NJDOT Wins 2022 America’s Transportation Award for Best Use of Technology and Innovation

New Jersey Department of Transportation has been recognized with a 2022 America’s Transportation Award in the category of best use of technology and innovation. The annual competition is sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. NJDOT’s project, Implementation of Drivewyze on 647 miles of NJ’s Highways, involves the use of crowdsourced data to get more information into the hands of drivers about changing roadway conditions to inform their decision making in an effort to reduce crashes.  Commercial vehicle alerts inform truck drivers of hazards on the road, such as sudden slowdowns, disabled vehicles, debris, and adverse weather conditions, before the truck is affected by the incident. The driver can seek an alternate route or pull over until the slowdown is cleared. New Jersey’s project was highlighted in the November/December 2022 FHWA Innovator along with other State DOT winning innovations.  

For more information, go to:  

America’s Transportation Awards
https://americastransportationawards.org/new-jersey-department-of-transportation-implementation-of-drivewyze-on-647-miles-of-njs-highways/

NJ STIC Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations
https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/01/01/crowdsourcing-for-advancing-operations/

Drivewyze Dashboard. Courtesy of Drivewyze.

Try This at Home: MoDOT’s Innovations Challenge

The sixth round of Every Day Counts (EDC-6) was kicked off with a Virtual Summit that introduced the innovations that FHWA would be promoting over the next 2 years. The Summit also featured a National State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Network Showcase that highlighted some 245 innovations developed and deployed by agencies throughout the United States. This article is one in a series that takes a closer look at “homegrown innovations” implemented by state and local agencies to save lives, time, and money. 

During Innovations Challenge showcases, MoDOT employees are able to physically see potential new best practices and ask questions about them in a professional environment.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has promoted a culture of innovation through its Innovation Challenge contest, which showcases and proliferates improvements to MoDOT’s tools and processes annually. Spurred on by MoDOT’s commitments to performance management between 2004 and the present, and its expressed values that ”embrace new ways of doing work” (1), this competition enables employees at all levels of the Department to introduce innovations that generate measurable results and cost savings. Since its inception in 2007, the Innovation Challenge has given thousands of MoDOT employees the opportunity to share their office’s improvements to productivity, tools, and project processes with the wider agency.

MoDOT employees receive small cash rewards for the highest ranked innovations, in addition to formalized recognitions such as the Dixon People's Choice Award or the Directors’ Safety Award. Innovations are divided into three categories (2) to convey the nature of each potential improvement:

  • Tools and Equipment - Innovations to items that were fabricated or modified by MoDOT employees.
  • Project - Innovative project implementations that produce exceptional results for transportation users or internal operations.
  • Productivity - Improvements to office and field processes, materials, and product submissions.

After an Innovation Challenge showcase, subject matter experts evaluate the innovations to determine if they should be considered as best practices for MoDOT to adopt and promote. MoDOT has implemented over 300 showcased innovations to the level of best practices since 2007. The institutional benefit of rewarding innovation extends beyond the findings of the showcase itself; encouraging a culture of innovation through this event motivates MoDOT teams to consider how to improve their work throughout the rest of the year. Giving hundreds of employees the opportunity to learn from their co-workers in such a celebratory way also increases buy-in for new transportation technologies and methods. Additionally, MoDOT notes that providing a space for employees at all levels of the Department to share ideas “can result in employee retention and boost teamwork” (2).

Two recently showcased improvements at MoDOT’s Innovation challenge are a Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer (CARS) and a Signing Information System (SIS).

The Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer puts a greater distance between the vegetation control chemicals and the operator, making the task safer as well.

At a Southeastern District Innovation Challenge, a team from Qulin, Missouri displayed their development of CARS, a set of remotely adjustable vegetation control equipment that allows one driver to finish tasks that previously required two people. This reduction in required personnel was motivated by the need to reduce COVID-19 contact and presents efficiency benefits by cutting the required labor for the task in half. CARS is designed to be attachable (and detachable) to most flatbed trucks — meaning trucks can still be used for other tasks — and provides two cameras for the driver to remotely direct the dual nozzles and spray bar of the equipment. A video describing this Tools and Equipment innovation in further detail is available here.

The Central District submitted their SIS innovation to the 2022 Innovation Challenge Showcase for the Productivity category. The SIS keeps track of damaged signs across the district, and it records the date, caller, location, cause, and required repair type of the damage, among other information. Filtering row by row, SIS users can check the repair status of a particular road’s reports within a county. The physical repair status of signs is broken down into four recorded categories detailing progress for its dig rights, stub, post and the sign itself. The system is recorded in Excel, which makes it easy to edit, modify, and scale for other topics and jurisdictions. A video describing this Productivity innovation in further detail is available here.

The success of MoDOT’s Innovation Challenge illustrates the importance of leadership in the development of a culture of innovation within an agency. As previously noted, three of the Department’s stated values, “Be Bold,” “Be Better,” and “Be One Team,” encourage extra effort in evolving processes and products, even if it invites the potential for failure (see text box). By “empowering staff (particularly middle-management leaders), encouraging innovation, demanding measurable results and cost savings, and holding staff accountable for results” (3), MoDOT and its Innovation Challenge sustains an improvement-oriented mindset that is worth emulating. In the 2020 National STIC Showcase, FHWA recognized the Illinois Innovative Ideas Council, Illinois DOT’s annual innovation contest inspired by MoDOT’s, showing that this approach has potential outside of Missouri. Information on Illinois DOT’s sister initiative is available here (3).


Illinois DOT's "Innovative Ideas" Contest has recognized and promoted innovations such as a Mobile Plow Racking Emergency Stand System, Rotating Sign Holders, and an improved Payroll Calculator

Resources and References on MoDOT’s Innovation Challenge:

MoDOT Mission, Values and Tangible Results:  https://www.modot.org/mission-values-and-tangible-results
The MoDOT Innovation Challenge Homepage: https://www.modot.org/innovations-challenge
Innovations Showcase Homepage: https://www.modot.org/innovations-showcase-homepage
Southeast Missouri Innovation Contest: https://www.modot.org/seinnovationschallenge
Illinois DOT’s Innovative Ideas Contest: https://idot.illinois.gov/innovative-ideas

Further References:

(1) Caltrans Division of Research, Innovation and System Information. (2015, July 18). Fostering Innovation within State Departments of Transportation. https://dot.ca.gov/-/media/dot-media/programs/research-innovation-system-information/documents/preliminary-investigations/fostering-innovation-pi-2015-07-28-a11y.pdf
(2) MoDOT Innovation Explainer Page with Videos: https://www.modot.org/innovation
(3) Illinois Department of Transportation. (2022). Innovative Ideas Contest. https://idot.illinois.gov/innovative-ideas.

Examples of Promoted Innovations:

HERE Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer.  https://www.modot.org/se-innovations-camera-assisted-remote-sprayer
HERE Signing Information System. https://www.modot.org/signing-information-system

FHWA Issued Its EDC-6 Progress Report #3

FHWA’s latest report tracks progress on advancing innovations by the state DOTs during Round 6 of the EDC program.

The Every Day Counts Round 6 Progress Report #3 is now available here.

Every Day Counts (EDC) is the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) program to advance a culture of innovation in the transportation community in partnership with public and private stakeholders. Through this State-based effort, FHWA coordinates rapid deployment of proven strategies and technologies to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce traffic congestion, and integrate automation.

The Progress Report summarizes the June 2022 status of deployment for the seven innovations in the sixth round of EDC. The report is intended to be a resource for transportation stakeholders as they develop their deployment plans and to encourage innovation in managing highway project delivery to better serve the Nation.

More information on the EDC-6 Round Innovations, including the initial Baseline Report and Progress Reports can be found here.

Zone for AI to look for trespassing at railroad crossing

Research Spotlight: Exploring the Use of Artificial Intelligence to Improve Railroad Safety

Partnering with the Federal Railroad Administration, New Jersey Transit and New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), a research team at Rutgers University is using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to analyze rail crossing safety issues. Utilizing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at rail crossings, a team of Rutgers researchers, Asim Zaman, Xiang Liu, Zhipeng Zhang, and Jinxuan Xu, have developed and refined an AI-aided framework for detection of railroad trespassing events to identify the behavior of trespassers and capture video of infractions.  The system uses an object detection algorithm to efficiently observe and process video data into a single dataset.

Rail trespassing is a significant safety concern resulting in injuries and deaths throughout the country, with the number of such incidents increasing over the past decade. Following passage of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that mandated the installation of cameras along passenger rail lines, transportation agencies have installed CCTV cameras at rail crossings across the country.  Historically, only through recorded injuries and fatalities were railroads and transportation agencies able to identify crossings with trespassing issues. This analysis did not integrate information on near misses or live conditions at the crossing. Cameras could record this data, but reviewing the video would be a laborious task that required a significant resource commitment and could lead to missed trespassing events due to observer fatigue.

Zaman, Liu, Zhang, and Xu saw this problem as an opportunity to put AI techniques to work and make effective use of the available video and automate the observational process in a more systematic way. After utilizing AI for basic video analysis in a prior study, the researchers theorized that they could train an AI and deep learning to analyze the videos from these crossings and identify all trespassing events.

Working with NJDOT and NJ TRANSIT, they gained access to video footage from a crossing in Ramsey, NJ.  Using a deep learning-based detection method named You Only Look Once or YOLO, their AI-framework detected trespassings, differentiated the types of violators, and generated clips to review. The tool identified a trespass only when the signal lights and crossing gates were active and tracked objects that changed from image to image in the defined space of the right-of-way. Figure 1 depicts the key steps in the process for application of AI in the analysis of live video stream or archived surveillance video.

Figure 1. General YOLO-Based Framework for Railroad Trespass Detection illustrates a step-by-step process involving AI algorithm configurations, YOLO-aided detection, and how trespassing detection incidents are saved and recorded to a database for more intensive analysis and characterization (e.g., trespasser type, day, time, weather, etc.)

The researchers applied AI review to 1,632 hours of video and 68 days of monitoring. They discovered 3,004 instances of trespassing, an average of 44 per day and nearly twice an hour. The researchers were able to demonstrate how the captured incidents could be used to formulate a demographic profile of trespassers (Figure 2) and better examine the environmental context leading to trespassing events to inform the selection and design of safety countermeasures (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Similar to patterns found in studies of rail trespassing fatalities, trespassing pedestrians were more likely to be male than female. Source: Zhang et al
Figure 3: Trespassing events were characterized by the gate angle and timing before/after a train pass to isolate context of risky behavior. Source: Zhang et. al

A significant innovation from this research has been the production of the video clip that shows when and how the trespass event occurred; the ability to visually review the precise moment reduces overall data storage and the time needed performing labor-intensive reviews. (Zhang, Zaman, Xu, & Liu, 2022)

With the efficient assembly and analysis of video big data through AI techniques, agencies have an opportunity, as never before, to observe the patterns of trespassing. Extending this AI research method to multiple locations holds promise for perfecting the efficiency and accuracy in application of AI techniques in various lighting, weather and other environmental conditions and, more generally, to building a deeper understanding of the environmental context contributing to trespassing behaviors.

In fact, the success of this AI-aided Railroad Trespassing Tool has led to new opportunities to demonstrate its use. The researchers have already expanded their research to more crossings in New Jersey and into North Carolina and Virginia. (Bruno, 2022) The Federal Railroad Administration has also awarded the research team a $582,859 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant to support the technology’s deployment at five at-grade crossings in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (U.S. DOT, Federal Railroad Administration, 2021) Rutgers University and Amtrak have provided a 42 percent match of the funding.

The program’s expansion in more places may lead to further improvements in the precision and quality of the AI detection data and methods.  The researchers speculate that this technology could integrate with Positive Train Control (PTC) systems and highway Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). (Zhang, Zaman, Xu, & Liu, 2022) This merging of technologies could revolutionize railroad safety. To read more about this study and methodology, see this April 2022 Accident Analysis & Prevention article.

References

Bruno, G. (2022, June 22). Rutgers Researchers Create Artificial Intelligence-Aided Railroad Trespassing Detection Tool. Retrieved from https://www.rutgers.edu/news/rutgers-researchers-create-artificial-intelligence-aided-railroad-trespassing-detection-tool

NJDOT Technology Transfer. (2021, November 8). How Automated Video Analytics Can Make NJ’s Transportation Network Safer and More Efficient. Retrieved from https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/11/08/automated-video-analytics/

Tran, A. (n.d.). Artificial Intelligence-Aided Railroad Trespassing Data Analytics: Artificial Intelligence-Aided Railroad Trespassing Data Analytics:.

United States Department of Transportation: Federal Railroad Administration. (2021). Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program: FY2021 Selections. Retrieved from https://railroads.dot.gov/elibrary/consolidated-rail-infrastructure-and-safety-improvements-crisi-program-fy2021-selections

Zaman, A., Ren, B., & Liu, X. (2019). Artificial Intelligence-Aided Automated Detection of Railroad Trespassing. Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 25-37.

Zhang, Z., Zaman, A., Xu, J., & Liu, X. (2022). Artificial intelligence-aided railroad trespassing detection and data analytics: Methodology and a case study. Accident Analysis & Prevention.

NJDOT’s Commercial Vehicle Alerts Initiative Featured in National Operations for Excellence Webinar

Commercial vehicle safety-related alerts can notify drivers of major slowdowns from incidents and weather to inform decision-making. Source: Sblover99, Wikimedia

The National Operations Center for Excellence held a webinar featuring New Jersey and Colorado DOT initiatives to establish private sector partnerships that use crowdsourced data to deliver real-time information to commercial vehicles to improve the safety of all road users.  Transportation agencies can now deliver in-cab alerts about road conditions through connected truck service providers to help commercial vehicle drivers approach and react more quickly to roadway incidents, work zones, and adverse weather conditions.

For this event, the NJDOT’s Senior Director for Transportation Mobility, Sal Cowan, gave a presentation, “NJDOT Using Crowdsourced Data to Improve Road Safety:  Real Time Communications with Truck Drivers”.  He was joined in making this presentation by NJDOT's private sector partners for this initiative, Amy Lopez, Director, Public Sector Services and Smart City Strategy for INRIX, and Marc Nichols, Director, Government & Industry Partnerships for Drivewyze.

As traffic deaths rise, NJDOT wants to get more information into the hands of drivers about changing roadway conditions – the earlier the better – to inform their decision making in an effort to reduce crashes.  Summoning the key phrase, “Whatever It Takes”, Director Cowan framed the life-saving imperative behind NJDOT's willingness to make greater use of crowdsourcing and real-time data tools to reduce the risk of crashes.  He highlighted how commercial vehicle alerts can inform truck drivers of hazards on the road, such as sudden slowdowns, disabled vehicles, and debris before the truck is affected by the incident. The driver can seek an alternate route or pull over until the slowdown is cleared.

INRIX collects extensive traffic data for state transportation agencies. They provide two types of alerts: "curated" incidents are from multiple sources such as DOTs, Twitter feeds, Waze, police scanners and other sources that are managed by the INRIX incident team; and "calculated" incidents such as dangerous or sudden slowdowns that are mathematically calculated by INRIX and compare real time speeds with free flow speeds at specific segment locations to identify abnormal conditions. The INRIX system has the ability to deliver real-time data that detects and describes sudden slowdowns, closures, and queues by location for specific events. This data is passed on to Drivewyze to send out alerts.

Drivewyze, introduced as North America’s largest connected truck network, provides communication with some 2.8 million trucks via its Drivewyze application which is embedded in the electronic logging device (ELD) of the truck. Drivewyze takes data from INRIX and communicates it to commercial truck drivers. The system works with severity thresholds and trigger warnings so only events that exceed these thresholds are reported. Commercial drivers receive the messages through the ELD in their cab. The reported information can be customized to include notification of specific weather events, incidents, work zones, and bridge and road closures.

A "major winter storm alert" was distributed to several states in the Northeast and reached some 4,811 trucks at a critical time.

NJDOT plays a pivotal role in providing weather and detour related data. Through this partnership NJDOT can collect extensive data regarding issues and incidents that it otherwise could not directly obtain.  This allows the state to identify areas along key highways that produce issues and NJDOT can then begin to identify ways to resolve them. In addition to analysis, NJDOT can work proactively with is partners to prevent crashes.  During Winter Storm Kenan, NJDOT was able to send alerts out through Drivewyze to thousands of trucks across the Northeast to alert drivers to a major winter storm and hazardous road conditions and to take precautions.

The webinar, part of the FHWA's Adventures in Crowdsourcing Webinar Series, had two featured presentations on initiatives to address commercial vehicle safety through crowdsourcing.  The webinar explored lessons from New Jersey, Colorado and other states through presentations and information exchange with attendees from the FHWA, other state DOTs, and private sector partners.  To learn more about the New Jersey initiative and the capabilities of its private sector partners, check out the full presentation here, starting at the 29th minute.   The presentations given by the NJ team and other presenters can be downloaded here.

Try this at Home: Florida Safe & Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model

The sixth round of Every Day Counts (EDC-6) was kicked off with a Virtual Summit that introduced the innovations that FHWA would be promoting over the next 2 years. The summit also featured a National State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Network Showcase that highlighted some 245 innovations developed and deployed by agencies throughout the United States. This article is one in a series that takes a closer look at “homegrown innovations” implemented by state and local agencies to save lives, time, and money. 

Highlighted by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA)’s journal Innovator in its March/April 2018 issue, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) produced a systemic, digitized way for creating an inventory of pedestrian infrastructure (1). As a part of a State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) program, FDOT, in cooperation with the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, Florida International University, and the FHWA created a Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model (SAPFIM) (1). SAPFIM has been described as “a web-based application designed to collect, manage and report on pedestrian facilities along public roadways” (2) through cost-effective, real-time means.

The project received STIC incentive funding ($100,000) in 2015 to develop and deploy this GIS-based software tool (3), establishing a model that could be adapted and scaled for other local projects and transportation agencies.

As part of the STIC project, several agencies had an opportunity to test SAPFIM and provide feedback that the project team used to modify the software and user’s guide.

SAPFIM has four core functions in recording, managing, mapping, and generating reports on pedestrian. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
SAPFIM has four core functions in recording, managing, mapping, and generating reports on pedestrian. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
The general design of SAPFIM was broken by researcher into the image above; this particular division of functions could provide a conceptual basis for digital collection software on different topics as well. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
The general design of SAPFIM was broken by researcher into the image above; this particular division of functions could provide a conceptual basis for digital collection software on different topics as well. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.

As an example, a fire hydrant obstructing the middle of a sidewalk might render a pathway inaccessible to wheelchair users. This obstruction in the sidewalk can be photographed and reported in SAPFIM resulting in its identification, labeling and geo-location. Such a tool allows local agencies to better track their pedestrian features while needing less time and resources. The technology also alerts planners and other officials to what pedestrian improvements, repairs, or even new constructions need priority in real-time. With updates being automatically incorporated in a wider database, information storage and retrieval is generally more complete yet simplified for users.

Obstructions to sidewalks and the location of critical pedestrian infrastructure, such as pushbuttons, away from pavement can signal spatial hostility to pedestrians. Right image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org; Dan Burden; left image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org, Laura Sandt.
Obstructions to sidewalks and the location of critical pedestrian infrastructure, such as pushbuttons, away from pavement can signal spatial hostility to pedestrians. Right image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org; Dan Burden; left image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org, Laura Sandt.

As highlighted in a presentation from one of its research team members, SAPFIM collects over 80 standard attributes (2), such as geographic and photographic references, to describe pedestrian infrastructure across the Sunshine State. Authorized users can use wireless devices (smartphones, laptop, tablets, etc.) to enter information on a pedestrian feature or update an existing one. By answering preset criteria tailored to three categories of features (sidewalks, curb ramps, and crossings), compliance with American Disability Act (ADA) accessibility statutes or general safe, comfortable pedestrian design could then be assessed and improved upon (2).

Teams collecting data for SAPFIM still physically measure sites before inputting the information digitally. This physical component could help experientially familiarize participating stakeholders with the wider built environment of their communities. Courtesy of Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Teams collecting data for SAPFIM still physically measure sites before inputting the information digitally. This physical component could help experientially familiarize participating stakeholders with the wider built environment of their communities. Courtesy of Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A similar program from Seminole County, Florida revamped the transcription and tracking processes of their ADA pedestrian ramp inspections into a digital, mobile application that utilized GIS technology (4). Ultimately winning the FHWA’s 2021 Building a Better Mousetrap Smart Transformation Award, the Seminole County ADA ramp tracker reduced inspection times of individual ramps from 1.5 hours to 5 minutes (4). It streamlined the entire tracking process of a feature from taking 3-4 days with pen and paper to reportedly a single day (4) by also eliminating a multi-hour step of transferring physical records to digital ones.

Build a Better Mousetrap recognizes local and state innovations in American transportation infrastructure processes and products. By winning an award from the project, Seminole County’s ADA accessible tracker now is more likely to be emulated and advance other digitalization efforts. Courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

It is unclear if the Seminole County’s trackers were built off of SAPFIM, but nonetheless the demonstrated utility of the County’s efforts validates the purpose of the FDOT project. Applying digital cataloging technology to the built-environment clearly suggests that the future of transportation maintenance will include enhanced digital record-keeping, including breaches to accessibility ordinances. Such technology continues to be re-tailored to maintenance of street lights, potholes, public bathroom accessibility, curb-cuts and other physical assets and their attributes. The equity and cost-saving gains of these homegrown innovations warrant further attention and deployment, particularly in ways that can respond creatively to rising pedestrian fatalities nationally and in New Jersey (5).


Resources

  1. Federal Highway Administration. (2018, March-April). Enhancing Pedestrian Safety in Florida. 11(65), 10. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/innovator/issue65/issue65.pdf
  2. Cevallos, Fabian. (Accessed 2022, August 2). SAPFIM: Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model. Florida Department of Transportation. https://fdotwww.blob.core.windows.net/sitefinity/docs/default-source/content/roadway/ada/sapfim-online.pdf?sfvrsn=228b87ca_0
  3. Federal Highway Administration. (2022, July 13). STIC Incentive Projects (FY 2014-2022). US Department of Transportation. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/stic/incentive_project/
  4. Federal Highway Administration. (2021). Smart Transformation Award. Build a Better Mousetrap. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/pdfs/2021_mousetrap_entries_booklet.pdf
  5. Bascome, Erik. (2022, April 07). S. pedestrian fatalities spike by 17%, over 500 more deaths, in first half of 2021, data shows. Staten Island Advance. https://www.silive.com/news/2022/04/us-pedestrian-fatalities-spike-by-17-over-500-more-deaths-in-first-half-of-2021.html
  6. Cevallos, Fabian. (2020. June 1). Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model (SAPFIM): Development. National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), University of South Florida. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/323870213.pdf
  7. Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. (Accessed 2022, August 4). Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facilities Inventory Model. https://www.browardmpo.org/images/CSMP/SAPFIM_Presentation.pdf

Trenton MOVES and the SmartDrivingCARS Summit

Trenton MOVES Display Image. CARTS.

On February 11, 2022, New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) awarded a $5,000,000 Local Transportation Project Fund Grant to the City of Trenton to support the Trenton Mobility and Opportunity: Vehicles Equity System (MOVES) project. The core vision, goals and features of the project - an autonomous vehicle transportation system capable of serving 90,000 Trenton residents and commuting workers -- were outlined in a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) issued in December 2021.

The system is expected to comprise 100 autonomous, electric shuttle vehicles and 50 kiosks and will operate solely as an on-demand system, with no fixed routes or schedules. The vehicles will be handicapped accessible and accommodate up to eight passengers.

Kiosks will be located at popular locations and high-density residential/commercial areas within a five-minute walk by over 90 percent of Trenton residents. Riders will be able to hail the vehicles through mobile devices or through an interface at each kiosk for those lacking access to a mobile device.

Through its partnership with Princeton University and the Corporation for Automated Road Transportation Safety (CARTS), NJDOT supported an extensive public outreach process to support the development of the RFEI. This outreach revealed several notable current conditions: 70 percent of Trenton households have one or no personal vehicle; due to land use decisions of prior decades and the lack of frequent bus service, seniors have to take circuitous bus rides, schedule an access-a-ride in advance, or walk significant distances to access destinations for everyday needs; and high school students living within two miles of the high school were without access to a bus because of a national bus driver shortage. The new system is intended to alleviate these and other limitations of the current transportation structure. The public engagement informed the RFEI and generated five goals for the program.

Goals of the Program

Safety

Autonomous vehicles can provide improved safety as they are not subject to human fallibilities, such as driving distracted or speeding. Some acclimation will be needed to ride in a vehicle with no driver. For the first two years of the project, vetted safety hosts will be on the vehicles to assist riders in understanding and navigating the system. The project will initially be limited to its operational design domain while on public roads.

NJ State Transportation Innovation Council Discusses Trenton MOVES at their 1st Quarterly Meeting of 2022

Equity

A significant majority of Trentonians live in Areas of Persistent Poverty, own one or no cars, and spend a high proportion of their income on transportation within the City. The program must serve the transportation needs of all Trenton residents, particularly those with limited transportation access due to economic or physical hardships. The service will aim to be inclusive both in terms of communities served and user experiences.

Affordability

The program will aim to be both low cost to the rider and the taxpayer. As NJDOT wants it to be both equitably and fiscally viable long into the future, its costs should be attainable and fares should be affordable. The rider should pay fares comparable to transit service, and far less than would be paid for ride-hailing and taxi services. Trenton MOVES will also create a public-private partnership to assist with the development of the on-demand mobility system and anticipate reduced costs through scaling and innovative funding mechanisms.

Sustainability

As New Jersey will be phasing out the sale of gasoline powered vehicles by 2035 to help reduce emissions, all of the initial 100 AVs in the Trenton MOVES project will be 100 percent electric. Additionally, the on-demand function stands to reduce average vehicle occupancy, vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions for local trips within Trenton.

Efficiency

To maximize the convenience of the on-demand mobility service, Trenton MOVES seeks to minimize wait times, ride times, have low circuity during shared rides, and reduce VMTs, particularly when the vehicles are empty. This goal will be achieved through active fleet management, dynamic repositioning, optimal routing, data analytics, etc.

How it will work

Trenton MOVES, Planned Operational Design Domain. CARTS

NJDOT anticipates a four-phase process to enable the autonomous vehicles within Trenton, and eventually to expand statewide and potentially beyond. Availability of service in Trenton is anticipated for early 2024.

Phase One will consist of the verification of the autonomous vehicle concept. The company selected to create this on-demand mobility service will first operate the autonomous vehicles on and around NJDOT’s Ewing campus to verify functionality in low stress environments.

Phase Two will be a proof of concept. Once the automated vehicles are shown to be effective, 100 vehicles will be placed on the public roads within a limited Operational Design Domain (ODD). This ODD will consist of major public centers in Trenton such as the Capitol Complex, schools, public housing, grocery stores, the Trenton Transportation Center, etc. A kiosk will be placed at each of these points to allow people to “call” to the vehicles.

Phase Three will be proof of societal value. In the third phase, the ODD will expand to all of Trenton to the point where 95 percent of the population is within a 5-minute walk of any kiosk. This expansion will demonstrate effectiveness of service, and scalability in an urban setting.

Phase Four is proof of network-scale economics. Once proven effective in Trenton, the program and the service could be launched throughout Mercer County, and in densely populated places in New Jersey such as Atlantic City, Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick. If those cities continue to prove effective in terms of service scalability, the autonomous vehicles can then be launched in more cities nationwide.

Upcoming Event - Princeton SmartDrivingCars Summit

From June 2nd to June 4th, CARTS and Princeton University have organized a gathering of leaders from within the industry, academia, public sector, and local communities to discuss the progress being made on the autonomous vehicle transportation. This year there will be an extensive discussion on Trenton MOVES as the program moves forward. To learn more, click here.

Details on the SmartDrivingCars Summit through CARTS and Princeton University

Resources

Burns, K. P. (2022, February 13). Trenton receives $5 million grant to make MOVES for residents. WHYY. https://whyy.org/articles/trenton-receives-5-million-grant-to-make-moves-for-residents/

New Jersey Announces Grant for Trenton MOVES Autonomous Vehicle-Based Urban Transit System Project. (2022, February 11). Mass Transit Magazine. https://www.masstransitmag.com/alt-mobility/autonomous-vehicles/press-release/21256516/new-jersey-office-of-the-governor-new-jersey-announces-grant-for-trenton-moves-autonomous-vehiclebased-urban-transit-system-project

New Jersey Department of Transportation [NJDOT Technology Transfer]. (2022, March 16). NJ STIC 1st Quarterly Meeting 2022, March 16, 2022 [Video]. YouTube. Presentation starts at 1 hour, 21 mins. https://youtu.be/rHIr8UW4zLg?t=4862

Partners for Automated Vehicle Education. (2022, May 4). PAVE’s Virtual Panel “AVs and Public Good: Trenton MOVES” [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KawGghbte4s

Propel: NJDOT Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti and the Trenton NJ MOVES Program - Allen & Overy. April 29, 2022). [Podcast]. https://www.allenovery.com/en-gb/germany/news-and-insights/publications/propel-njdot-commissioner-gutierrez-scaccetti-and-the-trenton-nj-moves-program

Smart Driving Cars Podcast. (2022, January 17). Smart Driving Cars 251 special edition: Making it Happen: Trenton Moves [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT8rmDYzwkg

State of New Jersey. (2021, December 6). Office of the Governor | Murphy Administration Announces RFEI for Project to Create the First Autonomous Vehicle-Based Urban Transit System in America [Press release and RFEI]. https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562021/approved/20211206b.shtml

National Operations Center Webinar to Feature NJDOT’s Commercial Vehicle Alerts Initiative

The National Operations Center for Excellence will hold a webinar featuring New Jersey and Colorado DOT initiatives to establish private sector partnerships that use crowdsourced data to deliver real-time information to commercial vehicles to improve the safety of all road users.  Transportation agencies can now deliver in-cab alerts about road conditions through connected truck service providers to help commercial vehicle drivers approach and react more quickly to roadway incidents, work zones, and adverse weather conditions. Follow this link to register for the Crowdsourced Data for Commercial Vehicles webinar.

At the 1st Quarter 2022 STIC meeting, attendees received a briefing about the Commercial Vehicle Alerts initiative being undertaken by NJDOT and its several partners to proactively deploy alerts to improve safety and traffic incident management. Sal Cowan, NJDOT Senior Director, Transportation Mobility, was joined by Amy Lopez, Director, Public Sector Services and Smart City Strategy for INRIX, and Marc Nichols, Director, Government & Industry Partnerships for Drivewyze.

For more information about the Commercial Vehicle Alerts initiative, their presentation is here and a summary of the NJ STIC meeting that includes a recording of their featured presentation is here.

UHPC Bridge Preservation and Repair – NJ Efforts Highlighted

FHWA promotes UHPC for Bridge Preservation & Repair through its Every Day Counts (EDC-6) innovations. The FHWA's EDC Newsletter of April 28, 2022 featured Rutgers University's state-of-the-art Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST) center.  FHWA has sponsored the use of the BEAST to evaluate emerging bridge preservation technologies including UHPC.  Below is a reprint of the newsletter article that recognizes these efforts as its Innovation of the Month for UHPC Bridge Preservation and Repair.

BEAST® Facility (Credit: Rutgers University)

Wouldn’t it be great to quickly test the performance of a UHPC bridge deck overlay? It can be challenging to test and evaluate the long-term performance of new bridge preservation innovations because it would normally take years of monitoring the in-service behavior of such a technology on actual bridge structures to make an adequate assessment. Alternatively, Rutgers University’s state-of-the-art Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST®) center provides a new opportunity to evaluate emerging preservation technologies. Built in 2015, the BEAST facility aims to develop high-quality data of bridge deterioration and to expand our knowledge of bridge performance through full-scale accelerated testing. The facility is capable of enclosing a 50-foot long bridge within an environmental chamber and subjecting the bridge to realistic rolling wheel loads, freeze-thaw cycles, and even the application of deicing chemicals. As a result, this facility can impose 10 to 20 years of ageing in less than 12 months.

FHWA is sponsoring the first project to utilize the BEAST® facility, and seeks to establish the long-term performance of bare reinforced concrete bridge decks and overlay systems among other variables. A two lane, 50 foot simply-supported bridge built with steel girders was constructed and began accelerated testing in 2019. To date, it’s been subjected to over 2-million passes of rolling load, 85 freeze-thaw cycles, and over 3000 gallons of salt brine. As a result, deck deterioration has reached a point where, in practice, an overlay would commonly be installed for rehabilitation and preservation purposes.

Rolling-Load Assembly in BEAST® Lab (left); Bridge Specimen in BEAST® Lab (right) (Credit: Rutgers University)

UHPC is one of the overlay systems that will be installed on this bridge specimen for evaluation. The UHPC overlay will be installed using materials and construction practices that are commonly deployed in the field. Once installed, accelerated testing will resume for at least 12 months, or until significant deterioration is again observed. Data will be collected, which will help establish quantitative measure of the overlays’ ability to perform long-term and under realistic conditions. Data already shows that UHPC is long-lasting and resilient, but at the end of this research, researchers will be able to say with greater confidence how long UHPC overlays may last in service.

For more information on UHPC for Bridge Preservation & Repair, contact Zach Haber, FHWA Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, or Justin Ocel, FHWA Resource Center.

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

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

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

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

We spoke with Kelly Hutchinson, Director, Human Resources at NJDOT about ongoing and planned workforce development initiatives at NJDOT.

Workforce Development at NJDOT

Q. We know that NJDOT engages in a variety of innovative programs to attract and retain your workforce. Could you update us on the status of some of these programs?

Operations Apprenticeship Program

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement.

This program began in 2015 to provide consistent training and skills for workers in Highway Operations and to establish a path to advancement and has focused on developing a job title structure and staffing profile for participants as well as both on-the-job and classroom training. We are still promoting the program and trying to get our numbers where we want them to be. We will be testing our third of four groups of mid-level individuals at the end of April 2022.

NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (STEP) Training

This program is focused on teaching management skills and several hundred NJDOT employees have completed this very beneficial initiative. The Civil Service Commission provides this training, which has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic as instructors prefer in-person classes. We offer a two-day, in-house training on DOT-specific supervisory issues like the supervisor’s role in promoting staff, leaves of absence, working test periods, performance assessment reviews (PARS) and discipline to build on what participants learn in STEP, but we may opt to offer this in-house training first if there is an ongoing delay in STEP availability. We have a lot of new staff advancing to supervisory and managerial roles who could benefit from this training. We would also bring in small groups from this supervisory cohort to participate in and benefit from a few Lunch & Learn sessions. In the past, these smaller group sessions have been very helpful for sharing experiences.

Leadership Academy

This is a Transportation specific Leadership Academy that focuses on the importance of soft skills related to management. In April, the NJ Turnpike Authority will be hosting this program locally with instruction from Dr. Tom DeCoster. Many of our manager-level and future directors will be attending, along with staff from NJ TRANSIT and the Turnpike Authority.

Skill Enhancement for Clerical and Administrative Professionals (SECAP)

This program was originally focused on skill enhancement for staff in clerical positions. Now, more individuals are being hired to fill administrative professional roles, rather than the traditional clerical roles. Persons with technical capabilities, such as policy writing and budget preparation, are filling these roles. In response, we are considering revamping this program to best support the needed skill sets related to these positions.

Administrative College

This program is ongoing and focuses on offering courses on topics such as financial wellness, mental and physical health, and technical skills that can be mastered in a couple of hours. We conducted a survey pre-pandemic to identify what our employees wanted in Administrative College courses.

Promotion of Asst. Engineers to Senior Engineers

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

This effort was initiated about seven years ago and we have continued the practice, adding programs for most journey level professional titles in Human Resources, Budget, Planning, Accounting, and Information Technology. When participants have completed one year past their initial training and have been in their journeyman title for two years, management determines whether they are performing higher level work and have mastered the technical skills to be considered a technical expert in the particular area. After three years, they may be considered for reclassification.  Management makes recommendations and provides written justifications to advance persons based on established criteria and must describe why they are recommending an individual, or why they are not. HR ensures that each individual has completed enough time in the title and gives a provisional appointment, but the candidate needs to pass the Civil Service exam to confirm their promotion.

This effort reflects both a retention strategy and a strategy to help bridge the supervisory gap resulting from retirements.

Succession Planning

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Moving forward, NJDOT succession planning training and development will likely be less formalized than the previous NJDOT program. In this former program, participants were selected through an application process, which, in my opinion, may not have been ideal for all employees. Training and development should happen daily, at all levels, and should not be programmed by Human Resources. We are looking to promote parity, transparency and equity through the training programs we just spoke about. Our Leadership Academy and STEP program help workers to advance and instruct supervisors on how to support training and development of all employees. We are depending on management and senior leadership to work on a smaller scale. We want to provide the same level of opportunity to everyone and see who rises to the occasion.

Q. In a presentation to NJ STIC last June, former NJDOT Human Resources Director Michele Shapiro noted that you would be working on trainings for both the Construction Inspectors Apprenticeship program and the Engineering Technician Apprenticeship program. What is the status of these new programs? Do you anticipate developing similar programs for other job titles?

We have the new titles in place, but we do not have the formalized training program developed yet. I have spoken with Asst. Commissioner Snehal Patel and we will be collaborating with the Construction Director to start building the program this summer. Our plan is to update the existing 10-module program for the Resident Engineer Construction Inspectors to adapt to the Apprenticeship program.

Q. We had heard of the possible expansion of experience-based hiring. Are there any updates to this initiative?

Automotive and Electrical Mechanics would be the titles we are considering for a possible formalized program. There are trainees now but we don’t have a formal program. With all the advances in technology, we would like to find a community college partner to provide training and build a title structure based on the new technologies and see if it would increase the salary determination. We have trouble competing with private industries for candidates from these two trades. We are continuing efforts to receive approval for the program from Civil Service but effort was halted with the pandemic.

Q. Does NJDOT have plans to offer internships or similar positions?

We have a Summer Student program called Temporary Employment Services primarily targeted to professional titles. We do not refer to the program as an internship because participants are paid but do not earn academic credit. Typically, we accept rising college seniors, but if applications are light in a given cycle, we sometimes accept sophomores and freshmen as well. Pre-pandemic, it was a great pipeline for permanent positions with the department. In 2019, we had 55 students in the program, paid $20/hour, and 20 percent were hired for full-time positions with NJDOT. With our late start this year, we will have 20 participants. Some may stay with us into the school year, working part-time up to 944 hours per year as permitted by Civil Service.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

The program is beneficial to participants as they receive work experience while earning wages. We recruit candidates via virtual and in-person career fairs, partnerships with alumni of the program and community organizations, campus organizations and using Handshake (an app that connects students on college campuses with open positions, mainly internships and entry level jobs). When we meet with students and other prospective hires, we focus on communicating how NJDOT offers dynamic, interesting, rewarding, and purposeful career opportunities.

Our talent acquisition team facilitates recruitment efforts and includes a diverse group of DOT subject matter experts in addition to our Human Resource representatives. Specifically, members of the team reflect a diversity of ages, genders, races/ethnicities, and career stages. Some are alumni of the Temporary Employment Services program. Also important, team member subject matter expertise varies (e.g., structural, environmental). We have found success with the talent acquisition team as members make personal connections with candidates as they discuss their roles at DOT and opportunities with the department.

Developing the Highway Construction Workforce

Q. There seems to be a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – about jobs/careers in the highway construction industry. Do you know of programs that have been effective at building awareness of job opportunities in transportation in New Jersey?

To recruit a diverse workforce, NJDOT Human Resources focuses on forging relationships with community organizations such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers, Society for African American engineers, Asian American engineers, LGBTQ+, and STEM programs.  We use LinkedIn a great deal to target engineers and collaborate with New Jersey Youth Corps to spread the word on career opportunities at NJDOT.

We also successfully partnered with the Trenton Soup Kitchen, working with job specialists to inform those accessing the kitchen about construction apprenticeships and Highway Operations Tech positions. We have partnered with the National High School Guidance Counselors Association for New Jersey and were able to post in their newsletter about job opportunities that do not require experience via our highway operations tech program.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

In 2019, we increased representation of African American male applicants by 93 percent for Highway Operations Tech positions. We achieved this goal by reaching out to our many community partners, with 100 African American applicants from the Trenton Soup Kitchen. Finally, we partner with the NJ Department of Labor, One-Stop offices, and attend county and other virtual and in-person job fairs.

Q. Reliable transportation and child care are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. What strategies could help to address these issues? Are you aware of any model practices or programs to support women and minority populations looking at the highway construction trades?

We had a program for parolees several years ago that focused on identifying job opportunities for them in locations with good transportation networks, such as Jersey City and Newark.

NJDOT does offer an employee subscription van pool (pre-COVID-19) that accesses various public transit stops near DOT headquarters.

The newly announced Trenton MOVES project seeks to deploy 100 on-demand Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) throughout the state capital; when deployed, it could prove to be great service for helping people access employment opportunities.

Q. Have you worked with the NJ Council of County Colleges to look at possible programs that might advance NJDOT’s goals for workforce development? Do you work with the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship?

We do collaborate with NJ DOL and with the One-Stops and Career Centers. However, our apprenticeships are not true apprenticeships by federal labor standards, but have similar components. Because we work with Civil Service titles, it is much more difficult for us to be recognized as an official apprenticeship program.

We also have a tuition aid and reimbursement program, at the public college rate, for employees as long as their course of study relates to transportation.

"Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships."

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Creation and implementation of an awareness campaign to highlight construction career opportunities would be helpful, as such an effort could amplify the message that you don’t have to look a certain way to work in construction. The campaign should highlight the diversity of workers and work options in the construction industry. A team of “ambassadors” comprised of local union representatives, NJDOT staff, and others can describe the different kinds of work available within construction and showcase opportunities to increase interest in the profession.

Q. There have been a number of grant funding opportunities through the Department of Labor for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Is NJDOT able to work with other organizations or academic institutions to build programs using these funds?

Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships.

Resources

NJ STEP. Civil Service Commission | NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (NJ STEP).

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. Current Openings & Application Process.

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. KM Toolbox: Last Lecture on Operations Apprenticeship Program.  Presentation to NJ STIC, 2nd Quarter Meeting, 2021