near-miss” data to improve safety. Courtesy of Zaman, Ren, and Liu.

After the year’s research has concluded, the researchers will study the data and look for applications. Without the AI integration, however, such study would be time-consuming and impractical. The applications fall under the “3E” categories: engineering, education, and enforcement. For example, if the analysis finds that trespassing tends to happen at a particular location at 5pm, then that might be when law enforcement are deployed to that area. If many near-misses are happening around high school graduation, then targeted education and enforcement would be warranted during this time. But without this analysis, no measures would be taken, as near-misses are not logged.

Currently, this type of technology is in the research stage. “We're kind of in the transition between the proof of concept and the deployment here,” Zaman said. The researchers are focused on proving its effectiveness, with the goal of enabling railroads and transit agencies to use these technologies to study particularly problematic areas, and determine if treatments are working or if additional measures are warranted. “It's already contributing, in a very small way, to safety decision making.”

Zaman said that the team at Rutgers was very interested in sharing this technology, and its potential applications, with others. In his estimation, these computer analytics are about five years from a more widespread rollout. He notes that this technology would be greatly beneficial as a part of transportation monitoring, as “AI can make use out of all this data that’s just kind of sitting there or getting rinsed every 30 days.”

Applying computer vision to existing video surveillance will help to address significant safety issues that have persistently affected the rail industry. The AI-driven safety analysis will identify key traits of trespassing that have been previously undetected, assisting decision makers in applying an appropriate response. As with other smart video analytics technologies, the benefit, lies in the enhanced ability to make informed decisions that save lives and keep the system moving.

 

Current and Future Research

The Transportation Research Board’s TRID Database provides recent examples of how automated video analytics are being explored in a wider context. For example, in North Dakota, an in-progress project, sponsored by the University of Utah, is studying the use of computer vision to automate the work of assessing rural roadway safety. In Texas, researchers at the University of Texas used existing intersection cameras to analyze pedestrian behavior, publishing two papers on their findings.

The TRID database also contains other recent research contributions to this emerging field. The article, “Assessing Bikeability with Street View Imagery and Computer Vision(2021) presents a hybrid model for assessing safety, applying computer vision to street view imagery, in addition to site visits. The article, "Detection of Motorcycles in Urban Traffic Using Video Analysis: A Review" (2021), considers how automatic video processing algorithms can increase safety for motorcyclists.

Finally, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) has plans to undertake a research project, Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to Enhance Safety Analysis once a contractor has been selected. This study will develop processes for data collection, as well as analysis algorithms, and create guidance for managing data. Ultimately, this work will help to standardize and advance the adoption of AI and machine learning in the transportation industry.

The NCHRP Program has also funded workforce development studies to better prepare transportation agencies for adapting to this rapidly changing landscape for transportation systems operations and management.  In 2012, the NCHRP  publication, Attracting, Recruiting, and Retaining Skilled Staff for Transportation System Operations and Management, identified the growing need for transportation agencies to create pipelines for system operations and management (SOM) staff, develop the existing workforce with revamped trainings, and increase awareness of the field’s importance for  leadership and the public.  In 2019, the Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Workforce Guidebook further detailed specific job positions required for a robust TSMO program.  The report considered the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for these job positions and tailored recommendations to hiring each position. The report compiled information on training and professional development, including specific training providers and courses nationwide.

 

Conclusion

Following a brief scan of current literature and Interviews with three NJ-based researchers, it is clear that computer vision is a broadly applicable technology for the transportation sector, and that its implementation is imminent. It will transform aspects of both operations monitoring, and safety analysis work, as AI can monitor and analyze traffic video far more efficiently and effectively than human staff. Workplace roles, the researchers said, will shift to supporting the technology’s hardware in the field, as well as managing the software components.  Traffic operations monitoring might transition to interpreting and acting on incidents that the Smart Traffic Video Analytics flags. Engineers, tasked with analyzing traffic safety and determining the most effective treatments, will be informed by more expansive data on aspects such as driver behavior and conflict areas than available using more traditional methods.

The adoption of computer vision in the transportation sector will help to make our roads, intersections, and railways safer. It will help transportation professionals to better understand the conditions of facilities they monitor, providing invaluable insight for how to make them safer, and more efficient for all users. Most importantly, these additional metrics will provide ways of seeing how people behave within our transportation network, often in-real time, enabling data-driven interventions that will save lives.

State, regional and local transportation agencies will need to recruit and retain staff with the right knowledge, skills and abilities to capture the safety and operations benefits and navigate the challenges of adopting new technologies in making this transition.

 


Resources

Center for Transportation Research. (2020). Video Data Analytics for Safer and More Efficient Mobility. Center for Transportation Research. https://ctr.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/151.pdf

City of Bellevue, Washington. (2021). Accelerating Vision Zero with Advanced Video Analytics: Video-Based Network-Wide Conflict and Speed Analysis. National Operations Center of Excellence. https://transops.s3.amazonaws.com/uploaded_files/City%20of%20Bellevue%2C%20WA%20-%20Conflict%20and%20Speed%20Analysis%20-%20NOCoE%20Case%20Study.pdf

Espinosa, J., Velastín, S., and Branch, J. (2021). "Detection of Motorcycles in Urban Traffic Using Video Analysis: A Review," in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, Vol. 22, No. 10, pp. 6115-6130, Oct. 2021. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9112620

Ito, Koichi, and Biljecki, Filip. (2021). “Assessing Bikeability with Street View Imagery and Computer Vision.Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies.  Volume 132, November 2021, 103371. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trc.2021.103371

Jalayer, Mohammad, and Patel, Deep. (2020). Automated Analysis of Surrogate Safety Measures and Non-compliance Behavior of Road Users at Intersections. Rowan University. https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Patel-Jalayer-with-video.pdf

Liu, Chengjun (2021). Stopped Vehicle Detection. New Jersey Institute of Technology. https://web.njit.edu/~cliu/NJDOT/DEMOS.html

Liu, X., Baozhang, R., and Zaman, A. (2019). Artificial Intelligence-Aided Automated Detection of Railroad Trespassing. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0361198119846468

Cronin, B., Anderson, L., Fien-Helfman, D., Cronin, C., Cook, A., Lodato, M., & Venner, M. (2012). Attracting, Recruiting, and Retaining Skilled Staff for Transportation System Operations and Management. National Cooperative Research Program (No. Project 20-86). http://nap.edu/14603

Pustokhina, I., Putsokhin, D., Vaiyapuri, T., Gupta, D., Kumar, S., and Shankar, K. (2021). An Automated Deep Learning Based Anomaly Detection in Pedestrian Walkways for Vulnerable Road Users Safety. Safety Science. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2021.105356

Szymkowski, T,. Ivey, S., Lopez, A., Noyes, P., Kehoe, N., Redden, C. (2019). Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Workforce Guidebook: Final Guidebook. https://transportationops.org/tools/tsmo-workforce-guidebook.

Shi, Hang and Liu, Chengjun. (2020). A New Cast Shadow Detection Method for Traffic Surveillance Video Analysis Using Color and Statistical Modeling. Image and Vision Computing. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imavis.2019.103863

Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. (2021). Intelligent Safety Assessment of Rural Roadways Using Automated Image and Video Analysis (Active). University of Utah. https://www.mountain-plains.org/research/details.php?id=566

Zhang, Z., Liu, X., and Zaman, A. (2018). Video Analytics for Railroad Safety Research: An Artificial Intelligence Approach. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0361198118792751

Zhang, T. Guo, M., and Jin, P. (2020). Longitudinal-Scanline-Based Arterial Traffic Video Analytics with Coordinate Transformation Assisted by 3D Infrastructure Data. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0361198120971257

Innovation Spotlight Interview: Virtual Public Involvement at NJDOT

Virtual Public Involvement presents an opportunity to expand the community engagement process. An FHWA Every Day Counts Round 6 initiative (EDC-6), Virtual Public Involvement (VPI) gives participants an opportunity to engage, other than through a traditional, physical meeting, which can require more time and resources to attend. The use of virtual engagement technologies can boost public participation in the comment process, and provide new avenues for collecting data and disseminating information on potential infrastructure investments and other projects. By increasing opportunities for public communication and engagement, VPI can serve to ensure that the needs of the public are fully considered in transportation project planning and development decisions.

At NJDOT, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges and opportunities for the agency’s public engagement efforts. The necessity of social distancing motivated the Department to conduct meetings and outreach virtually, transforming the outreach process. To learn more about the lessons learned in making this transition, three NJDOT staff members were interviewed: Vanessa Holman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, serves as NJDOT’s legislative liaison and oversees the Department’s Office of Government and Community Relations; Megan Fackler, Director of the Office of Government and Community Relations (OCR), oversees public engagement and handles responses to DOT-related issues and concerns raised by the public, elected officials, and others; and Zenobia Fields, Senior Policy and Program Advisor, is responsible for policy related to planning and programming, including statewide plans and safety initiatives, and engaging with national organizations (AASHTO, TRB).  Their observations are summarized below.

What was VPI like at NJDOT before the pandemic?

NJDOT has always strived to employ tools and mediums that will help achieve positive outcomes, working to ensure that the public is treated as valued customers.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency was not especially “tech-forward” with public engagement, and instead utilized more traditional, in-person engagement strategies. However, NJDOT staff who regularly engaged with stakeholders and attended external meetings were issued tablets to help facilitate in-person interactions. Staff had access to Microsoft Teams and preliminary training in using that platform. So, at the onset of the pandemic, the OCR and other staff were equipped with the technological capabilities to transition to virtual engagement.

How did the pandemic affect NJDOT’s public engagement efforts?

Beginning the third week of March 2020, NJDOT pivoted to a VPI style of engagement. With the assistance of IT staff, OCR held a large legislative summit for an NJDOT project, and began virtually conducting project-specific local official briefings, public information sessions, and public hearings. This outreach occurs during every phase of major projects from concept development through construction. Public Information Centers (PICs) are similar to an open house event, where the public is invited to attend and review at their own pace project drawings and plans, ask questions, and provide feedback. During the pandemic, NJDOT established project-specific PIC websites with multi-lingual content available. Links to certain PIC virtual meeting videos created by consultants were also made available for a certain period of time (e.g., 14 days), which has increased the number of persons accessing those meetings.

For certain projects, OCR sends hard copy letters to stakeholders who live within a certain distance to the project location informing them of the project and advising them to contact NJDOT if they need technical or other assistance to engage.

With the onset of Covid-19, NJDOT and its staff pivoted to a VPI style of engagement.

Several other units, such as traffic engineering, also began using virtual engagement technologies, including pre-construction meetings. The NJDOT Permitting unit has engaged applicants virtually to walk through documents, including technical project plans. Using the screen-share function, presenters can show and discuss complex technical materials, including maps and jurisdictional documents.

What platforms does the Department use?

NJDOT utilizes Microsoft Teams for most VPI for both internal and external outreach.  The Department initially used Cisco WebEx and GoToMeeting, but determined that Microsoft Teams was the most optimal platform for internal meetings along with Cisco WebEx for public meetings. While the agency does not have a Zoom account, consultants often use Zoom for public and stakeholder engagement.

Consultants are encouraged to use a variety of online engagement tools for public and stakeholder feedback such as crowdsourcing, wiki maps, mobile apps, videos, etc.  NJDOT has used crowdsourcing to identify potholes, locations for bike share stations and other information.

How has the Department implemented VPI as a practice?

VPI has been embraced at the Department, necessitated by the pandemic, however standardized VPI as an implemented practice is still a work-in-progress. Some staff have received training in VPI and attended webinars on the topic from AASHTO and FHWA through its EDC-6 program, but the training has not extended beyond these collaborations. The expansion of VPI training for staff could be valuable to embed best practices about what works, and what doesn’t.

What are some of the benefits that have come with implementing VPI?

Overall, stakeholder meetings have experienced higher attendance and participation, such as the Strategic Highway Safety Plan meetings, because people do not have to travel, and can also avoid parking, traffic, scheduling conflicts, etc.

VPI tools are being using by transportation agencies to enable the public to access user-friendly features to receive information and provide input.

Also, employing VPI for PICs has afforded participants with more time to access project information at a time that is convenient to them and to formulate thoughtful comments and questions on the specific project. VPI has also helped NJDOT to more formally capture and respond to comments and inquiries via electronic tracking, as compared to in-person comment collection. Many NJDOT project websites include a hyperlink to make accessing them easier for the public, enabling them to “click” on the link to access project-related information and provide feedback. And, interested parties can opt to receive text or email alerts from the Department on certain projects (e.g., Route 495 project e-alert; I-295 project).

An in-person open house event or PIC gives participants approximately three hours to review materials and provide feedback, however a virtual event can be made available for a longer period via a hyperlink. Attendees of a virtual event do not have to travel and wait in line to ask questions or to share comments, which can be very time consuming at a highly attended PIC; instead, they can post feedback on chat or via a Q&A function, or ask questions via telephone. Virtual engagement also enables participants to view documents and materials at their own pace, allowing them to return multiple times if needed over a period of days or weeks.

Over the past 18 months, implementing VPI has also become easier for NJDOT staff because their familiarity with VPI platforms and tools has increased. VPI makes certain tasks simpler as well. For example, while the services of a translator would need to be secured for an in-person event, translation is undertaken automatically with certain VPI platforms (e.g., Google translate).

What are some of the challenges of implementing VPI?

Learning how to successfully employ VPI has involved a great deal of trial and error. It was helpful to use consultant services for some of the Department’s initial VPI events. There are always challenges when implementing virtual mediums, with technology, security, and establishing best practices.  For example, early in the pandemic, a Zoom “bomber” hacked into one of the Commissioner’s virtual meetings, which necessitated a temporary meeting shut-down. Other common technology challenges encountered included difficult connections for participants, and issues with microphone and camera functionality.

The FHWA maintains a VPI webpage that is a store-house of case studies, webinars and peer changes on model practices.

Another concern regards ensuring full participation, as attendance does not necessarily mean engagement. Participants are encouraged to turn on their video cameras to minimize their multi-tasking during VPI – something that is not really an obstacle during in-person meetings.  Using break out rooms, chat and the “raising hand” online platform features have been helpful to encourage engagement. Online polls have also been a successful VPI tool including Zoom polls, Mentimeter, and Poll Everywhere to encourage engagement.

Some people are quiet and may not be as open on VPI as they would be when talking one-on-one with a person, so there needs to be a balance of VPI engagement and effort made to ensure all of these virtual conversations are happening as they would if they were convened in person.

Receiving state approval to secure licensing for new platforms can be a lengthy process due to security reasons, as can be securing departmental acceptance and adoption of new technologies. Moving forward, the Department is open to learning and trying new virtual platforms and technologies to achieve goals, but at this time there is not a specific VPI need not being met.

What equity concerns have you observed with VPI?

NJDOT remains compliant with federal civil rights and non-discrimination requirements, with a Public Involvement Plan, and the Civil Rights group and Title VI Liaisons involved in each project. An initial challenge at the start of the pandemic was ensuring NJDOT’s VPI complied with NEPA and Title VI regulations. The Civil Rights unit was very helpful in navigating these regulations and ensuring OCR performed their due diligence in this regard.

Another challenge was ensuring that NJDOT was engaging with all, including those who are underserved, under-represented and do not have access to virtual platforms.  Projects must be compliant and also must ensure engagement opportunities are accessible and folks have the technology needed for virtual access (e.g., smartphone, landline) and that computers are not needed in order to participate.

It is important to review and measure how many are participating and the quality of feedback obtained. Some low-income or non-tech savvy members of the public may not have the technology or computer literacy to participate in VPI. In order to address this “digital divide,” focus has been given to expanding broadband connectivity options, such as creating mobile hotspots in areas close to project sites where residents without Wi-Fi or broadband might be able to connect to the internet, making NJDOT interactive tablets available, and connecting through their smartphone or landlines to enable folks to meaningfully participate in the engagement process. If access to any technology is still a barrier for participation, another solution is to provide the opportunity to simply place hand-written suggestions in a physical comment box placed within the geographic limits of the particular project so it is easily accessible to local stakeholders.

What best practices have been developed with VPI?

A key best practice for staff working with VPI is to prepare a script and talking points ahead of time, and to practice with the team prior to the event to ensure familiarity and troubleshoot any identified technological issues. This pre-event planning process helps to ensure a smooth flow during the meeting.

Based on our COVID-19 experiences of the past eighteen months, NJDOT has learned more about the pros and cons of various platforms depending on the target audience, meeting topics, and goals. For example, MS-Teams has been best for internal meetings, or small meetings with elected and local officials, while Zoom’s webinar platform has been ideal for larger meetings and broader, more active public engagement. The use of a consultant to moderate public engagement has been beneficial, such as with enforcing time limits during comment sessions and assisting with technology issues. Over time, implementing VPI has become easier as familiarity with the platforms and technologies has increased among both NJDOT staff and the public.

How does the Department use social media in the public involvement process?

NJDOT has been using Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube to communicate longer video content. The Department uses social media to alert members of the public about upcoming PICs.

The primary social media platforms NJDOT uses are Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube to communicate longer video content. The Department uses social media to alert members of the public about upcoming PICs, offering the link to virtual PICs via Facebook posts. Facebook has been helpful for event pre-planning, and Twitter and the 511 website – a traffic condition platform – are effective when there is an immediate need to communicate to the public. The public uses social media to post comments and inquiries.  Typically, the public feedback communicated through social media is brief, but sometimes commenters provide thoughtful, in-depth remarks from which NJDOT’s OCR can respond.

The Department also uses social media and other outreach tools to inform the public about NJDOT services and role in the community, emphasizing its customer focus. For example, the NJDOT Commissioner drafts an external e-newsletter called “Commitment to Communities” or C2C, that is distributed four-six times annually. Often the content focuses on “Did you know” types of facts related to NJDOT’s role and services. Approximately 6,000 persons subscribe to the newsletter. The online Local Aid Resource Center also uses various social media platforms to communicate primarily to existing and interested grantees.

NJDOT’s social media policy was established prior to the current administration, and primarily focused on employee practices and appropriate behavior as representatives of the Department.  NJDOT is working on developing a new social media policy that will address how to monitor and manage the Department’s social media accounts, including how comments should be responded to and handled. The Department has recently hired a social media coordinator, as well as an in-house videographer. The social media coordinator has increased the Department’s Facebook following to 11,000 persons, which is a significant achievement, especially because the Department does not have an advertising budget for social media. The Department is considering trying new social media platforms, such as Instagram, and continually engages with other state department social media coordinators to learn from their work.

How will VPI be used moving forward?

Overall, both the quantity and quality of NJDOT public engagement increased with VPI implementation during the pandemic and VPI will continue post pandemic. Moving forward, the Department is open to learning and trying new virtual platforms and technologies to achieve goals, which will continue to be evaluated.

While VPI is more economical, in-person engagement remains relevant. NJDOT plans to utilize a hybrid engagement approach, with a mix of VPI and face-to-face engagement. Additionally, the Department must continue to work with community partners as trusted advocates to attract and encourage participation from a diverse set of constituents. The Department will further explore the expanded use of crowdsourcing tools, and the development of an online application for the public to use to contact NJDOT, in addition to using the Department’s central dispatch number.


Resources

FHWA. Virtual Public Involvement. Retrieved from: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/virtual_public_involvement.cfm

NJDOT. Technology Transfer Online Training Library, Virtual Public Involvement Peer Exchanges and Video Case Studies Online. Retrieved from: https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/08/06/vpi-peer-exchanges-video-case-studies/

Developing Next Generation Traffic Incident Management in the Delaware Valley

Traffic Incident Management (TIM) programs help first responders and traffic operators to better understand and coordinate roadway incidents. As part of the sixth round of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative, the agency is promoting innovative practice in this area through NextGen TIM. These practices and procedures can advance safety, increase travel reliability, and improve agency operations by engaging with new technologies and trainings. For example, sensors and crowdsourced data can help traffic agencies better detect incidents and decrease response times. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) can help transportation agencies and first responders better understand the incident scene and speed the resumption of traffic flow. The NextGen TIM initiative is an effort to improve traffic incident management through technological innovation and standardized operating procedures. NextGen TIM technologies and practices are currently being used in the Delaware Valley to increase real-time situational awareness and ensure maximum safety at the scene of an incident.

Regional Integrated Multimodal Information Sharing (RIMIS)

Image of RIMIS Operational Tool, which is a map of the DVRPC region, with Philadelphia at the center, and portions of New Jersey to the east, and Pennsylvania to the West, highway routes are marked in green and yellow, yellow denoting slower than usual operations, orange construction worker signals denote construction along the corridor, many of them are clustered aroudn Philadelphia.

The RIMIS Operational Tool gives a system-wide overview of traffic operations, such as incidents, traffic flow, and construction alerts, courtesy DVRPC

Currently, transportation departments in the region use the TRANSCOM traffic monitoring platform to supervise incidents. The Delaware Valley Planning Commission (DVRPC)’s version of this platform is called RIMIS, or Regional Integrated Multimodal Information Sharing. Because DVRPC is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that spans both sides of the Delaware River, its reach includes sections of New Jersey and Pennsylvania—broadly, the greater Philadelphia area. In this region, with overlapping municipal, state, and regional jurisdictions, communication and coordination could be difficult. According to Christopher King, Manager of DVRPC’s Office of Transportation Operations Management, before RIMIS, incident notifications were commonly communicated through phone calls.

Area transportation officials recognized the need for a coordinated platform where information could be shared back and forth. Instead of slow, one-to-one incident notifications, this new, decentralized platform would present a “big picture” perspective of a traffic incident’s impacts on the regional transportation network. The concept was to create a regional centralized information location for traffic operators and first responders to view the traffic status on area roads, and understand, quickly and reliably, where an incident has occurred. Local agencies could access the platform to better understand incident conditions.

Image of 16 video feeds, each of a different stretch of highway, a video wall for traffic operations monitoring.

The RIMIS Video Wall allows for real-time roadway monitoring for first responders and traffic operations personnel, courtesy DVRPC

RIMIS was first developed nearly 20 years ago, and has proved to be invaluable as a resource. Participants supply data, such as video feeds and traffic updates, which is then aggregated to update other members. These agencies include PennDOT, NJDOT, SEPTA, and NJ TRANSIT. Member agencies and municipalities, such as Bedminster Township, PA, can take advantage of the operations database, with live and historical traffic flow and incident data, a situational map which geographically represents traffic levels and incidents across the region, and a video wall of roads in the DVRPC area with live camera feeds.

As an example, Mr. King showed a municipal fire department participating in RIMIS, that, once alerted that a collision has occurred, can access the platform’s interactive map, live video feeds, and information on planned interruptions, to better understand the scene before arriving there. The RIMIS platform gives context to first responders on route to an incident, provides a broader view for traffic operations dispatchers managing a disruption, and also assists transportation planners looking for data on how to improve a high-collision roadway.

Interactive Detour Route Mapping (IDRuM)

Image of a map of Philadelphia, with highway routes in orange, delineated into sections. Each section, when clicked on, shows two detour routes in the event of a serious incident.

IDRuM is a detour resource for rerouting traffic after major incidents, courtesy DVRPC

Another TIM tool DVRPC provides is the Interactive Detour Route Mapping (IDRuM) feature, a web application that consolidates established Emergency Detour Routes as a resource for traffic operations personnel, first responders, and transportation planners and engineers.

If, for example, an incident has occurred on a certain segment of I-295 in Bucks County, then the Primary Detour Route would involve taking Taylorsville Road south and turning right on State Route 322 to rejoin the highway, while the Secondary Detour Route would take a similar maneuver going north. This information can be easily accessed in both interactive and PDF formats on the IDRuM mapping site.

Image of two detour routes from I-295, one goes on a road to the north and then southeast to rejoin the highway, the other to the south and then northwest.

DVRPC is currently beta testing detour routes from NJDOT for the IDRuM platform, courtesy DVRPC

DVRPC is currently working to integrate NJDOT’s designated Detour Routes into the GIS map for the area east of the Delaware. The data has been uploaded, but is still in beta testing.

NextGen TIM

Mr. King says that a chief focus of NextGen TIM is to expand services such as RIMIS and IDRuM to more localities and arterial routes, as well as to ensure that all first responders are trained in the most up-to-date TIM techniques, such as how to position their vehicles for maximum safety on an active roadway.

During the second round of the Every Day Counts Initiative (EDC-2, 2013-2014),  a TIM process and training program was established under the  SHRP2, or the second Strategic Highway Research Program. This laid the groundwork for the current TIM training and organizational infrastructure, which is NJTIM in the Garden State. This consortium, spearheaded by NJDOT, provides resources and trainings to teach best practices to first responders across the state. NJDOT and the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) partner together to promote trainings and coordinate highway emergency response. To learn more about NJDOT’s efforts with regards to partnering with NJSP on crash data consolidation, using Unmanned Aerial Systems for incident analysis, and other aspects of the initiative, please visit NJDOT Tech Transfer’s NextGen TIM page.


Resources

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Interactive Detour Route Mapping (IDRuM). https://www.dvrpc.org/transportation/tsmo/idrum

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. Regional Integrated Multimodal Information Sharing (RIMIS). https://www.dvrpc.org/Transportation/TSMO/RIMIS/

New Jersey Department of Transportation. Statewide Traffic Incident Management Program. https://www.nj.gov/transportation/commuter/motoristassistance/stimp.shtm

New Jersey Traffic Incident Management. Traffic Incident Management Resource Portal. http://www.njtim.org/NJTIM/

Image is of two construction workers in neon vests sitting on a platform above freshly poured concrete, which they are working on treating.

FHWA Issues EDC-5 Final Report and EDC-6 Baseline Report

The FHWA has issued a Final Report for Round 5 of the Every Day Counts Initiative (EDC-5), and a Baseline Report for EDC-6. The reports demonstrate completed and preliminary progress on implementation of selected innovations, such as Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations and e-Ticketing.

Since the advent of the program in 2009, FHWA has worked to standardize innovation as an industry practice. For EDC-5, which took place from 2019-2020, FHWA reports that state agencies accomplished 98 percent of their implementation goalsthe highest success rate since EDC began. The vast majority of innovative ideas have been demonstrated, assessed (in preparation for deployment), or institutionalized by the state agency.

NJDOT is committed to supporting this initiative, which is administered on a state-by-state basis. The New Jersey Strategic Innovation Council (NJSTIC), is comprised of various stakeholders, including representatives from NJDOT, universities, municipalities, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and counties. NJ STIC meets quarterly to discuss new innovations and progress on initiatives. More information about NJ STIC can be found here.

To learn more about past projects and progress on current EDC initiatives in the region, please visit our Innovative Initiatives page.

The two reports may be viewed below, or on FHWA's website: EDC-5 Final Report, EDC-6 Baseline Report.

Image Reads: Every Day Counts: Innovation for a Nation on the Move, EDC-5 Final Report, April 2021

Image Reads: Every Day Counts, Innovation for a Nation on the Move, EDC-6 Summit Summary and Baseline Report, May 2021

Innovation Spotlight: NJDOT UAS Program

The Federal Highway Administration has encouraged State Departments of Transportation to utilize Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), sometimes known as “drones”, to improve operations, construction, inspection, and safety by collecting data needed to design, build, and operate the highway system.

The NJDOT UAS Program has been a leader among state DOT UAS programs.  Several articles and a video have already featured the program origins, equipment and training needed to build capacity, and establish “use cases” for the integration of UAS technology within various NJDOT operations.  Glenn Stott, Program Manager, NJDOT Aeronautics & UAS, has been instrumental in standing up the UAS Program.  In this interview, we asked Glenn to provide an update on how the UAS Program has been deployed on recent projects.  Below is an edited summary of our interview and follow-up discussion.

How has the UAS Program been using its recent STIC incentive funding?

The UAS program really benefited from STIC funding at its start. The funding paid for the equipment to fly the missions and deliver regulation and procedures training to staff.  Two phases of training were devoted to legal and regulatory issues, and hands-on training, common to all state agencies. The third phase was mission-specific, exploring how drones could be used for infrastructure inspections and mapping projects. The training helped us build our agency’s capacity to work with UAS, strengthen our working relationships with other state agencies, and raise our awareness of regulatory compliance issues.

We received a second round of STIC funding to pay for equipment, but the Buy America program requirements have been a challenge to procuring equipment.  When we were defining our specifications for the new equipment, we were looking at technical capabilities, not national origin. We have also tried to stay with software similar to what we already have used for training and standardization purposes.

 Can you tell us how the UAS Program has functioned on NJDOT projects?

At NJDOT, our divisions are new to UAS and have their own methodologies that have been successful for decades. We have to find ways to merge our methodologies with theirs and assure them of a high level of success before they will agree to employ UAS.

UAS Team in the field exploring the damage from rockfall along I-287

UAS Team in the field exploring the damage from rockfall along I-287

UAS has played an in-house consultant role on many projects, including several rockfall projects. There are 400 rockfall areas along NJ roadways. NJDOT’s Geology and Capital Program Management (CPM) have been working diligently to analyze the areas and come up with viable solutions and prevent incidents. We flew 49 different sites along Route 15 to gather rockfall data and supported several projects along I-80.

I think we were particularly effective on the I-80 project in the vicinity of the Delaware Water Gap, a national park.  Outside consultants were unfamiliar with federal regulations, and the National Park Service (NPS) representatives were concerned about the use of drones on park property. We are not able to fly a drone from national park property. In this case, the drone was taking off from, and landing on, state property next to the highway. Although the NPS had no formal authority over airspace in this case, we wanted to be good neighbors and address any concerns they might have, particularly related to wildlife areas, and elicit their help in developing the mission profile. With our regulatory experience and knowledge of aviation laws, we developed a mission profile that complied with regulations and was acceptable to all parties.  A consultant flew the mission and we were onsite.

Along I-80, we had particularly challenging conditions in which to work.  In this case, the road has three lanes in each direction with a concrete median, no ditch and no right of way, and rock walls on both sides of the road. We do not fly over active roadways. We had to shut down the left lane in one direction and fly from the left lane. We knew this work had the potential to create road congestion and a distraction for drivers. We coordinated with our NJDOT Bureau of Safety to come up with a flight plan, a take-off and landing area, position of staging vehicles, and plan for support of safety vehicles. These types of projects take a lot of coordination. A consultant flew the mission but NJDOT UAS staff were on site. Although we want to be in the forefront of UAS development, we do not want to risk safety. The Department needs to be comfortable with the comprehensive process of developing the mission profile.

For NJDOT Multimodal, we have assisted with a number of rail projects funded through our rail freight assistance grants program. We fly our own UAS for project management to document existing conditions pre-construction, monitor during construction, and document post-construction to show how taxpayer money has been used. One project, about six months ago, was an NJDOT grant to work with Conrail on the Waverly Loop rail construction project. The Waverly Loop is intended to allow trains to reverse direction by following a teardrop track.

Conrail could not find a consultant to fly the project. The location is challenging as it lies across the NJ Turnpike from Newark Airport and was in the front yard of the state prison, and involves several environmental, wind, and traffic concerns.  We needed to coordinate with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], but we are familiar with their concerns and have operated in Newark Class B airspace many times. The agency has a Certificate of Authorization (COA) with all controlled airports in the state as well as with the Philadelphia International Airport.  In this case, we also needed to coordinate with the NJ Department of Corrections. We need to know the players and the regulations. On this project, NJDOT was the consultant and our UAS staff flew the project. We had to ensure that the mission profile and plan met regulatory requirements, the restrictions of the COA, Conrail and Multimodal objectives, and kept all the parties satisfied and informed. We are just one piece of making the project come together.

We have done a lot of work with the NJDOT Office of Maritime Resources, for pre-, during, and post-construction on dredging and other projects. Recently, we flew drones to make sure pipelines were not disturbed during construction in the marshlands near Atlantic City. We also had to prove compliance with NJDEP wetland restrictions when electrical poles were placed by helicopter in this area because dozers and heavy equipment cannot be used.

How has UAS been used for transportation planning and environmental projects?

Drones were used to inform a Concept Development Study of traffic congestion on Route 9 Northbound at the ramp to the Garden State Parkway.

Drones were used to inform a Concept Development Study of traffic congestion on Route 9 Northbound at the ramp to the Garden State Parkway

Two years ago, we worked with construction project management to help them address congestion along Route 9 at the entrance to the Garden State Parkway North to address commuter complaints. Usually, a crew would go out to the site to monitor traffic flow over a period of time. We scouted locations for take-off and landing and suitable vantage points to capture images of the entire road segment. We sent two drones up to take video footage. Reviewing the video, the project management team could quickly determine the source of the congestion. The project manager appreciated that the “eye in the sky” saved a lot of time in determining the problem, and the video helped to explain the issue to contractors and NJDOT supervisors.

We still need the right equipment to demonstrate how drones can support bat counts under bridges. There are nine species of bats in the state that are either federally-protected or state-protected. DEP regulations state that we cannot interfere with them during certain life stages such as migration and hibernation. Coordination with US Department of Fish and Wildlife and NJ Division of Environmental Protection was needed to address concerns about the potential negative effect of drones on the bats. We had to take a course with NJDEP and US Fish and Wildlife before participating in this use case. Bats wedge themselves deep within the cracks under the bridge. Our current drones could not get close due to proximity sensors, and illumination was insufficient. Cameras need to get relatively close to the bats and have good illumination to get quality photography. We have held two field trips to determine if the noise of the drone rotors would bother the bats and see what kind of photos we could get.  We discovered that the rotor noise was nothing compared to traffic noise. With the second STIC grant we hope to purchase equipment to improve illumination and image resolution, and allow us to get closer to the bats.

How many NJDOT staff from other divisions have been trained?

Ten staff members have been trained, and one of those has left. Only UAS program staff actively fly the missions, but trained staff members from other units have flown missions with UAS staff.  Although they do not fly frequently enough to be current and proficient, their knowledge of the UAS program helps their divisions with use case development – for example, in Traffic Management, CPM, and Multimodal. The intent of the STIC-funded training was to leverage our knowledge into the divisions. For example, when we confront a traffic issue for a project, I draw on the trained personnel in the traffic division to bring their colleagues into the conversation. They are our champions for the integration of UAS technology.

With our COAs, we are required to have night training.  With the regulations and procedures grant, we developed a NJDOT night-training video. We developed a PowerPoint training presentation with audio presented in a video format to be delivered to NJDOT UAS pilots. Not only initial training, but recurrent training is needed to renew certification and keep current. We have no active night missions with NJDOT at the moment but would like to do training missions in order to be prepared for an emergency response.

In our trainings and interactions with the divisions, we stress the importance of pre-flight preparation and coordination. A violation of regulations or inadequate coordination could set the program back years and other state DOT programs as well.

Have there been challenges to aspects of the program due to COVID-19?

Aeronautics is  currently understaffed with one of three inspector positions filled. I am the Program Manager for both Aeronautics and the UAS program so I am busy. The pandemic has affected our operations. In particular, coordination is more difficult without face to face meetings.

To what do you ascribe the success of the program?

For the I-495 project, live stream videos from drones were shared with traffic operations and command posts to assess traffic congestion during construction.

For the I-495 project, live stream videos from drones were shared with traffic operations and command posts to assess traffic congestion during construction

Lots of other state DOTs have UAS programs with more funding, resources, and staff but NJDOT’s program has been more successful because of our drive, determination, our champions, and relationships. The champions in NJDOT divisions have worked hard to successfully integrate UAS into their programs.

We have the confidence and experience to collaborate with federal agencies and other state agencies including FAA, airports, Secret Service, Homeland Security, NJ Department of Corrections, and state parks. During the Route 495 project, we had to deal with presidential temporary flight restrictions in Class B airspace. We had the confidence and the relationships with agencies, including Secret Service, to get through roadblocks. Homeland Security loaned us a staff person and a vehicle for several weeks to help support the Route 495 project. It is a collaborative effort; they bounce ideas off of us and we off of them.

Other state UAS programs have not pursued the relationships with these agencies or with divisions within their agencies.  We coordinate with NJDEP, for instance, for filming the NJDOT Winter Road-E-O which is held in a state park. We cannot take off and land in state parks but we can work with the state park to align our objectives with their requirements and regulations. Maritime missions in state parks are difficult to coordinate. However, with our contacts and our awareness of their concerns, we can streamline some of the approvals and fly the missions within the timelines we are given. The relationships are intangibles but a big part of the success of the NJDOT UAS program.


Resources

Drone Technology at NJDOT (Video resource)

Drone Program Takes Off in Bureau of Aeronautics 

Drone Program Reaches New Heights, Seeks to Go Higher

EDC-5 Initiative: Unmanned Aerial Systems

NJ STIC Mobility & Operations: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Fact Sheet

FHWA EDC-5 Innovative Initiative: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Peer Exchange at NJDOT

Spotlight on Innovation: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) High Mast Light Pole Inspections Comparative Analysis (Infographic)

A-GaME: Avoiding Unforeseen Costs on Transportation Projects Through Early Detection of Subterranean Obstacles

The Federal Highway Administration is encouraging State Departments of Transportation to utilize A-GaME, one of the agency’s Every Day Counts (EDC-5) innovations, to mitigate risks and improve reliability of geotechnical site characterization with proven, effective exploration methods and practices.

NJDOT used a drone to safely photograph the full extent of the soil erosion

NJDOT used a drone to safely photograph the full extent of the soil erosion

This article is a summary of an interview with New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) employees with expertise in engineering and geology from Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology. The interview was held with Kim Sharp (Supervising Engineer, Geotechnical Engineering), John Jamerson (Project Engineer, Engineering Geology), and Amanda McElwain (Principal Engineer, Engineering Geology) to discuss how NJDOT utilizes A-GaME methods for its projects and the benefits these methods provide.

Q:  What is A-GaME?

A-GaME is an acronym for “Advanced Geotechnical Methods of Exploration” that encompasses a relatively new set of techniques for subsurface exploration that provides a more complete understanding of an area’s geotechnical and geological properties. In short, these techniques allow engineers to “see” what’s underground during a project’s design phase.

A-GaME techniques include the following processes:

Tools of the trade: sledgehammer, striking plate, and sensors are used to measure seismic vibrations through soil

Transportation projects typically use soil borings to collect soil samples, which are then tested in labs to determine the soil properties (e.g., water content, water depth, soil type, etc.) that will inform project design and construction. A-GaME techniques supplement soil borings and can more accurately identify obstructions, bedrock, and other soil conditions that could cause construction delays. They can also detect more subtle changes in soil conditions than conventional bore holes or penetration tests.

Q: Which of these methods has NJDOT used? Have they been successful?

Each A-GaME method yields benefits. The key is to find the right method for each project. NJDOT has utilized A-GaME methods in the preliminary design and design phases of several projects. In these projects, the results of the exploration have benefited project design and construction. Some of the more prominent examples of NJDOT’s use of A-GaME include:

  • Seismic Piezocone and P-S seismic logging techniques for the Pulaski Skyway seismic retrofitting of foundations. Consultants used these techniques in their site-specific seismic response analyses to derive shear wave velocity correlations and discover the various layers and depths of fill, organics, sands, clays, glacial till, and bedrock composition. This information allowed the engineers to determine how to retrofit each foundation to withstand a seismic event.
  • Mapping talus deposits – that is, collected rockfall piles – over bedrock on Route 80.
  • Microgravity surveys have been used in mine investigations. Northern New Jersey has several abandoned mines, and these surveys have provided safer and more complete methods to map and assess the structural integrity of these mines and inform remedial strategies.
  • Seismic methods were also used on another project near the Delaware Water Basin to measure the depth of talus deposits. Seismic activity was monitored from the road vibrations and the waves were measured at various points around the deposit to determine the locations of voids and the pile’s overall depth.
  • Mapping of rock joints for bridge foundation design along Route 4. Mapping the locations of the fractures in the rock allowed the design team to place the bridge foundations in structurally sound locations based on the competency of the rock mass. The process assisted in determining the long-term stability of the rock mass, the rippability (ease of excavation) and constructability of the mass, possible excavation angles, and the potential need for additional support.
  • Bathymetry Survey has been used in waterways upstream and downstream of structures on navigable waterways to provide river bottom elevation cross sections. This technique was used on the Pulaski Skyway project to reveal images of debris that had fallen off ships into the Hackensack River and could present issues during construction of the proposed foundation seismic retrofitting. The information saves time and money in the construction phase by alerting contractors to obstructions that will need to be removed.
  • Geophysical explorations have been used for finding shallow surface and river bottom debris, utility installations, and mapping existing bridge footing configurations underwater.
  • LiDAR survey has been used for site investigation on rock faces on a few projects during design.
  • Optical and acoustic tele-viewers have been used some down hole in soil borings to characterization of rock and any open voids.
  • Single Station Passive Seismic Survey (SSPSS) has been used to differentiate weathered rock from bedrock using ambient vibrations. Determining the interface between weathered rock and competent bedrock is essential, whether it is for rock slope stability, excavation concerns (mechanical or blasting), or foundations. SSPSS helped determine if the top layer was comprised of weathered rock, or if the top layer was comprised of loose boulders with lots of air-space in between.
  • Drones have been used in emergency situations to investigate large slope failures and to inform design on rockfall mitigation projects. On I-287, a drone equipped with a high-resolution camera was able to take photographs and videos revealing a broken drainage pipe that was contributing to erosion that required immediate remediation. This was safer and more cost effective than utilizing a team of workers to investigate. On I-280 and I-287, drones have also been used for rockface mapping and early site characterization as a design tool.

The source driver impacts the source, like a hammer striking a nail, and generates a wave. The pressure waves and seismic waves are recorded by the geophones as they travel through the fluid and soil walls.

The source driver impacts the source, like a hammer striking a nail, and generates a wave. The pressure waves and seismic waves are recorded by the geophones as they travel through the fluid and soil walls.

Q: Who determines which method to use, and who does the exploration?

Our office, in collaboration with design consulting firms, determines the most appropriate new technology methods for each project. The right method is largely determined by the type of project and its location. For example, projects that cross rivers may rely on sonar, LiDAR, or tomography to assess the conditions under the water and on the river’s slopes. On the other hand, a project in the mountains may require seismic methods of subsurface exploration because the steep slopes and rocky terrain make conventional testing impossible.

NJDOT often utilizes these methods during a project’s design phase to be proactive in reducing the risks and costs associated with underground soil conditions during construction. Some of these methods are also useful in emergency situations.

NJDOT sources A-GaME work to a small group of contractors that have knowledge on how to use the highly specialized and expensive equipment required to perform the tests, and the skilled, specialty trained personnel to conduct the tests and interpret the data. NJDOT and local governments rely upon private industry contractors to perform these specialized services; in fact, the geophysical firms themselves may not own the specialty equipment (e.g., seismographs, etc.), but will rent it out as needed due to the high costs of ownership. When we develop the boring program, the prime design consultant firm will often contract with a specialty geophysical firm. Sometimes the geophysical firm will be hired by the drilling contractor.

Q: You just said that these methods can be expensive, but isn’t an important benefit of these methods to save money?

A-GaME techniques tend to have a higher up-front cost, but these methods save money over the life of a project through risk reduction. When designers, DOTs, and contractors have a better understanding of the issues that could arise due to subterranean conditions (e.g., bedrock, air voids, old storage containers, abandoned mines), the project can account for these conditions rather than discovering them during the construction phase.

In the design phase, A-GaME methods can provide information to ensure that foundations are not overdesigned, or are appropriate for rocky terrain, and can improve constructability over the life of the project – which can deliver cost savings.  Overall, these techniques reduce costs associated with construction delays, change orders, and litigation.

In some environments, projects on mountainous terrain for example, the cost of soil borings can be very high to mobilize equipment, so supplementing borings with geophysical techniques brings the project cost down.

The information about soil known by traditional boring methods. Source: Minnesota DOT

The information about soil known by traditional boring methods. Source: Minnesota DOT

Q: What knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed to advance the use of A-GaME at NJDOT?

Delivering the specialized equipment, skills, and education needed for A-GaME are currently outside the capabilities and day-to-day responsibilities of NJDOT’s Geotechnical Engineering Department. Testing methods are complicated, and the resulting data often require the analyst to have a PhD in Geology.  The degree of specialization warrants the need for outsourcing the work to specialty contractors who would regularly perform these functions and hone their expertise.  Engineers entering the profession would not necessarily have had sufficient exposure to these techniques at the undergraduate level.

However, NJDOT staff have been going on-site when the specialty contractors perform work on NJDOT projects to learn more about these methods and climb the learning curve. When DOT staff have more knowledge about the methods, the odds of advancing their use in future projects increases.

Q:  What are some challenges to A-GaME’s deployment?

From an engineering perspective, all of the design firms need to become aware that there are lots of methodologies available to analyze and obtain soil and rock properties for better, and sometimes more efficient and cost-effective, designs of our foundations and rock slopes.  We work with firms of varying capacities including some less experienced firms with little awareness of the methods.  There are also some firms that would be interested in implementing these services on select projects, but until recently were not sure that NJDOT was open to their use, such as for rock work.

Information provided by ERI imaging is much more thorough. Source: Minnesota DOT

Information provided by ERI imaging is much more thorough. Source: Minnesota DOT

NJDOT project management teams also can be resistant to spending the extra up-front money for this type of testing and analysis. Soil boring drilling contractors do not want to work in tandem with geophysical firms because they have to wait for the firms to get out there and complete their work; for example, there are peripheral costs and scheduling uncertainties related to use of optical or acoustical televiewer work. The drilling contractors do not want to be idle while the geophysical work is being performed.  They want reliability as to when work will be completed so they can quickly move on to the next job.  So, we have found that fewer drilling contractors may actually bid on the job if they have to work in tandem or accommodate the geophysical firm services.  This can drive the bid costs up.

Q:  What are the next steps for A-GaME?

NJDOT and most other DOTs are still learning about A-GaME methods and their applications. The next step for NJDOT’s adoption of A-GaME is to continue to spread knowledge of these methods and encourage their use to supplement traditional boring techniques.

NJDOT’s Bridges and Structures Design Manual is being updated and, as part of the revision process, Geophysical Testing has been added to the new Sections 25 and 26.  While FHWA still must review these and other revisions to the Manual before it is made available to the public, the inclusion of A-GaME in the manual should eventually increase the awareness and use of these innovative methods among consultants. New innovative techniques are being added in the subsurface contract language as well.

Knowing where you will encounter bedrock is very helpful for excavation or drilling. You cannot get a complete picture such as this from bore samples. Courtesy of Jeff Reid, Hager-Richter Geoscience, Inc.

Knowing where you will encounter bedrock is very helpful for excavation or drilling. You cannot get a complete picture such as this from bore samples. Courtesy of Jeff Reid, Hager-Richter Geoscience, Inc.

NJDOT is encouraging designers to learn more about these methods and to seek approval for their use when designing NJDOT projects. NJDOT’s geotechnical team anticipates that, with familiarity, project managers will support additional funding for A-GaME during the design phase and use within the industry will grow.

Q:  Is there any other information you would like us to know about implementing the A-GaME?

These methodologies provide a wealth of information regarding soil and rock that soil borings and visual observations alone cannot provide us.  These methodologies better assist NJDOT in subsurface exploration for our highway structures and rockfall mitigation projects, as well as aid in determining pre-construction constructability issues on our heavily traveled waterways.

Resources

FHWA. (n.d.) Advanced Geotechnical Methods in Exploration (A-GaME). Retrieved from: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_5/geotech_methods.cfm

Kelley V.C. (1987) Joints and fractures. In: Structural Geology and Tectonics. Encyclopedia of Earth Science. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Retrieved from:  https://doi.org/10.1007/3-540-31080-0_56

NJDOT (n.d.). Innovative Initiative: What are Advanced Geotechnical Methods in Exploration? Retrieved from:  https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/advanced-geotechnical-exploration-methods/

Palmström A. (2001). Measurement and Characterization of Rock Mass Jointing, Chapter 2, In-Situ Characterization of Rocks. Editors: V.M. Sharma and K.R. Saxen. Retrieved from:   http://rockmass.net/ap/69_Palmstrom_on_Jointing_measurements.pdf

United States Geological Survey (n.d.) Geologic Units Containing Talus. Retrieved from: https://mrdata.usgs.gov/geology/state/sgmc-lith.php?code=1.5.5

 

Figure 3. Routes 55 & 47 were surveyed using a mobile unit which produces an enormous number of accurate and precise points (approximately ¼” inches apart for about 2 miles) for this bridge replacement project.

NJDOT Tech Transfer Innovation Interview: 3D Reality Modeling

In prior rounds of the Every Day Counts (EDC) program, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sought to raise awareness and encourage the general education of transportation professionals in the uses of 3D models in all phases of project delivery, including the areas of planning, data collection and management, design, construction, operations and maintenance of highway facilities.  EDC-2 emphasized 3D engineered models for design and construction, while EDC-3 promoted the broader use of 3D models and digital data to further advance other application areas.

To find out a little more on what NJDOT has been doing to advance 3D modeling, we conducted an interview with Jim Coyle, a Geodetic Survey SME at NJDOT.  He is the supervisor of a relatively new unit, the Bureau of Survey Support that is working to deploy new technologies including the in-house integration of Lidar and software to create surveys from point clouds. The 3D modeling group within Survey Support is staffed with four individuals.  Below is an edited summary of our interview and follow-up discussion.

Q. What is meant by 3D Reality Modeling?

Reality modeling is the process of capturing the physical reality of an infrastructure asset, creating a representation of it, and maintaining it through surveys. Reality modeling gathers existing conditions in 3D using one or more devices—for example, cameras on drones, handheld camera, laser scanner, phones—to support mapping, design, construction, inspection and asset management.

At the foundational level, we start by establishing a 3D topographic map of the “existing world.” Other disciplines create their models, often using the 3D topo as a starting point or “designed-on-this-backdrop” model.

It’s handy to keep in mind that there are different definitions, references and standards in the usage of the term “modeling.” It depends on the discipline and who is supposed to make what deliverable or standard file type, but the backbone definition is obvious: an image speaks a thousand words.

Q. What is being done at NJDOT with 3-D reality modeling? What are typical use cases at NJDOT?

NJDOT is ahead of the curve in the use of mass data collection systems to create a visual model of existing conditions that planners can work within. We create this world using Lidar or reality capture through photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry is the process of capturing images of an object from many different angles and using these images to create three dimensional models, indexing and matching common features in each image. It is the science of making measurements from photographs. Lidar, or light detection and ranging, is a process whereby laser scanning produces accurate three-dimensional representations of elevations.

At NJDOT, we have used ContextCapture, a reality modeling software to create a 3D reality mesh. A reality mesh is a 3D model of real-world conditions that contains large amounts of triangles and image data that can be geospatially referenced. We coordinated with our Bureau of Aeronautics to fly a drone with a camera to do the data capture. Basically, the drone flies in a grid pattern taking a large number of overlapping pictures which can be plugged into software to create a 3D reality model. We used it to estimate the amount of dredging material for a project in Cape May as well as for a project at Route 29 and Duck Island (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Route 29 & Duck Island Landfill. Requested by Environmental for 2D topographical purposes. The most cost-efficient method to fulfill the original 50+ acre objective was to fly the area with a photographic drone and create a model from the photos (Flown by the NJDOT Aeronautics Unit). Shown above are 2 views of the resulting 3D model.

Figure 1. ROUTE 29 & DUCK ISLAND LANDFILL. Requested by Environmental for 2D topographical purposes. The most cost-efficient method to fulfill the original 50+ acre objective was to fly the area with a photographic drone and create a model from the photos (Flown by the NJDOT Aeronautics Unit). Shown above are 2 views of the resulting 3D model.

There are different ways to collect laser scanning data such as through a drone, on a vehicle, or from the side of the road. NJDOT has purchased a static laser scanner that can be placed on the side of the road to collect point cloud data. It works a lot like a typical survey unit with control targets. We have used software, TopoDot, that puts in lines and features that creates the topographic layer and the digital terrain model, or DTM, surface file. We have done multiple projects with our static laser scanner.

Figure 2. Route 29 & Duck Island Landfill. Shown here is a contoured elevation heatmap. The model that was created is 3D by default, so creating this view is extremely easy to do. The model shows little erosion along the top and steep sides. Inasmuch as the model is both precise and accurately geo-located, future surveyed models of this ecologically sensitive area can easily be compared to this model.

Figure 2. ROUTE 29 & DUCK ISLAND LANDFILL. Shown here is a contoured elevation heatmap. The model that was created is 3D by default, so creating this view is extremely easy to do. The model shows little erosion along the top and steep sides. Inasmuch as the model is both precise and accurately geo-located, future surveyed models of this ecologically sensitive area can easily be compared to this model.

For larger projects, such as for roadway segments of two or three miles, a mobile scanner is needed. At present, NJDOT lacks a mobile scanner so this work has been outsourced to consultants. NJDOT has piloted the mobile scanning process, and we just used it for a bridge replacement project for the Route 55 Bridge over Route 47. The survey resulting from this mobile scanning is being used to support the design phase (see Figures 3 through 6).

The good thing about doing a laser scanner survey is that we get information from the surface all the way up—from signal heads to overhead wires. Normally, you do not deliver that for the survey work, but if the engineer later needs additional information you do not need to go back into the field with supplemental surveys. You can see that this can offer benefits in terms of safety, cost-savings and other efficiencies.

Traditionally, NJDOT did not have staff of photogrammetrists so the agency had to outsource to consultants all of its mapping. Now with this LIDAR technology, NJDOT is able to use the raw point cloud data (still collected by the consultant in the case of mobile scanning) to do the survey mapping in-house which appears to offer cost-savings.

Figure 3. Routes 55 & 47 were surveyed using a mobile unit which produces an enormous number of accurate and precise points (approximately ¼” inches apart for about 2 miles) for this bridge replacement project.

Figure 3. ROUTES 55 & 47 POINT CLOUD MODEL. Routes 55 & 47 were surveyed using a mobile unit which produces an enormous number of accurate and precise points (approximately ¼” inches apart for about 2 miles) for this bridge replacement project.

Q. Who will make use of 3-D Modeling in the future?

Everybody, but for this discussion we will focus on transportation, including planning, construction and maintenance of transportation systems.

3D models of transportation systems will enable planners to get a real world, spatially accurate, view of preexisting roadway features. 3D models are the foundation for 4D simulation models. For example, proposed traffic patterns and sight distances can be simulated visually. It is possible to lay down concept plans within this visual model essentially bringing the real world into your computer.

Designing in 3D is really a new paradigm. The combination of 3D modeling and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) will allow construction crews to use Automated Machine Guidance (AMG) to complete projects faster and with improved quality and safety. GPS-enabled construction equipment can run virtually non-stop with guidance from 3D model data and achieve precise grades on the first pass. GPS rovers can be used to spot check elevations and horizontal offsets. Traditional 2D methods rely on grade stakes and 2D paper plan sheets.

Figure 4. Switching the “view mode” of a point cloud is just a click. These views show the point cloud in contour mode (0.1 contours) and deviation from a plane mode.

Figure 4. ROUTES 55 & 47 POINT CLOUD MODEL. Switching the “view mode” of a point cloud is just a click. These views show the point cloud in contour mode (0.1 contours) and deviation from a plane mode.

The 3D model can be updated with as-built location data throughout the construction process. After construction, the 3D model becomes the record drawing. The 3D model will have useful benefits as a base map for future maintenance and can be stored in a GIS database for asset management.

Q. How does 3D reality modeling benefit the agency’s various operations?

Having all design elements in 3D improves accuracy and decreases unintended occurrences. Design conflicts become much more apparent.

It is also easier for each discipline to identify how they fit into the project as a whole. This understanding allows for efficient conflict resolution during design and an improved product that should be much easier to construct.

Figure 5. Low Cost As-Builts. In this view (RGB/real color mode) of the Route 55NB to Route 47 NB Ramp nose, assets such as signs, inlets, junction boxes, guide rail and post, striping, etc. are documented with true mapping grade 3D coordinates. The density of point cloud (approx. 4 to 5 mm apart) can be seen near the inlet/curb in the lower left.

Figure 5. ROUTES 55 & 47 POINT CLOUD MODEL. Low Cost As-Builts. In this view (RGB/real color mode) of the Route 55NB to Route 47 NB Ramp nose, assets such as signs, inlets, junction boxes, guide rail and post, striping, etc. are documented with true mapping grade 3D coordinates. The density of point cloud (approx. 4 to 5 mm apart) can be seen near the inlet/curb in the lower left.

With an engineered 3D model, everyone can see a lifelike representation of what the finished project will look like. These 3D project files can be uploaded anywhere, which means everyone—even those without a technical background—can quickly get up to speed around a project’s concept. The emphasis on 3D-driven design offers new ways of easily communicating information with clients and the public; from 3D KMZ files that can be viewed in Google Earth to full virtual reality (VR) tours of a virtual corridor; the final product has never been easier to visualize.

When a project is presented to the public in 3D, stakeholders quickly have a comprehensive understanding of what is occurring by seeing the depth and details they will ultimately see once the project is constructed.

Figure 6. Measuring and calculating bridge clearances takes seconds when using a 3D point cloud model, and no one had to step into the road to do it.

Figure 6. ROUTES 55 & 47 POINT CLOUD MODEL. Measuring and calculating bridge clearances takes seconds when using a 3D point cloud model, and no one had to step into the road to do it.

Q. What skills, knowledge and abilities are needed to advance the use of 3D reality modeling at NJDOT?

The skills required include an understanding of surveying general principles. There is a need for surveyors and technicians with the ability to interpret and render 3D data including data capture, registering, and creating the point cloud, and familiarity with MicroStation/CADD and TopoDOT software. Folks need to be comfortable working with computers and CADD.

Q. What tools, equipment, or techniques are being used by the agency to advance modeling?

The Bureau of Survey Support is currently working with Static/Mobile Lidar scanners, cameras, drones as well as traditional survey equipment and various software (Bentley/Leica Suite products). As I’ve mentioned, we are exploring how to use these products for projects in-house and in collaboration with our consultants where we may not have the scanning equipment.

The future is in 3D design. NJDOT Design is in the process of upgrading the Bentley CAD suite of software including OpenRoads Designer and OpenBridge Designer. NJDOT should have the tools within six months or a year. Following training, I anticipate that NJDOT will be designing with 3D within two to three years.

Resources

FHWA. (2017). 3D Engineered Models. Retrieved from: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/3d/