MassDOT is Well Prepared for Major Storms

by: Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern

snow
Boston Common

For the third time this year, major snow, rain, and ice storms are expected to cause significant flooding and complications on Massachusetts’s roadways.

As Massachusetts is expecting another significant storm this week, bringing 6-20 inches of wet snow MassDOT is doing everything it can to prepare citizens and roadways for the impact and aftermath.

MassDOT is able to deploy up to 700 personal to cover over 15,000 lane miles for snow and ice removal throughout the Commonwealth. They are well prepared with approximately 4,200 pieces of snow and ice removal equipment, including 1,300 plow and spreaders, 2,100 plows, and 460 front-end loaders. The department has planned out deployment of snow equipment, and roads are being pretreated with brine and Magnesium Chloride to make snow and ice removal easier.

Closing roads and transit systems for extended periods of time this afternoon and evening is a big possibility in preparation for the upcoming storm and MassDOT urges commuters to be prepared.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority expects Wednesday and Thursday’s storm to impact most transportation, including the subway and commuter rails. MBTA crews are re-stocking on fuel, sand/salt mixes, as well as re-inspecting infrastructure like switches, signals and gates, and snow plows.

The agency released a statement saying it was canceling nightly shuttles between North Quincy and Braintree as well as canceling a public meeting in Somerville due to the forecast.

Again, MassDOT personnel and government employees are urging citizens to stay off the road as much as possible, especially on Wednesday night when the storm will be the heaviest. If drivers must go out, MassDOT advises them to lower their speed, allow themselves extra travel time, and “don’t crowd the plow,” an ongoing message for the motorist to stay behind snow removal equipment.

MassDOT advises drivers to always wear seatbelts, minimize distractions and dial 511 before heading out on the roadway to hear real-time traffic conditions.

Managing Assets at MassDOT

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

longfellowpainting
Longfellow Bridge

MassDOT continues to monitor, repair and replace its existing transportation infrastructure.  Bridges are a key component of the infrastructure and essential for Massachusetts growing economy.  Through data collection, bridge inspections, and daily maintenance, MassDOT knows when each bridge will need to be replaced or rehabilitated.

MassDOT performs a regular and semi-regular inspection of their bridge network.   Funding for the bridge infrastructure looks at ownership and length of the structure.  Collecting bridge attributes and deficiencies allows MassDOT to develop comprehensive of their assets.

Over the past few years, the Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) has met the challenges to reduce the number of deficient bridges in the Commonwealth.  The goal of this Program is to deliver projects quickly and relies on accelerated bridge construction as a means to reduce road closure durations. There are two specific bridge projects that are looking to accommodate demand and technology for the next generation.  One is in the implementation phase and the other in the research phase, both shining a light on MassDOT’s commitment to accommodating future transportation demand in the Commonwealth.

MassDOT is undertaking the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Project, one of five major projects of the Commonwealth’s ABP. This historic bridge provides vital transportation connections between Boston and Cambridge.  Keeping in-line with the historic character of the bridge, structural deficiencies will be addressed, and multi-modal connections will be improved.

A recently launched MassDOT research project looks more closely at the deterioration of the steel beam ends due to corrosion of leaking bridge joints. Dr. Simos Gerasimidis of UMass Amherst is the Principal Investigator on the project. We asked him to give us some information on the project and the expected outcomes.

“As the Commonwealth’s bridge population ages, MassDOT is witnessing more and more instances of deterioration of the web at steel beams ends due to corrosion as a result of leaking bridge joints. This deterioration reduces the load carrying capacity of beams at a critical point where the beam sits on its bearing. In extreme cases, the web fails and the bridge has to be closed. Therefore, the determination of the remaining load carrying capacity is very important, however, there are no good methods for performing this analysis and so, it has been very difficult to calculate realistic estimates of the remaining capacity of the web. This research aims to first; identify the most common configurations (shapes and locations) of steel beam end deterioration by reviewing detailed inspection reports for various bridges. These patterns will be used to develop advanced computational models for structural analysis and the results of the analysis will be utilized to develop new procedures for determining the safe capacity of deteriorated beam ends that can be incorporated into the MassDOT Bridge Manual.

Secondly, actual steel beams with deteriorated ends will be subjected to full-scale testing at the UMass, Amherst Structural Testing Facility to validate the procedures that are being proposed. Finally, the ultimate goal of the project is to update the current guidelines as they appear in today’s codes.”

Both of these bridge projects will benefit the Commonwealth for years to come.  Combining data analysis and maintenance, with innovation and technology, will continue to keep our infrastructure in good shape.

The Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

futurecommission
First Meeting of Governor Baker Administration’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth (photo: Jacquelyn Goddard, Communication Director, MassDOT)

Governor Baker recently established a new Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth.  In addition to providing advice on future transportation needs and challenges, the Commission is tasked with developing a range of scenarios anticipated between 2020 and 2040.  The UMTC Research Affiliate Network of over 120 leading researchers across the Commonwealth, has been asked to help generate must-read research findings to the Commission.

The Governor has appointed 18 transportation professionals, from around Massachusetts, with diverse backgrounds, and a range of expertise, to serve on this Commission.  Tasked with advising the administration on the future of transportation in Massachusetts, their focus will be on at least these five areas:

  • Climate and resiliency
  • Transportation electrification
  • Autonomous and connected vehicles, including ride-sharing services
  • Transit and mobility services
  • Land use and demographic trends

“This is going to be a serious effort, with a broad range of experts who will seek to better understand and evaluate how technology and other forces in society will affect transportation in the decades ahead,” said Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack

The Chair of this Commission will be Governor Baker’s former Chief of Staff, Steven Kadish. The Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will serve as ex officio members.

The other members making up the Commission included:

  • Rebecca Davis, Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Daniel Dolan, President of the New England Power Generators Association
  • Gretchen Effgen, Vice President of the Global Partnerships and Business Team at Nutonomy
  • José Gómez-Ibáñez, Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy at Harvard University
  • Kenneth Kimmell, President of the Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Carol Lee Rawn, Director of Transportation for CERES
  • Timothy McGourthy, Executive Director for the Worcester Regional Research Bureau
  • Mark Melnik Ph.D, Director of Economic and Public Policy Research at the UMASS Donahue Institute
  • Colleen Quinn, Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy for ChargePoint
  • Karen Sawyer Conard, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission
  • Sandra Sheehan, Chief Executive Officer for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
  • Stephen Silveira, Senior Vice President at ML Strategies
  • Navjot Singh, Managing Partner for the McKinsey Boston Office
  • Kirk Sykes, Urban Strategy America Fund, L.P

Over the next 10 months, the Commission will be meeting on a monthly basis and will have developed recommendations by December 1, 2018.

Zipper UP – Merge Design Helps Reduce Crashes

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

zipper
Texas DOT blog

A recent study from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst evaluated the impact of various merge signs and road geometries on driver perception and behavior at merges.  Alyssa Ryan, a UMass Amherst Transportation Engineering graduate student working with Dr. Michael Knodler presented findings of the “Alternative Merge Design Downstream of Intersections,” focused on alternative merges, also known as zipper merges.  The study was discussed at the Road Safety and Simulation Conference in the Netherlands in October; additional results were presented at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C. in January. Discussing the importance of this research, Dr. Knodler said, “If we are able to change driver behavior to better promote alternate merging, we have the potential to improve both roadway safety and efficiency.”

The zipper merges occur when two lanes of traffic equally merge into one, rather than a standard merge from the right lane to the left, or left to right. Ideally, for zipper merges, similar levels of traffic occupy the left and right lanes approaching the merge, and then the vehicles merge into the single lane alternating from the left lane and then the right lane, vehicle by vehicle, as in the two sides of a zipper coming together. A demonstration video of a zipper merge by the Alberta Motor Association can be seen here. The UMass Amherst researchers hypothesized that “by changing signage from the traditional “Lanes End Sign” to experimental signs that promote alternative merging, drivers will be more likely to merge evenly downstream” of the lane drop location…. Even merging will present a greater balance in lane utilization, which will lead to reduced congestion and potentially improved safety.”

Traffic merges can create challenging situations for drivers and safety. The Highway Safety and Information System (HSIS), a multi-state database of a crash, traffic volume, and roadway inventory data, includes information on the driving maneuvers that result in the most truck and car crashes. In an examination of HSIS crash data for twenty-six driving maneuvers, improper merges were listed as the second most dangerous, behind inattentive driving.

The current standard traffic sign used to let drivers know that they are approaching a merge is the W4-2 sign, also known as the “Lane Ends” sign, defined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This is the first sign on the left in the chart below. With this sign, there is no indication of how the vehicles should merge into one lane, and it also appears that the right-lane traffic will yield to traffic on the left, which is a different merging approach that is used with the zipper merge.

The UMass study had two main components. The first involved a survey of drivers regarding different potential merge signs. Drivers were shown pictures of different signs and different road-perspective views of merging road lanes. The survey asked them questions such as “In the lane drop pictured, a merge is required. With the given sign below, which lane do you prefer to approach the lane drop in?” Drivers were also shown road pictures and asked: “Knowing that you will be merging ahead, as shown, which sign would you prefer to promote EVEN MERGING?”  The different signs shown to the survey participants are in the figure here. Aside from the W4-2 sign, each of the other signs has been used in signage studies before, either at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s Human Factors Laboratory or for a study conducted in Connecticut.

zippergraph
Participant Sign Preference to Encourage Even Merging

 

The study found that with the traditional “Lanes Ends” sign, or with no sign before the merge, most survey participants indicated that they would prefer to stay in the left lane approaching the merge. With the other no-text sign options, between 30-40% of participants indicated that they had no preference between the left and right lane approaching the merge. With each of the text sign options, participants showed a preference for staying in the left lane approaching the merge though the percentages selecting the left lane or indicating no preference was almost equal for the “Alternative Merge” sign.

On the question of which sign(s) participants thought would best promote even merging, the “Lane Ends” sign was the least preferred. The “Alternative Merge” sign was the most preferred of the 8 sign options, for promoting even merging. At the same time, however, one in five (20%) of the survey respondents also rated it the least preferred.

The second part of the UMass study involved testing the most preferred signs for even merging on the UMass-Amherst advanced driving simulator. This allowed the research team to validate whether the stated preferences from the survey would match drivers’ lane choices in merge scenarios in a driving simulation environment. The preliminary results of the simulator study will be discussed more in April’s Innovative Outlook.

The findings of this research may be helpful on roadways with alternative merge configurations, either more permanent or in work zone areas where one lane is closed on a temporary basis.

For more information on this study, you can contact Alyssa Ryan by email at alyssaryan@umass.edu.

Accommodating Truckers Saves Lives and Money

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

trucks

Statistics have shown that truck driver fatigue is often a contributing factor in truck crashes. A truck driver was killed in a fatal multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 91 in Massachusetts near the Connecticut state line on January 20, 2018.  This crash included two tractor-trailers and 4 cars and driver fatigue may have been a contributing cause.

Attention to the need for safe parking and rest areas for commercial truck drivers has grown since the 2012 passage of Jason’s Law, federal legislation in honor of Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who was killed while pulled over to rest at an abandoned gas station. As discussed in a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report, after Jason’s death, his spouse Hope Rivenburg sponsored a study on truck driver’s parking needs.  Among the study’s key findings:

  • 39% percent of the drivers responding take 1 hour or longer to find parking.
  • 53% of drivers regularly use a commercial truck stop for rest and 20% regularly use a rest area. Other options used regularly include shipper/receiver location (20%), on/off ramp (8%), abandoned lot/isolated area (10%), and behind a shopping center (11%).
  • 88% of drivers reported feeling unsafe while parked during mandatory rest or waiting for pickup or delivery of a load over the previous 12 months.

FHWA is working to address this issue. After its passage, Jason’s Law was incorporated into the MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) transportation funding bill, and a thorough analysis of truck parking needs was conducted.

Safety and economic impacts of inadequate parking for Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) were evaluated in a recent study conducted at Oregon State University (OSU). The study looked at crashes on U.S. Highway 97, which runs north-south across the state, over a 7-year period. The main finding was that at-fault truck crashes resulted in approximately $75 million of “crash harm.” The researchers estimated that at-fault truck crashes resulted from factors such as driver fatigue which can result from inadequate truck parking options. Researchers found a high need for more safe truck parking, both in Oregon, on Highway 97, and elsewhere.  Federal law restricts drivers from being behind the wheel for more than 11 hours at a time and requires them to park and rest for at least 10 hours before driving again.

Information on the OSU study was based on this Science Daily news report.

 

MassDOT Research on Options for ADA Paratransit Services

by Eric Gonzales, Assistant Professor, UMass Amherst, and Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

paratransit
Governor Baker (right) at the Ride, Uber and Lyft ADA Paratransit partnership press conference (MassLive)

One of MassDOT’s research project titled “Optimizing ADA Paratransit Operations with Taxi and Ride Share Programs”, had its kick-off meeting in December 2017 and is well underway.  This $152k research project began in December with the project kickoff meeting scheduled for December 14th at MassDOT.   This project is Championed by Ben Schutzman, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s (MBTA) and will be aimed at optimizing programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize overall system costs.

Rising ridership on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit services, such as MBTA’s “The Ride”, pose a challenge due to the high costs of operating this required service.  The objective of this project is to optimize programs to serve some paratransit trips by taxi or other mobility services in order to minimize system cost. The benefits to MBTA will be to lower the cost of providing service in order to accommodate the anticipated increase in ridership.  The challenge of managing a demand-response transportation service, for people with disabilities, is the system operation depends on the demand of the traveler behavior and supply structure and costs.  As of March 1, 2017, a pilot program now allows eligible ADA paratransit customers on “The Ride” were able to use taxicabs, Uber, or Lyft for a subsidized trip.  The goal is to provide insights about how the operation and use of the system is changing under the pilot program and then to provide guidance about how to manage a multimodal ADA program that provides users with a greater range of choices than they have had in the past.  Although the scope is tied closely to an analysis of the MBTA system, the insights are likely to have implications for the ADA paratransit systems elsewhere in Massachusetts.  A recent Boston Globe article provides an update to March 2017 pilot study, the increase in demand and some initial cost per ride numbers.

Eric Gonzales, UMass Amherst, the project’s Principal Investigator states “the project will allow us to use modeling tools to analyze how coordinating ADA paratransit services with taxis is changing the experience for customers and costs of the agency.  Our goal is to identify ways to provide cost-effective and high-quality service for customers with disabilities as part of an equitable and sustainable transit system for the Boston region.”