ARTBA to EPA: Ditches are not 'waters of the United States'

133987_4e7e48beThe potential delays and increased costs that would result from extending federal authority to cover roadside ditches would divert resources from timely maintenance activities and potentially threaten the role ditches play in promoting roadway safety, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

The association submitted comments Nov. 14 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) opposing a proposed regulation that would alter the definition of “waters of the United States” and expand federal regulation to cover virtually any wet area in the country—including roadside ditches.

ARTBA explained that while current federal regulations say nothing about ditches, the proposed rule expands EPA and Corps jurisdiction to the point where virtually any ditch with standing water could be covered.

Specifically, ARTBA said that “roadside ditches are not, and should not be regulated as traditional jurisdictional wetlands since they are an essential part of any transportation improvement project and contribute to the public health and safety of the nation by dispersing water from roadways.”

EPA and the Corps have indicated plans to issue a final rule by April of next year. The association will continue to oppose efforts to expand federal wetlands jurisdiction through both the regulatory and legislative arenas.

DOT highway signs tell drivers 'Get Your Head Out of Your Apps'

A recent message from Iowa Interstate displays posted by the Iowa DOT.

A recent message from Iowa Interstate displays posted by the Iowa DOT.

In an effort to convince drivers to slow down and focus on the road, several state departments of transportation are turning to the permanent digital displays hanging over Interstates across the country. And they’re beginning to come up with some pretty clever slogans to catch drivers’ eyes.

At the forefront is a phrase first used in Iowa that proved so clever that the Tennessee DOT has used it as well. According to a report from KCCI TV, the Iowa DOT instructed drivers to, “Get Your Head Out of Your Apps,” on a Monday in September. Each Monday the Iowa DOT puts up an eye-catching message with the latest highway fatality numbers.

The state DOTs are even working together to generate and share these phrases. This past week, the Tennessee DOT began running a modified version of the “apps” message, “Eyes on the Road and Head Out of Your Apps,” according to a report from The Tennesseean. Like Iowa, Tennessee posts fatality figures, updating them every Friday for drivers to see.

Tennessee DOT spokesperson Heather Jensen told The Tennesseean the messages are meant to grab drivers’ attention and raise awareness to the number of highway deaths each year. “A clever message can get people talking and having a conversation—even for a minute,” Jensen told the paper.

And while some drivers could argue that posting funny messages to these display can actually be seen as a distraction, the signs are used for much more than this awareness campaign. The DOTs also use the displays to post information about road conditions, accidents and special events, The Tennesseean reports.

This article was written by Wayne Grayson, Online Managing Editor of Equipment World.

Komatsu's semi-automatic PC210LCi-10 excavator; cuts production time 63 percent (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


Picture 1 of 10


We’re used to numbers—some of them in the double digits—when manufacturers talk about fuel efficiency gains in new equipment. But Komatsu America recently talked about a huge number, and it wasn’t about fuel efficiency, but rather production time.

Komatsu says the semi-automatic Intelligent Machine Control on its PC210LCi-10 excavator will help make over-excavation a thing of the past. Compared with using a standard excavator, the company says in field tests the excavator showed up to a 63-percent reduction in production times. That’s a number that will make most contractors pause.

The machine is semi-automatically limited from digging beyond the target surface, as defined by project files downloaded either through a thumb drive inserted into the bottom of the in-cab control box or remotely through project partner Topcon’s Sitelink 3D Enterprise program.

Previewed at ConExpo in March, the excavator will be available in North America starting next month, the culmination of a project that’s obviously got those involved buzzing. “I’ve been at Komatsu since 1988 and this is the most exciting project I’ve worked on,” says Peter Robson, director, intelligent machine controls. “This is no longer machine guidance, but machine control. We’re confident customers will start to unearth the potential of this system.”

In fact, Robson says, the first PC210LCi-10 has already been sold to a customer in the Northeast.

What does semi-automatic mean?


Komatsu wants to make clear the machine control takes over only when an operator nears the target surface as defined by downloaded project files. In all other areas, operators are in complete control. “Productivity gains depend on the operator, who still controls the speed of the operation,” says Jason Anetsberger, project marketing manager, intelligent machine controls. “This will raise an operator’s efficiencies, whatever his experience.”

The company also wants to differentiate this system from what it calls “conventional guidance systems” now available for excavators. “With conventional guidance, the grade quality depends entirely on the skill of the operator,” Robson says. “When you talk to customers, one of the biggest problems they had with these systems is speed. The operator is always constantly monitoring the system to see if he’s on grade. With Intelligent Machine Control, the operator can focus on moving materials efficiently without worrying about meeting the target.”

“This actually empowers the operator,” Anetsberger adds. “He’s not relying on people outside of the machine to tell him whether he’s on grade, and he has less tunnel vision than if he was constantly looking at a machine guidance monitor.”

How it’s done


The excavator’s Intelligent Machine Control system, modeled in part after Komatsu’s intelligent dozer line introduced last year and developed concurrently with the dozer controls, offers real-time bucket edge positioning in relation to the machine and job surface.


The system has several components, all factory installed:

  • Stroke sensing hydraulic cylinders on the boom, arm and bucket. Each of these cylinders has a built-in stroke sensor, providing real-time bucket position data sent to the in-cab control box.  Monitoring displacement of the cylinders, the sensors track where the cutting edge of the bucket is relative to the body of the machine.
  • An Inertial Measurement Unit, located inside the machine, which detects machine orientation.
  • Working from project files, a 12.1-inch tablet-like touch screen display control box inside the cab shows side and aerial views of the machine, and uses a facing angle compass, a light bar and audio guidance.
  • Two GNSS antennas, positioned on easily-accessed handrails behind the cab. A GNSS receiver is located inside the machine.

The only obvious clues an intelligent machine is different from the standard PC210LC-10 are the antennas and in-cab control box. All other components are internal.

These components give the excavator these semi-automatic capabilities when near the target surface:

  • Auto grade assist, in which the boom adjusts the bucket height automatically when the operator moves the arm, allowing him to trace the target surface and minimize digging too deep.
  • Auto stop control, which stops the machine during boom or bucket operation when the bucket edge reaches the target surface, also limiting over-excavating.
  • Minimum distance control, which controls the bucket by automatically selecting the point on the bucket closest to the target surface regardless of machine position.

Touch controls


Komatsu PC210LCi-10 semi-automatic excavator touch controls

The 7-inch standard display in most excavators wouldn’t convey all the information operators needed with the Intelligent Machine System, so Komatsu opted for a 12.1-inch-high screen that uses a touch screen interface instead of a multi-step menu. (Note: the machine still uses the excavator’s function display monitor for regular functions.)

The angle and magnification of the 3D display can be changed, allowing operators to select the optimum view for their jobs. Users can switch between a “rough” overall view or a magnified “fine” grading view that highlights the bucket position. The display can be moved out of the way when not in use.

Located in the upper right hand corner of the screen, the arrow of the facing angle compass shows the orientation of the bucket edge relative to the target surface. “This compass allows us to square the machine to the slope, basically giving the bucket an accurate cutting edge perpendicular to the slope,” Anetsberger says. “While this seems easy, it can be quite difficult, especially when you consider the machine is sitting on an uneven surface.”

In a narrow column on the left side of the screen, a conventional colored light bar shows the bucket edge position relative to the target surface; when the buttons are green, you’re close to grade. Operators can also opt to use a sound function, which audibly warns them when the bucket reaches programmed distances from the target surface. If you opt for manual controls, the Auto mode can be turned off by pushing an upper right corner switch, putting the display in indicate-only mode.

If owners opt to use Topcon’s Sitelink 3D Enterprise system, machine and office can be connected in several ways:

  • Project files can be directly downloaded from a contractor’s office to the machine.
  • Progress information and as-built data can be sent back to the office.
  • Machine and office can send messages to each other.
  • Machine functions can be remotely troubleshooted.

The experience


Komatsu gave editors a simple experience on Friday to show how Intelligent Machine Control feels in the operator’s seat. With a target area established just above the surface, we were instructed to boom up, extend the arm out, uncurl the bucket and boom down. When the bucket tips reached the target area, the machine gently prevented you from going further down.

Then we pretended we were tracing the bottom of a trench, moving the arm back. During this, the boom automatically adjusted the height of the bucket to keep it level and from going too deep, following along the target surface.

“Now if you were doing that manually,” said my instructor Anetsberger, “you’d have to coordinate the movement between the arm and the boom.” When I positioned the bucket away from the target surface, I was once again in control.

ROI in 18 months


While not disclosing the exact number, Robson says there’s a “significant premium” for the Intelligent Machine Control system, but says Komatsu expects users to get an ROI in 18 months. As with the dozer, where the initial D6li-23 model opened the way for several intelligent dozers, the excavator intelligent controls are scaleable, and will most likely appear in larger excavators in the next 12 to 18 months.

“This does open the door to autonomous possibilities on a construction site,” Robson says.

Debate over Arizona highway signs continues

Metric Signs Arizona_GarcThe debate over road signs on a stretch of highway north of the U.S.-Mexico border continues. Currently signs in the area tell drivers how many kilometers they are from their destination, not how many miles.

The signs from Nogales to Tucson are a relic of a failed Carter administration pilot program that aimed to convince Americans to adopt the system of measure in use across much of the rest of the world.

The approximately 60-mile stretch of highway (or about 100 kilometers) is the only continuous highway in the U.S. with metric signs.

Some people find the signs confusing because they are not able to easily to the translation math between kilometers and miles. However, many people are opposed to changing the signs to miles. Business owners say a change to the road signs would also force them to change their advertisements. Changing from kilometers to miles would change the exit numbers they advertise.

“It had a lot of opposition because people felt it was something that relates to tourism,” Jim DiGiacomo, president of the Green Valley-Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce, said. “The hotels and businesses would have to change all of their info.”

Since Mexico uses the metric system, some people believe changing the signs to miles would hurt tourism in the area.

“Personally, I think it’s neat that my guests ask me why (the signs) are in metric,” said Jim Green, owner of The Inn at San Ignacio in Green Valley. “All of the tourists we’re talking to, there’s never been an instance where they were bothered because they weren’t in miles.”

It’s estimated that 400 signs will need to be replaced, but the state claims it does not have the funds to do so. For now, the signs will stay as they are. However, this is certainly a debate that will be revisited in the future as the current signs need to be replaced overtime due to normal wear and tear.

Kentucky finalizes 20-year transportation plan

KY_Transportation_CabinetThe Kentucky Transportation Department has finalized a 20-year transportation plan that will guide highway and bridge construction projects throughout the state.

The long-term plan will serve as an update to state’s 2006 plan which was designed to address the main transportation opportunities and challenges facing the state of Kentucky.

Kentucky officials relied on input from a survey called “Your Turn” to help develop the long-term plan. The survey received input from more than 16,000 Kentucky residents.

The plan includes several transportation goals including transportation investments that last longer, and therefore cost less per year to operate; the use of emerging technologies that will continue to improve system operation; being responsive to the needs of a growing population that will only get older, more urban and more diverse; safer roadways; and addressing the lack of funding available for road infrastructure projects.

The state also plans to invest more in public transit systems, which are currently only used by approximately one-quarter of Kentucky’s population. That number is expected to grow substantially in the coming years.

Officials learned a lot from the 16,000 Kentucky residents who took the survey. For starters, residents seem to be less worried about road growth, and more concerned about improving the state’s current transportation infrastructure.

We've come a long way: The history of bridge technology


Clapper bridges, beam bridges, truss bridges, arch bridges, and suspension bridges. The industry sure has come a long way hasn’t it?

The above image is an infographic created by Ohio University’s Engineering and Technology program on bridge construction techniques and technologies throughout history, comparing historic bridge designs with contemporary ones.

The infographic was released after OMA and OLIN were selected as the winners of a competition to conceptualize the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington D.C. OMA and OLIN’s design calls for calls for a plaza, an enclosed café, an environmental center and other elements that could revolutionize the way we see bridges (see below).


OMA and OLIN’s design for D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park.

Highway and bridge construction starts climb 27 percent

construction-employeeThe value of new construction starts dipped four percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $589.8 billion. According to Dodge Data & Analytics, the decline followed a 10 percent increase reported in September, which was the strongest month for total construction starts thus far this year.

However, highway and bridge construction starts saw a big boost in October, climbing 27 percent. The boost was was supported by the $598 million Northwest Corridor project in Atlanta GA.

Through the first ten months of 2014, the top five states for highway and bridge construction starts were Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio.  States ranked six through ten were Florida, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey.

Aside from highway and bridge construction, the rest of the industry saw a decline. Both nonresidential building and nonbuilding construction lost momentum in October, while residential building posted a moderate gain given further growth for multifamily housing.  During the first ten months of 2014, total construction starts on an unadjusted basis were $475.8 billion, up five percent from the same period a year ago.

Nonresidential building dipped 14 percent in October to $195.2 billion (annual rate), following its 13 percent increase in September.

Nonbuilding construction, decreased nine percent to $148.7 billion (annual rate) in October.  The decline was reportedly due to a 67 percent plunge for electric utilities after unusually strong activity in September.

Residential building in October climbed 11 percent to $245.9 billion (annual rate).  After a 20 percent slide September, multifamily housing had a particularly strong month in October, up 40 percent.

The five percent increase for total construction starts on an unadjusted basis during the first ten months of 2014 was the result of mixed behavior by the three main construction sectors.  Nonresidential building advanced 14 percent year-to-date, with commercial building up 14 percent; manufacturing building up 52 percent; and institutional building up five percent.

Residential building improved seven percent year-to-date, with single family housing up only two percent while multifamily housing increased by 25 percent.  Nonbuilding construction has dropped eight percent year-to-date, with public works down seven percent and electric utilities down 14 percent.

Total construction starts during the January-October period of 2014 showed growth in all five regions, the South Central is up 13 percent; the South Atlantic and the West are both up four percent; and the Northeast and the Midwest have both climbed one percent.

Michigan Senate votes to raise gas tax

senate congressThe Michigan Senate has passed a bill to raise the state’s gas tax. The bill would approximately double Michigan’s fuel tax to raise about $1 billion a year more to fix transportation infrastructure.

If the bill passes the House, the gas tax could increase from 19 cents a gallon all the way to 41 cents a gallon in 2018.

Although some may not be in favor of such a big tax increase, the Michigan Department of Transportation says the money is definitely needed in order for the state to improve and maintain the conditions of its roads and bridges.

“We’ve been under funding infrastructure in the state for a long time,” said Dan Weingarten of MDOT. ”We’ve got to start investing in that infrastructure and the longer we put it off, the more expensive it’s going to be.”

The House is not expected to begin reviewing the bill until early December. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll pass the Senate’s bill as-is. However, there is a strong possibility that it will alter the bill slightly before sending it back to the Senate.

Eight students 2014 MAPA scholarships

MAPAThe Minnesota Asphalt Pavement Association (MAPA) has recognized eight students with 2014 MAPA Scholarships. This is the first Annual MAPA Scholarship program for MAPA and its members. MAPA Scholarships will be presented annually to deserving post high school students. Applications were rated based on career goals, essay, employment, extracurricular activities, and scholastic achievement.

The scholarship award winners, hometown and career goals are:

Maddie Duininck, Willmar, MN – Business

Kelsey Behnke, Albert Lea, MN – Business & Political Science

Lisa Kittleson, Young America, MN – Marketing Communications

Samantha Block, Spicer, MN – Political Science

Torey Malerich, St. Michael, MN – Accounting & Management

Aaron Rinta, Aitkin, MN – Mechanical Engineering

Haley Luftman, Duluth, MN – Psychology

Genevieve Bowersox, Stillwater, MN – Nursing

“Recent statistics show that 70 percent of all students graduating from four-year colleges have student loan debt,” said Jill Thomas, P.E., executive director of MAPA. “According to a government data analysis, the class of 2014 graduated with the largest debt in history. These scholarships were created in an effort to help alleviate that burden to the next generation.”

MAPA raised funds for its scholarship program through an annual golf event, which is supported by the 130 member companies of MAPA and raised $22,500. MAPA represents the asphalt pavement industry in Minnesota through active education and research programs, as well as by working with Minnesota Department of Transportation and other stakeholders to ensure that Minnesota’s asphalt roads are among the best in the nation.

What causes the most damage to our nation’s bridges?


We surveyed all 50 state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and the District of Columbia’s DOT for the Better Roads Annual Bridge Inventory. In doing so, we took a look at what causes the most damage to bridges. Here’s what the DOTs said:

Key: (A)ge (C)orrosion (T)raffic (O)ther

Delaware                       AC
Maryland                       AC
South Carolina            ACT
North Carolina            ACT
Arizona                          ACT
New Mexico                 AO
Alabama                         AT
North Dakota               AT
Montana                        C
New York                      CA
Rhode Island               CA
Utah                                CA
District Of Columbia CA
Missouri                        CAT
Oklahoma                      CAT
Arkansas                        CAT
Hawaii                           CAT
South Dakota             CATO
Virginia                         COTA
West Virginia             COTA
Nebraska                      CTA
Kentucky                       CTAO
Texas                              CTOA
Minnesota                    O
Colorado                      O
Ohio                                OCAT
Washington                 OCTA
Louisiana                      OTCA
California                     TAC
Florida                           TC
Kansas                           TCO

Source: 2014 Better Roads Bridge Inventory



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