With the recent emphasis in Washington on the need to improve U.S. infrastructure, agencies responsible for maintaining bridges and roadways are feeling the pressure to make timely repairs. But maintenance costs money, and the way we’ve always done things just isn’t as affordable as it used to be.
I and my fellow researchers in the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Researcher (TTI’s CITTR) recently conducted the first part of Application of Mobile Technology Devices in Rural Areas, an ongoing project with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). We’ve successfully shown how trained personnel with smartphones can document damaged roadside devices and help TxDOT prioritize repairs, while saving money, making repairs more timely and improving safety—all at the same time.
In Texas, the state maintains an inventory of installed devices, but exactly where they’re situated on the roadway is often unknown. That means the assessment and repair process can require multiple trips to the site by the contractor and take weeks to accomplish. To make the process more efficient, we used smartphones to conduct a survey of metal-beam guard fences along a segment of I-10 and documented damage or inadequate design. We used existing apps to locate the fences and took photos and made measurements of damaged devices, then shared that data with TxDOT. In Phase 2, we’ll look at other highway segments and devices in the El Paso District’s rural counties and also document any safety concerns for the department. As a final step in the project, TTI will launch its own app to accomplish this task, hopefully sometime next year.
Proactively surveying roadway segments like this can enhance TxDOT’s existing inventory of devices with geo-locations and specific details about the repairs needed
before the contractor is even called. Using GPS to find the damaged device, the contractor can make one trip to the site already armed with the parts and knowledge they need to make the repair. The more remote the road segment, the more likely specific device locations are unknown, so rural county roads and national park trails can especially benefit from this kind of advanced data capture.
This new approach can save time, effort and cost by rendering unnecessary multiple trips by the contractor to find, assess and repair a damaged device. By making the process more efficient, the repair can be made in, say, a few days rather than a few weeks. And that makes roadways safer for motorists sooner than they would have been under the old system.
Cell phones have rightly been blamed for contributing to traffic hazards as drivers talk and text rather than focus on the driving task. Now, with TTI’s new approach to maintenance assessment, they can finally begin contributing to making our roadways safer by helping to expedite the repair process.