If you have ever studied abroad, you know that experiencing a different way of doing things can provide a unique perspective. In short, seeing things from outside the box can help you build a better box.
With a renewed focus on improving the United States’ national infrastructure, learning useful technologies and best practices from nations abroad is even more valuable now. Many of the transportation challenges we face have already been solved overseas.
The International Technology Scanning Program, which is carried out by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in partnership with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Transportation Research Board’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), reaches out to the international transportation community through scan studies to develop solutions to our domestic transportation issues quickly and efficiently. Several Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) researchers have worked with this program as report facilitators on scans and are now helping to implement solutions that will benefit the entire country.
“The International Technology Scanning Program has had a positive impact on United States policies and practices and has led to significant improvements to our highways and highway transportation systems,” says Hana Maier, manager of the International Technology Scanning Program at FHWA. “The success of the program is a credit to all who participate and their commitment to implementing promising foreign technologies and practices that have the potential to yield significant benefits for the United States highway system and its users.”
According to Maier, it’s TTI‘s knowledge of the subject matter, as well as its proven expertise with implementing solutions, that makes the Institute a desirable partner for FHWA.
Active Traffic Management
In an effort to ensure we maximize the efficiency of the infrastructure in our major metropolitan areas, FHWA organized a scan tour for June 2006 that included stops in Denmark, England, Germany and the Netherlands.
The goal of this trip was to bring back practices that help address the challenges of increased travel demand, growth in congestion and the need to improve safety. The scan team examined speed harmonization, temporary shoulder use and queue warning systems, all active traffic management practices and approaches to congestion management that exemplify the true value of these scan tours.
“Active traffic management is a more holistic approach to congestion management,” explains Beverly Kuhn, head of TTI‘s System Management Division and the report facilitator for this scan. “The package of strategies we were introduced to can include the current United States application of managed lane strategies to congested freeway corridors. Simply put, active traffic management is the next step in congestion management for us domestically.”
Seattle and Minneapolis are two cities planning to implement some of what the scan team learned. Forms of speed harmonization and queue warning will be implemented on two highways in Seattle, and a version of temporary shoulder use (a priced dynamic shoulder lane) should be operational on northbound IH-35W in Minneapolis later this year. Other states planning similar implementation efforts include New York, Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina.
Commercial Vehicle Size and Weight Regulations
The United States has seen a significant increase in traffic congestion due to the expansion in freight shipments on our nation’s highways. The size and weight of these commercial vehicles also accelerates the wear and tear on our roadways. This becomes an even bigger problem if vehicles are beyond size and weight regulations.
Related to this issue, TTI Associate Research Engineer Jodi Carson participated in a study during June and July 2006. Stops included Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Carson served as report facilitator for this tour, which focused on technologies for enforcing commercial vehicle size and weight regulations.
In Slovenia the scan team saw the benefits of bridge weigh-in-motion (WIM) technology and its ability to gather information such as axle weights, gross vehicle weights (GVW), axle spacing, vehicle speed and vehicle class without disrupting traffic flow during system installation and maintenance. After the Slovenia trip, the team was able to accelerate a test deployment of a bridge WIM system in Alabama.
“We believe that further United States applications of bridge WIM technology would enhance prescreening capabilities for commercial motor vehicle weight enforcement and provide important information to bridge management systems,” explains Carson.
FHWA Transportation Specialist Tom Kearney agrees with Carson: “This system has the potential of having a wide-reaching impact on improving truck weight enforcement practices as it moves forward.”
Two of the most recent scans, conducted in 2008, focused on international best practices for accommodating older drivers and streamlining and integrating right-of-way and utility processes with planning, environmental and design processes.
“Results are now in the early planning stage of implementation,” says Cesar Quiroga, program manager for TTI‘s Infrastructure Management Program and report facilitator for the right-of-way and utility scan. “Placing an emphasis on early, effective coordination and cooperation between transportation agencies and other stakeholders during the project development process was our most important observation.”
One of the most valuable resources gained from this program is the international network being developed as chief experts from the United States meet experts from all over the world. Leveraging that experience, United States transportation professionals can continue to improve our nation’s transportation system without reinventing the wheel.