Taking a Deeper Dive into Smart Infrastructure & Highway Automation

By Mr. Eric Rensel posted 10-19-2018 04:05 PM


With terms like “smart cities” and “smart communities” dominating conference agendas, the world is becoming increasingly focused on the next generation of technology integration. During the National Rural Intelligent Transportation Systems (NRITS) Annual Conference in Fort McDowell, Arizona, Oct. 21-24, I will be moderating a panel of transportation experts, including:

  • Steve Olmsted, senior program manager, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT)
  • Steve Latoski, PE, PTOE, public works director, Mohave County, Arizona
  • Joseph Sagal, director, Maryland Department of Transportation - State Highway Administration, Office of CHART & ITS Development
  • Denise Pearl, Google Cloud Platform.

Our discussions will focus on a deeper dive into the idea of smart infrastructure and highway automation. We will explore the proliferation of automated driving systems and how they cause infrastructure owners to consider high-level planning and policy decisions, digital infrastructure and data approaches, infrastructure design and multimodal safety, operations, and freight accommodation. We will build on input received through national dialogue with the Federal Highway Administration and supplement it with views and opinions from the panelists. If your schedule allows, I encourage you to attend this panel to hear the full discussion.

Here’s a brief preview from our panelists:

What is the definition of smart?

Steve Olmsted: “Smart is less a specific definition and more a vision umbrella. In real-world transportation application terms, it is developing a collaborative platform that integrates intelligent transportation possibilities.”

Steve Latoski: “Smart operations infrastructure falls under the gamut of the Internet of Things (IoT) and should align with cybersecurity business practices common to IoT implementation and maintenance.”

Joseph Sagal: “Smart is communicating real-time information to the traveling public to ensure customers have the information they need in a timely manner to make wise decisions while traveling.”

Denise Pearl: “Smart is the use of open data and open sharing across technological platforms and users. It is vitally important that we use this data to educate our users and engage them to interact with these systems and applications. If they are not aware of our systems, then we really can’t use the term ‘smart.’”

What is a good example of integrated smart technology?

Steve Olmsted: “Across ADOT’s 30,000 maintenance lane miles and 4,800 bridges, we determined it was time to programmatically address flooding, other weather, and natural hazards, especially as it relates to driver safety, maintenance life cycles, and financial impacts to our $1 billion annual construction program. Technology allows us to address infrastructure systems and how they relate in connection with flooding, wildfires, extreme precipitation, and measurable climate trends. For example, working with the United States Geological Survey, we developed and built wireless transmitting, solar powered, rapid deployment gauges mounted onto bridge superstructures. We use terrestrial LIDAR and unmanned aircraft systems to gather survey grade point cloud data and install flow sensor cross sections to gather information on flow events to use as part of larger flood warning systems. We use that information to forecast foreseeable problems when the next extreme rainstorm hits and to also right size engineering design and environmental impacts.”

Steve Latoski: “To further expand on Steve Olmsted’s technology, Mohave County maintains a similar automated flood warning system by which we take data gathered and make decisions on when and what roads and wash crossings would flood and plan accordingly for our travelers.”

Joseph Sagal: “Likewise, in Maryland, we take information gathered from integrated smart technology and create dynamic message signs that provide information about changing highway conditions to improve operations, reduce accidents, and inform travelers.”

Denise Pearl: “Google’s Earth Engine geo repository uses land imagery, LIDAR, climate, and other data like the referenced rapid deployment gauges to allow the user to query data sets based on set criteria. Clients can use this data to build a new highway or change an existing one created from the received information. Google uploads that same information to Google Maps, and users can gain access to that data in days, versus the months it used to take before.”

How should agencies start thinking about smart projects?

Steve Olmsted: “When it comes down to it, smart projects must focus on the users’ requirements in correlation to road transportation. Agencies need to start working on a highway model for the future that adjusts to those needs and demands.”

Steve Latoski: “Road traffic is up nationwide, and visitors comprise upwards of 20 percent of traffic volume on Mohave County highways serving our international tourist attractions. The time is now for us to make smart changes and deploy smart infrastructure related to traffic safety, road conditions, and the like. We are already rolling this out in rural areas consistent with meeting smart infrastructure standards and protocols for commonality across jurisdictions.”

Joseph Sagal: “I feel that federal guidance in implementing smart projects for the state departments of transportation is needed and there is no better time than right now for that. We are entering a new world, and although we can figure it out at the state level, we still need that federal direction.”

Denise Pearl: “Agencies should start thinking of the aggregation of data and how working together can better enhance our smart capabilities. There are opportunities abound for agencies like Google, Gannett Fleming, ADOT, and the state of Maryland to work across boundaries with each other and break down the silos that currently exist.”

Contact Eric Rensel at erensel@gfnet.com. Learn more about Gannett Fleming at www.gannettfleming.com.