Build a Better Mousetrap

People involved in the transportation industry often find better ways to do their jobs. Whether it’s a new gadget that improves the quality and safety of a project, or an innovative process that reduces costs and improves efficiency, the people on the front lines are often the source of the innovations that become the latest and best practices.

New Jersey's Build a Better Mousetrap Competition provides a great opportunity to share new ideas with others in the State and across the country. We are looking for submissions from employees of local or state public agencies (municipalities, counties, parks commissions, NJ Department of Transportation, NJ Transit) that have developed new solutions to problems or found better ways of doing things. We will gather the best ideas from around the state and judge them using a 5-point rating system. The highest scoring entries will be entered into a Build a Better Mousetrap National competition.

Click the Better Mousetrap Competition for more information including an entry form to share your innovation and get in the game!

The 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap Award for an entry from a state agency was given to Gary Liedtka-Bizuga and Henry Jablonski, NJDOT for their Sawcut Vertical Curb innovation.

The Sawcut Vertical Curb was recognized as an innovative response to a change in standards requiring existing curbing at guide rails to be reduced in height. The Sawcut Vertical Curb innovation saves time and money and increases safety and efficiency by obviating the need to pour new concrete curbing and allowing guide rail to remain in place during the process.

Check out New Jersey's Local Technical Assistance Program for more information.

Want to know more about PAST WINNERS of the NEW JERSEY COMPETITION?
Check out these VIDEOS!

2022 Winner: Sawcut Vertical Curb, Gary Liedtka-Bizuga and Henry Jablonski, NJDOT

2021 State Winner: Tire Centerline Bracket, Marc Franco, Technical Specialist, NJ TRANSIT, Bus Material & Technical Support

2021 Local Winner: Inlet Repair Trailer, Art Villano, Montgomery Township, New Jersey

2020 Winner: Anti-Jackknife Device, Scott Ainsley & Mark Crago, NJDOT

2019 Winner: Bridge Fender Navigation Lighting Reflective Backup System, Gerald Oliveto, NJDOT Operations Support and Engineering

2018 Winner: Roncovitz Post Pusher and Post Puller, NJDOT Crew 333


2022 National Winners

Want to know more about PAST WINNERS of the NATIONAL COMPETITION?
Below are descriptions of recent winning entries nationally.

Innovative Project Award: Sidewinder

South Manheim Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania 

A team in South Manheim Township, Schuylkill County (PA), created the 'Sidewinder', a truck attachment tool to improve the maintenance of water flow along the roadways. 

Along many of roadways, the berm is not very wide and the challenge was to be able to fill areas of the berms without losing expensive materials. They needed something more efficient that allowed us to use multiple trucks and provide consistent flow of materials to avoid waste and increase productivity. The team developed something along the lines of a widener using implements already owned, including a berming machine, which usually would mount on the back of a truck, and some scrap metal from the shop. The machine would need to mount to a backhoe and it needed to be able to push the trucks like a paver. This would allow the use of multiple trucks and eliminate unnecessary loss of material. 

They constructed a frame with quick-attach mounting for our backhoe and put a dock bumper to eliminate potential damage from pushing the trucks. Next, they created a frame for the berming machine, and skis to run on the roadway to ensure it stays on grade. It took roughly 60 manhours to construct the sidewinder, using basic metal-working tools. The cost of materials was just under $500. This included the cost of blanks for the quick-attach for the backhoe. 

This invention has been very beneficial to the township. It saves time and materials, and, above all, makes the township roadways safer for residents by having wider shoulders. 

The Sidewinder. Courtesy: South Manheim Township (PA)
The Sidewinder. Courtesy: South Manheim Township (PA)

Bold Steps Award: The Guardrail Maintainer

Walsh County Highway Department, North Dakota 

Designers Eric Abrahamson and Dean Thompson with the Walsh County Highway Department (ND) created the Guardrail Maintainer, a truck attachment tool that helps clear away debris from around the guardrails, keeping the roads safe.  

In Walsh County, there was a problem of gravel, debris, vegetation, and snow accumulate between the guardrail posts. The debris and gravel between these posts catches the snow, and creates snow drifts across the roads. It is critical to remove this accumulation of material prior to snowfall. This task was typically done manually by crew of four people, each with their own shovel and a skid steer with a bucket. 

The team designed and fabricated the guardrail maintainer to clean between the guardrail posts. At the guardrail site, the motor grader operator detaches 4-feet of the cutting edge and then pins the guardrail maintainer to the end of the moldboard using a wedge and mounting pin. The attached guardrail maintainer is then inserted between each post, retrieving good gravel, removing vegetation that was not taken down by the mower or weed eater, removing other debris, or snow that has built up between the posts. The guardrail maintainer is designed with a shear bolt so it will easily breakaway should the operator inadvertently hit the guardrail or if the snow is frozen. 

Guardrail Maintainer. Courtesy: Walsh County Highway Department, ND
Guardrail Maintainer. Courtesy: Walsh County Highway Department, ND

The task now requires only the operator of the motor grader, instead of four people and a skid steer. The task of reclaiming good gravel, removing excess debris, vegetation or snow buildup between the guardrail posts is now done more effective and efficiently. Road crew with shovels and a skid steer are no longer working on the roadside and exposed to motor vehicles and possible injury. The Guardrail Maintainer presents increased safety, and a cost savings in money, time, labor, and equipment usage. 

Prior to using the innovation, a crew of 4 people with shovels, a pickup, and trailer with a skid steer were used to clean between the guardrail posts, taking a minimum 1 hour to clean 10 feet of guardrail. Now, ten feet of guardrail is cleaned within 20 to 30 minutes. The Guardrail Maintainer presents increased safety, and a cost savings in money, time, labor, and equipment usage. 


Pioneer Award: Culvert Cleaner 

Washington County Department of Public Works, New York

Washington County Department of Public Works (NY) created the Culvert Cleaner, a tool to safely clear out dirt build-up in the culverts caused by beavers. 

The county was experiencing issues with Beavers plugging road culverts. This led to safety concerns of the employees entering a culvert when the water was very high. Other concerns include the potential of being bitten by beavers, snakes, and turtles, or even getting leaches. There's also the possibility of getting Giardiasis, or beaver fever, from potential ingestion of the contaminated water. 

The Public Works Manager requested the Heavy Equipment Mechanic use his welder/fabricating skills to design and build a tool to clean culverts with the aid of a gradall that would keep the employees from entering the water. The tool also needed to not damage plastic culverts and fit in to a minimum 15‘‘ diameter culvert. The Engineering department drafted a print used to cut the steel used in the manufacturing of the head of the culvert cleaner.  

The tool is an effective method for clearing culverts. It’s safer and more efficient than manual cleaning by staff. 


Culvert Cleaner. Courtesy: Washington County Public Works Department, New York
Culvert Cleaner. Courtesy: Washington County Public Works Department, New York

Smart Transformation Award: Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events

Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico 

The Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja (PR) created the Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events. This e-tool allows residents to report their damages via social media, which helps emergency workers prioritize their response during an emergency event. 

The Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja was affected by floods caused by a rain shower that passed through Puerto Rico from February 4th to the 6th, 2022. These rain showers caused flooding, landslides, damage to state highways and municipal roads, damage to bridges, sinkhole situations, problems with rainwater, and in municipal installations. At the time, the municipality was lacking information about what areas were observably affected and how. There was also a lack of personnel to inspect damages, unavailable digital tools to aid in information collection, and a lack of opportunity for citizens to collect and report information. 

Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events. Courtesy: Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico
Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events. Courtesy: Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico

The area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a branch of the Department of Planning, Infrastructure, and Economic Development, developed a virtual survey utilizing the application Survey123 by the company Esri. The survey interface allowed citizens to share a variety of data including contact information, descriptions of damages, and pin a location on the map. Citizens could also upload images. This survey was available to the public for the subsequent weeks after the emergency event through the municipality`s Facebook page and the link was shared in various community chats. 

Assuming that the municipalities do not have the program ArcGIS Desktop to develop the tool Survey123 by ArcGIS, the annual cost would be $440. Nevertheless, a similar tool could be developed using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms, which are programs that municipalities usually have access to. To visualize the coordinates without the annual cost, the program Quantum GIS (QGIS), which is an Open-Source program, could be used. 

By obtaining the data of the affected areas, it was possible to prioritize certain locations once applications were submitted for the inspections of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, after the event in order to document the damages. This information was useful for the Department of Planning, Infrastructure, and Economic Development to have a clearer geographic idea of the impact of the event, for them to communicate and refer federal agents, state agents, and municipal dependencies, and for them to accurately communicate the compiled information and reports. In summary, the development of the public survey as a tool used through social media allowed the integration of citizens to facilitate the identification of affected areas and accurately document the damages caused by rainwater to submit reports solicited by federal, state, and municipal agencies. 

Updated: July 19, 2023