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Pennsylvania STICs to innovation for improved road safety

Pennsylvania STICs to innovation for improved road safety

Innovation was the hallmark of former Federal Highway Administrator --now Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary-- Victor Mendez's tenure here at FHWA. And it's no secret that Transportation Secretary Foxx has made it a top priority across DOT as well. Getting safer, more durable projects from idea to reality faster and at less cost just makes sense all around, and it's a key part of GROW AMERICA, the legislative proposal Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last spring.

In July, I saw firsthand the benefits of Pennsylvania's focus on highway innovation when I traveled to the Keystone State to see how state transportation officials are building a culture of innovation into their work. I left from my visit impressed at what the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) has achieved.

Photo of road construction in Lackawanna County

Since launching in 2011, the STIC has grown by leaps and bounds. Organizers made the smart, early move of engaging and involving key players –state and federal agencies, local governments, research organizations, industry partners, and academics. They also assembled Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) that pursue a rigorous review of expected benefits before selecting projects and innovations.

The result? A groundswell of transportation system improvements.

High Friction Surface (HFS) treatments --supported by FHWA under our “Every Day Counts” (EDC) program-- have been saving lives by making pavement less slick when it rains. For example, one particular stretch of road in Northampton County was the site of 20 wet-pavement-related crashes in the decade prior to HFS treatment. Since HFS was added in 2007, there have been no crashes. Zero.

Photo of center-line rumble strips
Center-line rumble strips alert drivers to lane drift.

PennDOT is also joining other innovative states, particularly when it comes to applying rumble strips on thin pavement overlay projects. This simple technique reduces crashes and saves lives by alerting drivers when they inadvertently drift into another lane or onto the shoulder.

And, PennDOT is saving taxpayers money with a system that helps them build bridges faster, with less equipment and at less cost. Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) is used to create bridge substructure units that can be combined with beams and a deck to create an Integrated Bridge System (IBS), a process that can cost as much as 60 percent less than conventional construction materials.

Here's a great video from the Utah DOT on how GRS makes a real difference in stability and cost-saving.

Pennsylvania’s highways are getting high-tech, too, thanks to automated road condition reporting. Worried about snowstorms approaching around the holidays? No problem – PennDOT will soon have an app for that. Literally.

PennDOT is developing a smart application to automatically report road condition data from the windshield of a snowplow and hopes to deploy the app statewide very soon. Used appropriately, that app could add safety and certainty to winter road travel.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture: the innovative work happening in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is impressive. Pennsylvania is well on its way to realizing the primary goal of its STIC: embracing and deploying innovation as quickly as possible so drivers, passengers, freight shippers, and businesses can reap the benefits of a smoother, safer, more efficient transportation system.

In a number of ways, Pennsylvania is making sure Every Day Counts. And if Congress passes a long-term transportation bill that supports innovation like GROW AMERICA does, we can ensure that states across the country have the opportunity to do the same.

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I lived in eastern PA 5 1/2 years ending 2011. The reason for many of the "20 wet-pavement-related crashes in the decade prior to HFS treatment" on that particular stretch of road in Northampton County was BECAUSE the road was stripped of its surface and drivers were forced to drive on a deeply grooved, irregular, side-to-side wavy (not straight, parallel grooves), and dangerous road WHILE the construction was in progress. Tires made very little contact with the road surface on the tops of the grooves, and the grooving would not allow adequate drainage. I drove on that road a few times, myself. It was transformed from an average road before construction to a death trap by the incorrect grooving. Then it was repaved to the improved condition mentioned in the article. My coworker was involved in one of the crashes and backed up this story. But, for balance, a lot of the idiot drivers in eastern PA in the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton area follow too closely and drive too fast for conditions, anyway. So, wet pavement accidents like this are expected.

Would like to see more and better lighting for night driving and deer detection. Pennsylvania highways seem extraordinarily dark it seems due to its hilly nature. Thanks for your innovations. Just think what the engineers could come up with if they had deep pockets.

While most of PA's ideas are good, rumble strips or grooved pavement on or near shoulders are terrible for bicyclists.
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