Managing Assets at MassDOT

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

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.

Are Your Lights Iced?

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Image result for train rail flashing lights

Many highway and rail signals now contain Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The switch to LEDs was made because of its energy efficiency. However, a one side-effect of this efficiency is that the LED lights don’t give off enough heat to melt snow or ice on their own. This can lead to the lights being obscured during winter conditions which can create potential safety hazards. In 2016, for example, there was a crash in Windsor, Ontario where a school bus entered an intersection against a red light and ran into a car. The bus driver did not see the red light-an LED, because the light was obscured by snow. Fortunately, there were no major injuries during that crash. Early this winter, the Minnesota DOT worked to clean off LED traffic signals after snow obscured signals in the Twin Cities area of the MN Highway 36, leading to at least one serious crash and many near misses.

In 2014, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a report on LED traffic signal operations in snow conditions which suggested a number of proactive and reactive measures transportation departments can take to keep LED signal lights free from ice and snow. Reactive measures, employed after a snowfall, include manually cleaning the lights or spraying them with antifreeze, deicing spray or compressed air to clean them off. Each of these measures requires personnel to visit and work on each light. Proactive measures include installing signal lens heating elements or lens covers, or spraying deicing spray on the lights before it snows. As documented in the report, such proactive measures have had various degrees of success.

Two current research studies are testing new proactive approaches, both of which involve redesigning the LEDs lights used in traffic signals. Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed and tested self-de-icing LED technology and are now working on creating a full prototype for field testing. . Their approach is to mount the LEDs in the traffic signals “backwards” to harvest the heat generated by the LEDs to heat the light lenses and keep them above freezing. With this system, no additional heating is needed to prevent ice and snow from collecting on the traffic lights. The researchers have estimated that replacing the current LED lights with new LEDs will save about $28 per signal light annually, with a payback time of 4.5 years.

A second research study is looking at developing a super hydrophobic (anti-icing) surface coating for the lenses of traffic signals. The research is being conducted at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and is investigating femtosecond laser surface processing (FLSP) techniques for producing thin (nanoscale) anti-wetting surfaces on hard materials, such as tungsten carbide. Testing is being conducted find the best FLSP-functionalized hard material to use as a durable stamp for imprinting an anti-icing surface on the lenses of traffic signals. This study is scheduled to be completed later this year.

MassDOT at TRB 2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for transportation infrastructure repurposing

Nikki Tishler, Transportation Planner and Title VI Strategist for MassDOT, provided great moderating skills at last week’s Transportation Research Board Annual Conference, as she orchestrated the session: Repurposing and Resizing Our Infrastructure: Responsible Investment for the New World.  The presentations and discussions centered on right-sizing the infrastructure for future transportation function, efficiency and service.  DOT’s continue to improve project and asset management processes as they integrate existing and future societal needs with an anticipated reduction in funding.

New Federal Committee on Motorcycle Safety Holds First Meeting

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


Last month, the Motorcycle Advisory Committee (MAC) held its initial meeting in Arlington, VA. This federal committee was created to advise the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on motorcycle safety and to identify engineering-related infrastructure solutions for reducing motorcyclist fatalities.

There were 5,286 roadway fatalities nationally involving motorcycles in 2016, an increase of 5% from the previous year. In Massachusetts, 40 motorcyclist fatalities were reported during the same year.

As described on, “the MAC consists of ten members selected by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. [The members] come from across the country and are experts in a wide range of motorcycle-infrastructure topics. Each is a motorcyclist and, combined, the MAC members have over two centuries of riding experience.”

At the first MAC meeting, there were substantial discussions on many infrastructure issues, including work zones, roundabouts, roadside hardware, roadway maintenance practices, the potential consequences of automated vehicles and crash testing, among others. At upcoming meetings, the MAC will determine how to advise FHWA on these issues. For its part, FHWA has research underway to identify key infrastructure-based safety issues for motorcyclists. The centerpiece of this work is the FHWA’s Motorcycle Crash Causation Study. According to the study web site, “The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study is the most comprehensive data collection effort to study the causes of U.S. motorcycle crashes in more than 30 years. The dataset includes data from at least 351 crash investigations, and 702 control rider interviews.”

A couple of current safety features on motorcycles to prevent future fatalities include: new breaking lights and the required anti-lock brake feature. The break light feature is the first wearable brake light connected to a smart phone app.  The anti-lock brake feature has been an option on motorcycles for years, but it may soon become a requirement based on the safety advantages.

In addition to technology and infrastructure improvements for motorcycle safety, some changes in how motorcyclists are trained may be warranted as well. Researchers at UMass-Amherst, led by now Ph.D. graduate Jeffrey Muttart, have conducted field studies on motorcyclist eye glance and driving behavior, including studies where participants went through the same on-road course as car drivers and as motorcyclists. Key findings in one study were that motorcyclists were less likely to come to a complete stop at a stop sign than car drivers, and that study participants made later final glances toward the direction of the most threatening traffic before they made a turn when they were driving a car than when they were riding a motorcycle.

Traffic Apps Impact on Neighborhoods and Safety

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Photo by Noe Veloso Fremont, CA Public Works Department

Smart phone apps, such as Waze and Google Maps, help drivers find the quickest routes to their destinations using real-time traffic data.  Sometimes this means that drivers are being directed off congested highways to streets through residential neighborhoods instead. Not everyone is happy about this, including traffic planners and people living in these neighborhoods who don’t want higher volumes of traffic on their streets.

News media have reported these impacts of traffic apps on Cape Cod neighborhoods, and in the Boston area.  Quoting Police Sergeant Charles Hartnett, head of Medford’s traffic division, in one news report: “For the residents, it’s a safety issue.”  Some communities are responding by restricting a cut-through and turning movements into residential neighborhoods during commuting hours when the traffic is heaviest.  In some places, certain streets are being changed to one-way roads as another means to divert traffic.  When such changes are made, transportation planners often share these updates with the app companies so that their maps and algorithms can be adjusted accordingly.

The traffic apps can also present a challenge to safety officials in emergency situations.  For example, in the Los Angeles area, while officials were busy fighting wildfires, they implored residents to ignore the apps that were directing them to lightly traveled roads in the fire zones, and put up message signs telling drivers “Don’t Trust Your Apps.” As described in this USA Today article, the fires and evacuation orders were the reason the traffic volumes is these areas were so low.  In Vermont, the shortest way isn’t always the safest way.  Cars have been abandoned because the driver followed Google maps, only to end up on a road that was not maintained in the winter.

Mutual Aid During the Winter – Lending a Hand

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


A blaze recently destroyed the Sandisfield highway garage, leaving the town without access to trucks for snow removal.  Abutting towns and others have stepped in to offer services to assist Sandisfield with their snow removal needs.  Towns like Huntington, Northampton, Leominster, Beckett and others have posted on the One Center Baystate Roads listserve the various services offered for aid (e.g. equipment and staff) to help keep the roads clear and safe.  In Massachusetts, there are two types of Intrastate Mutual Aid Agreements that Towns can participate in: Statewide Mutual Aid Agreement and Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement.  Many Massachusetts towns have signed one of these documents to provide assistance to another town that is in need of equipment, staff, traffic mitigation, due to a natural disaster, fires etc…

MassDOT has also provided aid to Sandisfield.  Speaking with Kathy Stevens, District 1; “ MassDOT has committed two weeks of salt and plowing services to the town.”  This is not unusual for MassDOT to offer these services.  Historically they have offered other services as well, including traffic and safety mitigation.

Safe Driving Liquid Solutions for Winter Roadway Maintenance

by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator


A major goal of winter maintenance is keeping the rods free from ice/snow.  There is pre-storm preparation and then there is maintaining the roads, in safe conditions, during and after a weather event.  The factors that agencies take into consideration when trying to achieve this goal range from available staff, application rates anti-ice and de-ice material, temperature, and impact on fleet etc.  Among the various solutions, generally, salt is used during a weather event, based on its effective de-icing capabilities; also, it’s easy to handle, store and apply.  Some negative qualities of road salt include: its effectiveness decreases dramatically at 15 degrees and less, it is highly corrosive, it does not stay on the road as much, and it can be costly.

Along with road salt, other winter road products include a number of liquid solutions and/or treated salt.  Some liquid solutions and their qualities include:

  • Calcium Chloride (CaCl) – highly corrosive, freezes at -15 degrees
  • Magnesium Chloride (MgCl) – less corrosive (safe around plants/animals), freezes at -20 degrees
  • “Ice Be Gone”/Magic Minus Zero – non-corrosive, freezes at -40 degrees and is EPA approved
  • Caliper M-1000 & 2000 – non-corrosive, freezes at -85 degrees, good for pre-wet

Another alternative for regular road salt is to treat it.  Some options for treated salt are Magic Salt, Fire Road and Clear Lane.   All of these are less corrosive than regular salt.  Also, when salt is treated, up to 90% stays on the road; where-as un-treated salt, only 60% stays on the road.

Most of the liquids mentioned above can also be used on gravel roads as dust control as well; this adds additional stabilization for the road and prevents loss of gravel over the years.  The costs of these liquids solutions range from MgCl being the cheapest to “Ice Be Gone” being the more expensive one.  In the middle is Caliper M-100 and M-2000.

Currently MassDOT pre-treats the state highways with a salt brine, and pre-wets their roads with MgCl.  They are able to get a jump on most weather events by using pavement temperatures sensors and the Roadway Weather Information Stations (RWIS).  Speaking with Paul Brown, District 1, MassDOT, “Most new trucks are equipped with pavement temperature sensors.”  MassDOT also fully utilizes the RWIS, which measure real-time atmospheric parameters, pavement conditions, water level conditions, and visibility.

The Latest Transportation Tools Update from ITE and FHWA

By Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Research staff

This past fall, both the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the Federal Highway Administration, made important updates to their transportation research tools.

The ITE released the 10th edition Trip Generation Manual, which consists of two volumes: volume one- Desk reference and volume two- Land use data plots. It also comes with the third edition trip generation handbook, and a new web-based application titled ITETripGen.

The updated manual provides a detailed description of both vehicle and person-based trip generation data for all different settings including urban, suburban, and rural areas. The data set of land use description and plots for all land use/time period/independent variable combinations has been updated with twenty-two new land use classification for more than 1,700 sites.  The new desktop app allows users to access the entire trip generation data-set electronically, with plenty of filtering options including site setting, geographic location, age of data, development size, and trip type.

The Federal Highway Administration updated their Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (IHSDM),is a software analysis tool used to evaluate highway designs expected safety and performance based on data collected from existing highways.

The tool now includes an economic analysis option (EA Tool). The purpose of the new EA tool is to allow project managers, highway designers, and others using the tool to estimate the cost of crashes predicted for one or more designs and run benefit-cost analyses. Data has also been updated on the app, which now includes a lane offset option for urban and suburban arterials. Minor graphical user interface, output/reporting, documentation, and system administration tools were updated to adapt to the new EA Tool.

Both these changes are significant to improve safety in highway designs, and improved modeling and design for transportation engineers.


Distracted Walking: A Global Epidemic

By Courtney Murtagh, Tracy Zafian, and Matt Mann, UMTC Research Staff

Most of us are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, but distracted walking? Around the world and close to home, it’s a growing epidemic. More and more people are texting and using their phones while walking in intersections, creating unsafe situations.

source: Premier Insurance Corporation

A 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that pedestrian roadway deaths in the US are now at their highest level in over 20 years, with more than 6,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2016. An article in the May 2017 MassDOT Innovative Outlook, discussed a number of contributing factors for this, including: more driving; alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians; lack of pedestrian visibility; and driver and pedestrian distractions.

Dr. Cole Fitzpatrick, a UMTC Affiliate Researcher, recently conducted a field study on the prevalence of distracted walking and its effect on driver behavior. The study included observations of a total of 1,386 pedestrian crossings and 890 pedestrian-vehicle interactions at seven different crosswalks on the UMass Amherst campus. The researchers found that nearly half of all pedestrians were distracted while crossing the street, with 22% of them talking to another person beside them, 16% using headphones, and 10% either texting or talking on their phones.

Cities have begun to take notice of distracted walkers and are looking for ways to improve intersection and crosswalk safety. In October 2017, Honolulu enacted a law allowing pedestrians who text on their phones while crossing the street to be fined $15 to $99 for doing so.  This new law is thought to be the first such law of its kind in the country. Prior to October,  Honolulu had more pedestrians being hit  by vehicles in crosswalks, than any other major US City. Local high school students were instrumental in pushing for this law. Kel Hirohata, a local high school teacher interviewed on National Public Radio recently, described how the Youth for Safety club at Waipahu High School spent more than a week watching fellow students as they left school. They noticed an alarming trend: many of their classmates staring at their phones while crossing the street. The Safety club members took note of the potential danger, and then followed up with a local councilmember who wrote a bill which then became the new law.

Legislators in other places have also proposed laws to curb texting while walking. In San Mateo County, California, County board members unanimously voted in favor of a resolution in September 2017 asking state lawmakers to pass a law banning cell phone use in crosswalks. Stamford, Connecticut is now considering an ordinance that would ban cell phone talking or texting while crossing the street and impose a $30 fine for offenders. In September 2017, New York State passed a law requiring the New York City Transportation Department to study and report on its efforts to educate drivers and walkers about the dangers of pedestrians distracted by cell phones.  In Massachusetts a bill was introduced this November to ban texting while jaywalking. No action has yet been taken on this proposed legislation.

It’s not just in the United States that officials are looking into distracted walking. Bodegraven, Amsterdam for example installed lights in the ground near crosswalks that would change colors with the traffic lights, so people looking down on their phones would be more aware of the nearby traffic and when it’s safe to cross.

LED sidewalk lights in Amsterdam. Source:


MaPIT is Streamlining Project Management for MASSDOT!

By Courtney Murtagh, Matt Mann and Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Research Staff

This past November, MassDOT rolled out a new tool for project management to the 365 communities in the Commonwealth. The tool titled, Massachusetts Project Intake Tool, or MaPIT, is a web-based application that helps to streamline the process for municipalities to complete the Project Need Forms (PNF) and Project Intuition Forms (PIF).

Attendees by MA Location – MaPIT Workshop Series, UMTC Graphic

The intention behind MaPIT is to expedite the project development process, including:  project initiation, environmental permitting, scoring, and project delivery. It does this by automating Project Need Form screening for relevant GIS layers, transferring PNF information to PIF forms. The application also maps project locations for public viewing.  Upon approval, each project is assigned a number and its information is automatically transferred to the MassDOT Project Info Software System.

Baystate Roads, part of the UMass Transportation Center, has been offering workshops for those who wish to familiarize themselves with this new tool.  The workshops include instructor-led step-by-step software training and demonstrations. The workshop trainings are aimed to help project managers, town selectmen, consulting companies, and others who would need to use the tool feel confident with the new technology.  Since September seven MaPIT workshops have been held with close to 200 participants from 62 municipalities represented.

Baystate Roads has also created instructional videos to teach a wider audience about MaPIT.  The videos are available online (at and accessible to anyone who is interested at no charge.