MassDOT is Well Prepared for Major Storms

by: Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern

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.

Accommodating Truckers Saves Lives and Money

by: Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


Statistics have shown that truck driver fatigue is often a leading factor in truck crashes. A truck driver was killed in a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 91 on January 20, 2018. Though the cause of this crash, which included two tractor-trailers and 4 cars, is still under-investigation, driver fatigue is being considered as one of the causes.

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

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 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.”

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.

Mark Your Calendars! The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) Data Workshop scheduled for August 8-9, 2018

“TRB is sponsoring a National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) Data for Transportation Applications Workshop August 8-9, 2018 in Washington, D.C. The NHTS allows analysis of daily travel by all modes, including characteristics of the persons traveling and their households, their vehicles, and their trips. This workshop, held every 5-6 years, explores how NHTS data has been used to support key transportation policy considerations, such as energy use, congestion, highway finance, safety, and mode share. The 2018 workshop will focus on the methods and techniques for using the survey data and the performance measures to which it can be applied, especially when integrating it with other data sources. For questions, contact Tom Palmerlee at or visit

Vision Zero Sees a Safer Future

By Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow

Vision Zero started in Sweden in 1997, when it was adopted as national policy. Since then, Sweden’s rate of traffic fatalities has decreased by more than half, from seven fatalities per 100,000 people to less than three fatalities per 100,000, despite vehicle usage increasing. Worldwide there are currently 1.3 million deaths annually from road crashes. Road safety is the primary importance of Vision Zero, and transportation objectives such as mobility are addressed based on safety. There are now road safety organizations promoting Vision Zero in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands. A number of cities in these countries and over 25 cities in the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and Boston, have implemented Vision Zero policies.

The City of Boston’s Vision Zero website describes the City’s “commitment to focus the city’s resources on proven strategies to eliminate fatal and serious traffic crashes in the city by 2030.”

In Zero work is connected to the City’s Smart Streets goals and using technology to understand traffic patterns and safety issues on Boston roadways. The City of Boston recently partnered with Verizon for an intersection study using Verizon’s smart-street technologies. At MassDOT’s Moving Together Conference, Kim English from Verizon spoke about this initiative. The study was conducted at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street, where one bicyclist was killed and sixteen bicyclists and pedestrians were injured during 2015 to 2016. Verizon installed over 30 wireless traffic sensors and 15 video cameras at the intersection, to collect data on car, truck, bicycle, and pedestrian movements. The gathered data was anonymous, with no personally identifying video or other information included. Verizon then synched this data with bus and traffic signal information from other sources, and analyzed the data using complex algorithms to pinpoint key issues and to help develop recommendations for intersection improvements.

In her talk, Ms. English spoke about reducing left-turn crashes at the intersection.  Early results also showed that cars often failed to yield to pedestrians on the western side of the intersection, as was discussed in a recent MIT Technology Review article on the project. The final recommendations for this intersection and others with safety issues included intersection design changes, better signage, public outreach and education, greater traffic rule enforcement, and/or other interventions.

The initial study with Verizon has now ended, and the City of Boston is looking to extend this high tech data gathering and analysis to other intersections along Massachusetts Avenue, in order to better understand traffic and safety issues along the corridor.

Thermal imaging cameras can be used for vehicle monitoring and counting, even in darkness.  Source:

Ms. English indicated that Verizon is now working with the City of San Francisco to study 15 intersections using the same data collection and analysis technologies, and looking at other cities with whom to partner. The MIT Technology Review article mentioned that Verizon is also presently testing other smart-street technologies such as light poles that can broadcast emergency alerts and Wi-Fi connected informational kiosks.

In a 2014 interview, Traffic Safety Strategist Matts-Åke Belin discussed Vision Zero with the Swedish Transport Administration, saying, “If we can create a system where people are safe, why shouldn’t we? Why should we put the whole responsibility on the individual road user, when we know they….will do lots of things that we might not be happy about? So let’s try to build a more human-friendly system instead. And we have the knowledge to do that.”i

Where Progress Happens! A Research Implementation Exchange

roadwithmoleculesMassDOT has been leading the charge with innovative infrastructure improvements for many years; focusing on preservation, safety, the environment and efficiency. We reached out to our One Center Research Affiliate, Dr. Walaa Mogawer, a Professor at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Director of the Highway Sustainability Research Center to discuss the current research in Massachusetts. Dr. Mogawer has collaborated directly with MassDOT’s pavement management section, on developing asphalt mixtures that could extend the service life of pavements and reduce costs.  We spoke with Dr. Mogawer and the Pavement Management Engineer for the Highway Division, and MassDOT Project Champion Ed Naras to discuss how this research is being implemented.  Here are some questions that were asked:

How are the results of your recent MassDOT research project being implemented in Massachusetts?

Dr. Mogawer’s most recent research entitled Field Monitoring of Experimental Hot Mix Asphalt Projects Placed in Massachusetts involved evaluating numerous field trials of experimental mixtures placed by MassDOT since 2000. Dr. Mogawer stated that, “the results of this study are a good first step in evaluating these experimental mixtures.  With this data, MassDOT can refine specifications and implement the mixtures on a broader scale.  Utilizing these mixtures will help improve the infrastructure health in Massachusetts.”

These experimental mixtures included several pilot projects using the superpave mixture design methodology, utilization of warm mix asphalt technologies, asphalt rubber mixtures, latex or polymer modified asphalt mixtures, and reflective crack relief layer mixtures. All these types of mixtures were placed to achieve a longer service life and specific outcomes in terms of performance of the pavement. A total of 12 field projects were identified for inclusion in the study. For each project, a plan was developed to monitor the experimental mixture performance using condition data (distresses, rutting, cracking, roughness, etc.) that would be measured periodically over the duration of this project.  The rehabilitation process of Massachusetts aging bridge infrastructure has been complimented by this research.

Generally, based on the monitoring plan and associated thresholds for condition indices, the experimental mixtures placed at the selected projects have provided acceptable performance in terms of cracking, rutting, and ride quality. Furthermore, the results suggest that the experimental mixtures are ready for further implementation by MassDOT.

Has this new method, practice, policy or material reduced the cost or improved safety or efficiency at MassDOT?

Speaking with Ed Naras, he indicated that the collaboration on pavement management between MassDOT and UMass Dartmouth Highway Sustainability Research Center, has been successful over the years.  Ed Naras, who works directly with Dr. Mogawer, indicated that the focus of each project is to improve the functional and structural capabilities of the roadways and bridge decks with consideration to make them more cost effective and environmentally friendly.

What are Massachusetts future priorities for implementing this research?

MassDOT will focus future research efforts on building on this work, improving paved roadway sustainability through increased recycling use, using environmentally friendly technologies, increasing pavement preservation activities, designing resilient roads that can withstand the effect of climate change, and designing asphalt mixtures that have balanced performance.


Interview conducted by Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator with Dr. Walaa Mogawer and Ed Naras.


Using Advanced Science and Technology to Detect Marijuana Use

Massachusetts is one of twenty-nine U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, that now legally allow marijuana for recreational or broad medical uses or both (full list of these states available here). The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) recently launched a public safety campaign, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, to warn and inform the public about the impairments that marijuana causes in drivers and the increased driving danger when alcohol and marijuana are combined. Marijuana is proven to impact the brain’s ability to function properly. Marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been shown to slow reaction times, impair coordination, and decrease decision-making ability.

One challenge for enforcement regarding marijuana use and driving is that impairment from marijuana is more difficult to measure than impairment from alcohol. There is currently no proven equivalent to an alcohol type breathalyzer test that measures blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to assess drunk driving. Unlike alcohol that dissolves in water, THC dissolves in fat. As toxicologist Marilyn Huestis discussed in an NPR story, this means that that the length of time that THC lingers in the body varies more than with alcohol, and is influenced by factors such as amount of body fat, type of cannabis product consumed, and frequency of use. It also means that a person’s blood THC levels may not directly correlate to when they are most impaired.  Some states such as Colorado, Washington, Montana and Pennsylvania, define marijuana impairment using blood THC levels to legally define when someone is too impaired to drive. The state regulations in Ohio and Nevada determine impairment by blood tests and urine tests.

The San Diego Police department, and other enforcement agencies in New York, Arizona, and Nevada, have been screening drivers for THC using a mouth-swabbing testing device (the Dräger DrugTest 5000), which can test for the presence of seven drugs, including marijuana. The marijuana test is for delta-9 THC, the active THC compound which creates the high from marijuana. Unlike other components of THC, delta-9 THC typically only stays in a person’s system for a few hours and not days or weeks.  Stanford University researchers have been developing a saliva-based test for THC using magnetic nanotechnology.  Recently, police departments have been pilot testing a handheld breathalyzer for marijuana detection from Hound Labs. The device measures delta-9 THC levels and is able to detect marijuana from either inhaling or edibles. Cannabis Technologies is also developing a marijuana breathalyzer.  These THC detection methods are often used in conjunction with other field sobriety and impairment testing.

In Massachusetts, Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) are specially trained to detect impairment from drug use.  A full DRE exam takes about an hour and includes physiological measures (blood pressure, pulse, eye exams), and performance measures (balance, coordination). As described in a 2016 article Massachusetts and other states are now offering a less intensive training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE), which is still a step above typical field sobriety training.

In a September 2017 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, the Court found that police cannot use standard field sobriety tests to determine definitively that a driver is too high to drive. The court determined that the standard sobriety tests were developed to evaluate alcohol intoxication and there is not yet sufficient evidence that they are indicative of marijuana intoxication.  Under the ruling, police officers can still conduct field sobriety tests and testify about their observations regarding a driver’s demeanor and ability to perform physical coordination and mental tasks.

Dr. Michael Millburn, a Psychology professor at UMass Boston, has been developing a smart device app to assess driver impairment called DRUID.  This app has been designed to measure cognitive and behavior impairment from marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs and other brain-based contributors to impairment, such as fatigue. It contains a series of four different tests for reaction time, errors in decision making, motor tracking, and time estimation and balance. The app then integrates the results of each of the individual tests into an overall impairment score. The tests are completed in 5 minutes total.  The app was developed to help people assess their own impairment, but could also be adapted for police use.  The app is currently being tested at Brown Medical School.  Research shows that some types of marijuana have non-linear patterns of impairment following consumption. Apps such as this could be useful for supporting driver safety and important complements to other tools and tests for measuring THC, alcohol, and other substances that can impair driver performance.

Cambridge police officer Jason Callinan, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, performs the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) on Jeremy Warnick, the department's spokesman, as part of a demonstration. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Cambridge police officer, Jason Callinan, a drug recognition expert, or DRE, performs a demo of a field sobriety test.   (Source: Jesse Costa, WBUR)

Written by Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

Keeping Cyclists Safe! UMTC Research Spotlight on YouTube


Want to learn more about bicycle safety? PhD student Nicholas Fournier of UMass Amherst talks about his two research studies currently being conducted at UMass. Mr. Fournier is studying for a PhD in transportation engineering and an MS in regional planning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. View Mr. Fournier discussing his research at this link. One of the highlighted studies used the UMass advanced driving simulator to test how well drivers approaching intersections understand different on-road bicycle infrastructure, such as bike boxes and merged bike lanes, which are designed to reduce left-hook bicyclist-motor vehicle crashes and promote bicyclist safety. In the second study, Mr. Fournier developed a sine-wave model for estimating annual on-road bicycle travel demand in cities where bicycle demand can fluctuate considerably across seasons. The model reduces the number of sample counts needed to develop an estimate for bicycle demand, making it easier for researchers and practitioners in a city to measure bicycle ridership and the overall safety of their road infrastructure for bicyclists.



UMass Safe Safety Belt Study In the News!

A recent research report that was released by UMass Safe at the University of Massachusetts Amherst indicates that Massachusetts seat belt use is rising and is actually at an all time high at 78.2%, but there is still work to do because we are still lagging behind other states. In 2015 Massachusetts ranked 48th in the Country. The US average is 88.5%

You can catch our Deputy Director of UMass Safer, Robin Reissman on Channel 22WWLP tonight, October 11, 2016 at 5pm.


By: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research and Development