NJ STIC 2024 1st Triannual Meeting

The NJ State Transportation Innovation Council (NJ STIC) virtually convened for its 1st Triannual Meeting of 2024 on April 17, 2024. The meeting provided an opportunity for attendees to hear from the Core Innovation Area (CIA) Teams about their progress towards Every Day Counts Round 7 (EDC-7) goals and to hear a featured presentation on plans for rolling out a new Construction & Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship Training Program at the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The agenda for the meeting was distributed in advance of the event.

Figure 1. In recognition of National Work Zone Awareness Week, NJDOT placed 41 orange safety cones with black ribbon at the site of the Employee Memorial outside of NJDOT Headquarters. Each cone represents a NJDOT employee who lost their lives in the line of duty.

Welcome Remarks. Amanda Gendek, Manager of the Bureau of Research, Innovation and Information Transfer (BRIIT) greeted those in attendance and opened the first triannual meeting. She reminded participants that she will be acting as host until the innovation coordinator position is filled. Ms. Gendek announced that April 15th-19th is National Work Zone Awareness Week and asked participants to take pause and recognize the NJDOT employees who have lost their lives on the job and encourage participants to recommit themselves to the mission of increasing safety for both workers and motorists. She then gave an overview of the day’s agenda.

FHWA Updates. Christopher Paige, Innovation Coordinator and Community Planner from the FHWA NJ Division Office, provided FHWA updates. Mr. Paige encouraged participants to consider pursuing Accelerated Innovation Demonstration (AID) Grants for FY 2024 and noted the deadline for FY 2024 applications is May 28th, 2024. He also emphasized that EDC-7 progress reports should be submitted by May 10th, 2024. Mr. Paige noted that he recently attended the EDC-7 Greenhouse Gas Initiative Summit in Colorado with an NJDOT employee, Sushant Darji, and reflected on how some takeaways and model practices of peer agencies shared during the event may prove relevant to potential implementation in New Jersey. He reminded participants that past recorded webinars and other resources in support of the EDC-7 innovations are available at the FHWA Center for Accelerating Innovation website. Additionally, he encouraged attendees to subscribe to the EDC Innovator and other newsletters for regular updates on transportation innovation activities.

Figure 2. The Mobility & Operations CIA Team highlighted its installation and planned pilot testing of GroundCast, a new generation of weather sensors which, when installed into highways, can measure road surface temperature and conditions.

Core Innovation Areas (CIA) Updates. The Core Innovation Area (CIA) Team leaders gave updates on their progress toward fulfilling the deployment goals for their respective innovative initiatives. The updates were given by CIA Team leaders from the NJDOT and FHWA, covering EDC-7 initiatives under the auspices of the five CIA Teams that have been formed: Safety; Infrastructure Preservation; Mobility and Operations; Organizational Support & Improvement; Mobility and Operations; and Planning and Environment. Each team’s presentation provided insights into their ongoing projects and highlighted some of the implementation activities, accomplishments and challenges experienced to-date in meeting the deployment goals for the innovations.

Feature Presentation: Construction & Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship Training Program. Kelly Hutchinson, NJDOT’s Assistant Commissioner for Administration, presented on the newly developed two-year apprenticeship training program, aimed at strengthening the construction and maintenance technician workforce. Ms. Hutchinson provided some background on the reasons for establishing a new apprentice program. Previously, the entry point to NJDOT’s Construction Inspector title series required candidates to possess related experience that was difficult to attain outside the transportation construction industry. In addition, this entry level position required that candidates and appointees take and pass a Civil Service exam. These requirements led to significant staffing shortages because there was an apparent lack of truly qualified job applicants responding to NJDOT’s recruitment efforts and those that did qualify did not always pass the Civil Service exam. Some of NJDOT’s entry level employees were not achieving permanent status needed for advancement, which caused retention problems. Employees that NJDOT appointed were sometimes displaced by other individuals who passed the Civil Service exam but may not have necessarily been deemed a desirable candidate from a management perspective.

Additionally, NJDOT found that construction inspection employees accepted into the position did not possess consistent skills, attributable in part to having received varying levels of on-the-job training depending on the supervisor. With varying skills and training, their roles in construction oversight responsibilities varied from region to region and supervisor to supervisor, which led to a greater need to augment staffing with outside resources for inspection work. The development of the apprenticeship training program is a proactive effort by NJDOT to address these issues and challenges for recruitment and retention and increase the labor supply pipeline.

Figure 3. Kelly Hutchinson (NJDOT) presented on the recently developed Construction & Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship Training Program. The two-year training program will help address barriers to entry for applicants without construction experience, among other benefits.

To reduce barriers to entry, the apprenticeship program will no longer require a civil service exam, or relevant construction experience. Instead, over the course of two years, apprentices will complete a 4-segment training program including a review of NJDOT’s specifications, online training modules, in-person inspection courses, and field training exercises. To ensure all information is consistent across departments and projects, apprentices will be exposed to a common curriculum and have a chance to develop their knowledge and skills and demonstrate their field inspection competency. Implementation of the training program is expected to begin in Fall of 2024, with a target group of all non-supervisory construction and management technicians.

Announcements and Reminders

NJDOT Technology Transfer Website Reminder. Attendees were reminded to refer to the NJDOT Technology Transfer website and, in particular, the NJ STIC section. The website is useful for staying up-to-date on NJ STIC activities and developments and for accessing a wide array of NJ STIC content, including an overview of the NJ STIC, the NJ STIC Charter, past meeting summaries, the status of current and past innovative initiatives, NJ STIC Grant Incentive Funding information, and articles and other materials that spotlight innovation and past NJ innovation accomplishments.

NJ Transportation Ideas Portal. Ms. Gendek encouraged attendees to participate in the NJ Transportation Ideas Portal. The portal is open to the public for submissions of future research ideas and implementation studies. The Innovation Advisory Team reviews these proposals for feasibility of future actions. She noted that the portal is always open to new research and innovation idea submissions for consideration for future collaborative efforts and investments.

STIC Incentive Funding. Ms. Gendek reminded participants of the availability of STIC Incentive Grants and that FHWA has announced funding of up to $125,000 annually. This funding is available to support the advancement of innovative initiatives underway – such as those being advanced by the CIA Teams, and other noteworthy innovations. Guidance for applicants can be accessed from the NJ STIC drop-down menu here on the NJDOT Tech Transfer Website. She noted that the staff from NJDOT BRIIT are available to answer questions and assist interested participants with grant applications.

Build a Better Mousetrap. Ms. Gendek mentioned that the New Jersey Build a Better Mousetrap (BABM) competition is currently underway and seeking submissions from state and local governments (e.g., municipalities, counties, and park commissions) who have implemented innovative solutions in transportation. Information on the key judging criteria and the entry forms for entering the competition are available at cait.rutgers.edu/mousetrap/. Attendees were also encouraged to watch the recently produced NJDOT video advertising the 2024 New Jersey BABM Competition. The BABM page on the Technology Transfer website also shares several video examples of past winning entries in recent years.

Next Meeting. Amanda Gendek reminded attendees that STIC meetings have moved to a triannual schedule. She shared the scheduled dates for planning and holding the STIC meetings in 2024. The next meeting will be hosted on August 7th, 2024, at 10 am.

Acknowledgements. The session concluded with expressions of gratitude to the guest speaker, CIA Teams, council members, and implementation teams. Their contributions were recognized as pivotal to the meeting’s success and the council’s ongoing endeavors.

A recording of the NJ STIC April 2024 meeting is available here. The day’s presentations can be found here and, in the sections, below, including the results of the interactive exercise.

Recording of the NJ STIC 2024 1st Triannual Meeting
Welcome Remarks & FHWA Updates
CIA Team Update: Safety
CIA Team Update: Infrastructure Preservation
CIA Team Update: Organizational Support & Improvement
CIA Team Update: Planning & Environment
CIA Team Update: Mobility & Safety
Featured Presentation: Construction & Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship Training Program.
Reminders and Announcements

NJDOT Traffic Incident Management Training Course – Now Available Online as Self-Guided Course

The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Traffic Incident Management (NJTIM) training is now available as an online, self-guided course. Bringing first responder training program to an online training platform should make it easier for even more emergency and incident response personnel to access a life-saving training. The new online course can be accessed through the NJTIM website.

The TIM training program focuses on a response effort that protects motorists and first responders during a roadside emergency, while minimizing impact on traffic flow. Since its inception in 2009, NJDOT and its partner agencies have trained more than 24,000 emergency and incident response personnel, including police, firefighters, EMS personnel, DOT crews, towing/recovery companies and other responders.

Training efforts, like these, are crucial in coordinating response efforts that keep all first responders and transportation professionals safe.

The new online training course can be found at NJ TIM Website: njtim.org

Providing easier access to TIM training for busy first responders and transportation professionals should prove more cost effective than traditional, in-person meetings for organizations with limited budgets. The online training program is asynchronous, offering greater flexibility in taking the training for personnel whose work schedules may not align with in-person training dates.

Online programs can also be easily updated and revised, ensuring that participants receive the most current and relevant information.

The online training is designed to engage training participants with videos, simulations, knowledge checks, and interactive scenarios that mimic real-world situations. The online TIM training utilizes assessments and certifications to evaluate the trainees’ understanding of the material and practice decision-making in high-stress scenarios without real world consequences.

The online TIM training program seeks to improve safely and coordination in responding to incidents on New Jersey’s roadways. The target audience for this training is county and municipal law enforcement and emergency personnel, including volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

FHWA’s Every Day Counts Program has recognized the importance of TIM as model safety and mobility innovation. In Round 6, Next-Generation TIM: Integrating Technology, Data, and Training, the importance of training of local agencies was encouraged.

The FHWA’s Talking TIM webinar series provides best practices, new technological innovations, and successful implementations. The webinar series provides a forum where TIM champions with any level of experience can exchange information about current practices, programs, and technologies.

More information on the rationale and benefits of the new course can be found in the video and the NJDOT press release.

FHWA Issued its EDC-7 Summit Summary and Baseline Report

FHWA recently released its EDC-7 Summit Summary and Baseline Report that can be found here.

EDC-7 Summit Summary and Baseline Report includes information on each states plan to advance the innovations being promoted in Round 7.

The Report highlights the Every Day Counts innovations that FHWA is promoting in the program’s seventh round (EDC-7) and includes the baseline deployment status of the innovations at the beginning of 2023 and the goals for adoption set by each of the states over the two year, 2023-2024 period.

The report also shares highlights from the EDC-7 Virtual Summit held in February 2023, including remarks from transportation leaders given during the summit’s opening sessions on the three focus areas of EDC-7—improving safety for all users, building sustainable infrastructure, and growing an inclusive workforce.

The NJ STIC’s baseline assessment of its deployment status for the innovations being advanced by its Core Innovation Area (CIA) Teams during Round 7 can be found in the FHWA report.  Click the “EDC-7” button on our NJ STIC Innovative Initiatives page to learn more about the priority innovations, goals for deployment and planned activities for Round 7.

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.

FHWA Announces EDC-7 Innovations

Every two years, FHWA works with state transportation departments, local governments, tribes, private industry and other stakeholders to identify and champion a new collection of innovations that merit accelerated deployment through the Every Day Counts Program (EDC). The FHWA’s Center for Accelerating Innovation (CAI) has recently issued the next round of areas of innovation, EDC-7.

EDC is a state-based model that identifies and rapidly deploys proven, yet underutilized innovations to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce traffic congestion, and improve environmental sustainability. Proven innovations promoted through EDC facilitate greater efficiency at the state and local levels, saving time, money and resources that can be used to deliver more projects.

FHWA’s CAI fosters collaboration between stakeholders within the transportation community through the State Transportation Innovation Councils (STIC), which are charged with evaluating innovations and spearheading their deployment in each state.

More information on the EDC-7 Innovations will be presented at the EDC-7 Virtual Summit, scheduled for February 14-16, 2023.  Transportation leaders and front-line professionals from across the country will discuss and identify opportunities for implementing the innovations that best fit the needs of their respective state transportation program.  Shortly after the Virtual Summit, an NJ STIC Caucus will be convened on February 22, 2023 to finalize the selection of innovations, establish baseline condition and performance goals for innovation deployment over the upcoming two-year cycle, and form leadership and technical teams to support the implementation of each of the chosen innovations.

In announcing its EDC-7 innovations, FHWA emphasized its commitment to a focus on safety for all users, sustainable infrastructure, and inclusive workforce development. Descriptions of each of the EDC-7 Innovations are below:

Nighttime Visibility for Safety. The nighttime crash fatality rate is three times the daytime rate. Enhancing visibility along corridors, intersections, and pedestrian crossings can help reduce fatalities. This initiative promotes traffic control devices and properly designed lighting to improve safety for all users.

Next Generation TIM: Technology for Saving Lives. Over six million crashes a year in the U.S. put responders and other vulnerable road users at risk. Next-Generation Traffic Incident Management programs promote emerging technologies such as emergency vehicle lighting and queue warning solutions. These and other tools can advance safety and operations to mitigate incident impacts.

Integrating GHG Assessment and Reduction Targets in Transportation Planning. Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S. This initiative provides resources to help agencies quantify greenhouse gases and set goals to decrease motor vehicle, construction, and life-cycle emissions through planning and project development.

Enhancing Performance with Internally Cured Concrete (EPIC2).  Cracking in concrete is a limiting factor in achieving long-term concrete performance. Internal curing mitigates shrinkage cracking and has the potential to substantially extend the service life of concrete bridge decks and enhance the performance of pavements and repairs.

EPDs for Sustainable Project Delivery.  Construction materials such as concrete and asphalt have environmental impacts during their life cycle. Environmental product declarations, or EPDs, document those impacts. This tool helps States support procurement decisions and quantify embodied carbon reductions using life cycle assessments for sustainable pavements.

Rethinking DBE in Design-Build. Many disadvantaged business enterprise program procedures do not adequately address design-build contracting. New practices are available to support the effective integration of program requirements to help small, disadvantaged businesses compete for design-build contracts.

Strategic Workforce Development.  The demand for highway workers is growing, and emerging technologies require new skills. This innovation helps stakeholders improve their ability to identify, train, and place highway construction workers. The focus will expand to rural and Tribal communities to increase career opportunities.

NJDOT Tech Talk! Webinar – Research Showcase: Lunchtime Edition

On April 22, 2021, the NJDOT Bureau of Research hosted a Lunchtime Tech Talk! webinar, “Research Showcase: Lunchtime Edition!”. The event featured three important research studies that NJDOT was not able to include in the NJDOT Research Showcase virtual event held last October. The Showcase serves as an opportunity for the New Jersey transportation community to learn about the broad scope of academic research initiatives underway in New Jersey.

The three projects examined various issues in transportation from surface transportation vulnerability to climate change, to the impacts of lighting on work zone safety, to policies that regulate overweight trucks in New Jersey. After each presentation, webinar participants had an opportunity to pose questions of the presenter.

Quantifying Impacts of Disruptive Precipitation to Surface Transportation: A Data-Driven Mitigation Approach. Raif Bucar is a third-year Engineering Management Ph.D. student at Stevens Institute of Technology, currently conducting research on surface transportation vulnerability to flood events. The study adopts a multidisciplinary approach to look at the effects of not only 100 and 500 year floods, but also more frequent events that cause local flooding to assess the impact on mobility and accessibility in Hoboken, NJ. The resulting study explores flooding impacts on the transportation system in terms of mobility and accessibility metrics and can inform the flood mitigation measures and measures to improve resilience.

The study used a traffic simulation model to look at storm magnitude and high and low tide in relation to Vehicle Miles Traveled, Vehicle Hours Traveled, and Trips Completed. Mr. Bucar described analysis of data to predict flood risk and determine areas of higher probability of flooding by year-storm and tide to determine why some areas flood more often than others. The study explored urban characteristics including land cover and topography, elevation, slope, impervious coverage, and drainage system features, and looked at the correlation of these features with flooding.

Mr. Bucar described the application of this information to determine routing information for drivers by applying machine learning to develop a “most valuable path” that adjusts travel time based on each link in the route and diverts drivers in response to changing conditions during flood events. The study findings can also be applied to guide flood resilience transportation planning. Future work will look at other models to validate this study’s assumptions, and will investigate driver behavior during flood events and how drivers respond to new information.

Following the presentation, Mr. Bucar responded to questions asked through the chat feature:

Q. There is not as much research on rainfall-induced flooding. Why not?
A. There may be resistance to using interdisciplinary approaches to exploring this problem. This is an area that needs more research as the disruptive effects of flooding on transportation mobility is increasingly apparent.

Q. How translatable is this approach to other cities or locations?
A. Thus far, we have not applied the framework to other areas, but should be able to apply it to other controlled study areas. A study of larger areas, such as a state, will not show local differences. There is a limit to how much we can scale this model.

Q. How do you plan on factoring in driver behavior and driver knowledge of flood events in future studies?
A. We anticipate using surveys and controlled experiments.

Lighting, Visual Guidance and Age: Importance to Safety in Roadway Work Zones. Dr. John Bullough is the Director of Transportation and Safety Lighting Programs and a Course Instructor in the graduate program in lighting at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Work zones are complex visual environments, and particularly so at night when illumination is needed for workers to complete tasks and for drivers to see the work area and understand how to navigate around it. Roadway delineators, and steady and flashing lights used in work zones can cause glare and visual chaos that affect drivers’ ability to see well. These challenges are exacerbated for older drivers due to physical changes in the eye over time.

Dr. Bullough described the Relative Visual Performance (RVP) model used to look at the speed and accuracy of visual processing in relationship to light level, the contrast between an object and the background, the size of an object, and the age of the observer. The research compared the effects of: steady lighting; flashing lights at night and during the day; sign retroreflectivity, color, and lettering; and road delineators on younger and older drivers.

Dr. Bullough noted that, with an aging driving population, the needs of older drivers should be considered to improve road safety around work zones. Study conclusions emphasize that older drivers need higher light levels than younger adults, but warns that higher light levels can create more glare. There is a need for flashing warning light intensity specifications that reflect the needs of drivers of all ages. It was noted that higher reflectivity in sign sheeting can extend legibility distances and so assist older drivers. Dr. Bullough noted that monitoring of light levels is needed throughout their use to keep levels of glare low.

Several questions were posed to Dr. Bullough after his presentation:

Q. Was the information broken down for age groups over 60 years?
A. Optical changes continue to ages 70 and 80. However, there are other potential visual problems among individuals in these age groups – for example, cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma which make generalizations more difficult.

Q. Does the color of light affect glare and visibility?
A. It depends on what we mean by “glare”. Red and blue lights – which we might find on police and flashing lights of highway maintenance trucks – have the same contrast-reducing characteristics regardless of color. However, people tend to be more sensitive to bluer colors; they find them much brighter, more glaring, more annoying and distracting even if they do not affect visibility any more than red or yellow lights of the same intensity. So, depending on what we mean by glare – if it’s that sensation of pain or annoyance – color matters a lot; if it is just visibility than it really comes down to candle-power, or candelas.

Q. What were the overall differences between urban and rural environments?
A. Urban environments tend to be more difficult for all drivers to find key information in the visual clutter. However, the effect is still much harder for older people than young people.

Q. How does eye recovery after glare differ between younger and older people?
A. Eyes in older people take twice as long to recover (3-4 seconds) after exposure to glare than in younger people.

Analysis of Overweight Truck Permit Policy in New Jersey. Dr. Hani Nassif is a professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where he has established the Bridge Engineering Program.   Dr. Nassif introduced the study and acknowledged the contribution of the research team that worked on this study and a prior study focused on the impact of freight on pavement and bridge infrastructure.

This research study explored whether New Jersey’s scheduled permit fees for overweight trucks allow NJDOT to recover all or part of the costs of the damage imposed by these vehicles traveling on NJ roads and bridges.

In a previous study, researchers had correlated truck overweight data with damage to bridges and pavements which showed higher rate of deterioration with higher rates of use by overweight trucks. The main question for this study considered whether the permit fees were sufficient to recover the costs incurred on the infrastructure. Then, in light of these findings, what policy recommendations could be made to change permit policies.

Dr. Nassif described various data sources and methods that were used to estimate the costs of damage to roads and bridges caused by overweight vehicles, including six years of data from the NJ Overweight Permit Database, Straight Line Diagrams of the NJ roadway network, GIS and the National Bridge Inventory including bridge location and conditions.

Dr. Nassif also provided an overview of NJ Overweight Permits, explaining the various types, validity, fee schedule and weight rules.  He highlighted the challenges of effectively collecting fees for overweight trucks and use categories for which fees are not adequately collected.   If a truck weighs more than 80,000 lbs., a permit should be obtained. Although, the State issues 100,000 permits each year, 96 percent of overweight trucks are estimated to be running without permits. These are not short hauls; the trip length is, on average, 50 miles.

The study also looked at fee permitting across the country. Each state uses one of three different permit fee structures: a flat fee; an oversize, overweight fee; and a new model which combines oversize, overweight, and mileage. The study included an effort to benchmark New Jersey against other states in terms of its fee structure. NJ is fourth highest in terms of overweight fee structure.  Any revised policy must take into account these higher fees in relation to neighboring states.

Dr. Nassif noted that the study findings can inform discussion of alternative policies on trucking fees.  The State can maintain the same fee schedule, add mileage to the fee calculation, or charge a flat fee. Dr. Nassif noted that it is not the objective of the state to recoup all the damage costs but perhaps to try to have all sectors of the economy pay their share in terms of the damage to the infrastructure. He suggested that, because trucks using more than six axles cause less damage, the use of more axles could be incentivized. Fees in NJ are already high, so an increase may not be feasible. All sectors of the trucking industry should pay their fair share.  There may be greater efficiency and equity in imposing a permit fee structure that collects a greater fee for longer mileage trips.

Dr. Nassif answered several questions following his presentation: 

Q. What would be your recommendation for regulating overweight trucks- to change to a flat fee or a mileage-based fee?
A. A combination of overweight and mileage fees might be most appropriate in NJ for a fair distribution of permit fees. This is similar to neighboring states. The average trip length is 50 miles for a permit. If a truck travels more, the State could add $1 for each additional mile would recoup 80 percent of the damage cost.

Q. Have you considered the cost of compliance in payment of fees for overweight vehicles?
We have been trying to work with the trucking association – we had a couple of workshops with stakeholders from agencies and trucking association – with the overall goal of enhancing the movement of goods. For example, the state could incentivize the use of a larger number of axles by lowering fees for these trucks. Truck weight enforcement is currently inefficient – it’s like chasing “cat and mouse”. Permits are not obtained for most overweight vehicles. Autonomous enforcement using accurate sensors along the road could result in citations and force drivers to get overweight permits. Weigh-in-Motion stations could be used as enforcement stations.

The enforcement needs to be more effective and we need more legislation; this legislation is under consideration in NY. NJ should consider this legislation to generate more revenue, and provide an equal footing for all parts of the trucking industry.

Q. With regional partners working together would we see more compliance?
A. There have been some regional efforts, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey calling for harmonizing the permitting process across state lines. New Jersey and New York could take the lead in advancing legislation to create a unified approach from Connecticut to Delaware and Maryland.

A recording of the webinar is available here.