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Current Projects

Smart Sensor for Snow Avalanche Monitoring, Phase 2

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spends millions of dollars each winter assessing and monitoring the chances of hazardous roadside snow avalanches in Washington’s mountains. For that assessment, dedicated staff hand-dig snow pits, visually evaluate snow conditions, and directly assess avalanche risks to support difficult decisions to open or close roads. The objective of this project is to develop an avalanche sensor for deployment by drone on inaccessible slopes above state roadways that will provide indirect, remote, and real-time information about snow conditions more safely and cost effectively. The research team has already proved the viability of using such sensors to gather temperature, movement, and location data, with a communication range of up to 1,600 feet between them and a base station. In this project, the University of Washington’s STAR Lab will manufacture six to ten sensors for field testing and will place them on a known avalanche path in Snoqualmie Pass. The research team will test the ability of drones to accurately drop and retrieve the sensors. In addition, they will test the communication between the sensors and base station, and they will evaluate the accuracy of the collected snowpack and avalanche information and its value to WSDOT’s avalanche staff.

Principal Investigators:
Yinhai Wang, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Edward McCormack, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW

Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: James Morin
WSDOT Project Manager: Doug Brodin
Scheduled completion: February 2025

Developing a Sustainable and High Early Strength Concrete (HESC) for Rapid Bridge Deck Overlay Preservation

High early strength concrete (HESC) is a high performance concrete that can achieve structural quality within 24 to 72 hours of being poured, making it ideal for locations where minimal traffic disruption is crucial. Washington and nine other states have successfully used calcium sulfoaluminate (CSA) for bridge deck repair. CSA is a desirable option for HESC because of its ability to set within a short time window (as quickly as 15 minutes after placement) and to easily surpass a compressive strength of 3,000 psi in under three hours. However, while CSA has the potential to be successfully used for HESC bridge deck overlays, more data are needed to develop appropriate guidance and specifications for its use. The objective of this study is to develop an HESC mix design with CSA cement for bridge overlays. The researchers will identify the obstacles or impediments to successfully and reliably using HESC for bridge deck overlays and will develop standards, specifications, processes, and best practices for constructing HESC overlays in Washington. This will give WSDOT the means to reliably construct overlays to rehabilitate and protect bridges with lower construction costs and less travel disruption.

Principal Investigators:
Fred Aguayo, Construction Management, UW
Travis Thonstad, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW

Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Anthony Mizumori
WSDOT Project Manager: Mustafa Mohamedali
Scheduled completion: September 2025

I-90 Digital Twin Bridge Proof of Technology Evaluation

Agencies that own transportation infrastructure such as bridges, dams, and marine terminals need validated, science-based tools to inform crucial decisions regarding the maintenance, repair, and operation of that infrastructure. This proof-of-technology project is evaluating the benefits, limitations, and tradeoffs that an agency can expect when using digital twin technologies for asset management. A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object or system designed to accurately reflect a physical object, including its functionality, features, and behavior. Real-time embedded, Internet-of-things (IoT) sensing technologies that feed a digital twin model have the potential to monitor conditions over time. This capability can lead to a database covering all seasons of the year, and thus a rich understanding of past and present operational conditions on which to base maintenance and repair decisions. For this project researchers are positioning sensors on the I-90 Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge between Mercer Island and Seattle, one of the most complex bridges in the world. Their analyses should provide insights into the realistic capabilities of digital twins and how the technology may be helpful to transportation agencies in stretching preservation dollars and staff resources.

Principal Investigators:
Bart Treece, Mobility Innovation Center, UW
Travis Thonstad, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW

Sponsors:
WSDOT
FHWA Statewide Transportation Innovation Council (STIC)
Challenge Seattle

WSDOT Technical Monitor: Nick Rodda
WSDOT Project Manager: Mustafa Mohamedali
Scheduled completion: September 2025

Development of Rapid, Cement-Based Repair Materials for Washington Concrete Pavement Panels

When replacement of concrete pavement panels is necessary in congested, urban areas, speedy construction that quickly opens the roadway to traffic is paramount. This project focuses on evaluating potential materials, mixture proportions, and placement techniques for rapid concrete panel repair in Washington state. The research team will evaluate the key technical characteristics that govern rapid and durable repairs for concrete pavement panels through both a comprehensive laboratory-based program and a field component. On the basis of the findings, they will provide recommendations on the most efficient, economical, and durable rapid concrete repair materials and methodologies, and they will develop specifications and training materials for WSDOT. The results should allow WSDOT to maximize the lifespan of its concrete pavements while limiting construction costs and traffic impacts by avoiding full-lane rehabilitation.

Principal Investigators:
Fred Aguayo, Construction Management, UW
Travis Thonstad, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW

Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Karen Carlie
WSDOT Project Manager: Mustafa Mohamedali
Scheduled completion:  September 2025

WSDOT/UW Intern Program, TMC

The WSDOT’s Northwest Region operates a Traffic Management Center (TMC) in its regional headquarters in north Seattle. This center manages the freeway systems in the central Puget Sound by controlling ramp meters, identifying incidents with closed-circuit televisions cameras, and informing the traveling public in real time. With this effort, the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium (PacTrans) and WSDOT are cooperatively providing professional experience, training, and research opportunities to students from the UW’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at WSDOT’s TMC. Under the supervision of WSDOT engineers, students operate the region’s intelligent transportation system and perform various tasks such as identifying congestion and other problems that affect the operation of the Seattle area freeway system, operating high profile systems such as the I-405 Express Toll Lanes and SR 167 HOT Lanes, and managing centralized traffic signal control, variable messages signs, and ramp meter optimization. This arrangement helps WSDOT reliably staff the TMC without increasing costs while also helping UW students prepare for a future in transportation engineering.

Principal Investigator: Yinhai Wang, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Sayuri Koyamatsu
WSDOT Project Manager: Doug Brodin
Scheduled completion: June 2025

WSDOT/UW Intern Program, Toll Division

For over a decade the University of Washington (UW) and WSDOT have worked cooperatively to provide professional experience, training, and research opportunities to UW Civil and Environmental Transportation Program students at WSDOT’s Toll Division. Under the supervision of WSDOT engineers, these students assist in collecting, storing, and processing data related to the operation of WSDOT’s toll facilities, as well as in speed studies, data analysis, report writing, field work, and other tasks as assigned. This arrangement helps WSDOT further staff the Toll Division office in Seattle at a reasonable cost while also helping UW students gain valuable experience and prepare for a future in transportation engineering.

Principal Investigator: Yinhai Wang, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Tyler Patterson
WSDOT Project Manager: Doug Brodin
Scheduled completion: June 2025

Improving Mobility for Disadvantaged Communities through Innovative Transit Approaches: a Comparative Cost Evaluation

Transportation planners and policymakers need an effective and flexible method for estimating and comparing the costs of increasing transit access to more people, especially those living in disadvantaged communities located in urban peripheries or rural areas.  To increase mobility, public transportation agencies typically add a transit line, normally with a fixed route and fixed schedule. However, this approach is not economically efficient for communities outside of high-density urban areas. An alternative is to partner with private providers of mobility services, especially ride-hailing companies, a practice known as transit incorporating mobility on demand (TIMOD). This research will compare the costs of three alternative approaches to improving mobility and accessibility for residents of several representative disadvantaged communities located outside of a major metropolitan area or in a rural area. Those alternatives will be driving a car, taking a bus on a fixed route connecting directly to a destination, and using TIMOD service provided through partnership between local transit agencies and ride-hailing companies. To conduct this comparison, the research team will develop a standardized method for the state, transit agencies, cities, counties, and non-profits to use in comparing the costs and benefits of traditional and innovative public transportation solutions. This will allow them to more effectively make decisions about allocating limited funding for different transit operations challenges anywhere in the state and beyond.

Project Investigator: Qing Shen, Urban Design and Planning, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor:  Justin Nawrocki
WSDOT Project Manager: Jon Peterson
Scheduled completion: June 2025

Maintenance Practices for Complete Streets

In Washington, the state’s Complete Streets directive requires that certain projects be built, operated, and maintained to enable safe and convenient access to destinations for all people, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. In response, the state is filling in the transportation network with construction of shared-use paths, sidewalks, and protected bicycle lanes. Lateral separation from motor vehicle traffic may be necessary and supplemented with vegetation, raised curb buffers, traffic barriers, or other features.  These types of facilities have maintenance needs that may differ from those of motor vehicle lanes, such as specific needs for debris removal, snow clearing, or maintenance of vegetation. To help WSDOT in most effectively designing and building Complete Street facilities, this project is determining the most critical active transportation facility issues that WSDOT maintenance staff will face. Such issues may include how maintenance considerations affect the selection of design and materials, which active transportation facility design best practices can simplify maintenance, and the equipment and labor needs for active transportation facility maintenance. To find answers the researchers will interview WSDOT maintenance staff as well as national complete street experts who have experience with different kinds of settings, environments, and active transportation. The result will be recommendations on best practices for the maintenance of complete streets.

Principal Investigator: Don MacKenzie, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Ursula Sandstrom
WSDOT Project Manager: Jon Peterson
Scheduled completion: September 2024

WSDOT Zero-Emissions Vehicle Course Development

This project will develop four, one-credit courses on zero-emissions vehicles and associated infrastructure specifically designed to meet the training needs of WSDOT personnel. The four courses will cover the topics of transit decarbonization, electric buses and charging, meeting the power needs for electric vehicle charging stations, and hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure. When completed, each online course will entail 30 to 40 hours of largely self-directed learner effort, spread over four to five modules.

Principal Investigator: Don MacKenzie, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Contact: Sayma Rahman
WSDOT Project Manager: Jon Peterson
Scheduled completion: June 2024

Automated Traffic Sign Recognition Using Computer Vision and Deep Learning

The importance of traffic signs for traffic operations and safety requires transportation agencies to maintain an inventory of them and their condition. To conduct such an inventory, WSDOT staff must physically visit locations for sign verification and data collection. Given the huge number of posted traffic signs, this means that traditional sign asset management is time-consuming and costly.  New, automated solutions are needed to collect traffic sign data and manage them in a timely and cost-effective manner. To address this issue, this study is developing a traffic sign data collection system from open street images, an algorithm for detecting and recognizing traffic signs in those images, and an expandable sample data inventory of traffic signs in a designated region in Washington, including both freeways and local streets. The final products will provide an automated solution to reduce manual labor and will significantly contribute to traffic sign asset management.  

Principal Investigator: Yinhai Wang, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
Sponsor: WSDOT
WSDOT Technical Monitor: Dina Swires 
WSDOT Project Manager: Doug Brodin 
Scheduled completion: September 2024

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