America’s transportation infrastructure keeps people and goods moving, which helps drive the U.S. economy. Unfortunately, the nation’s infrastructure is in bad shape. The ASCE’s (American Society of Civil Engineers’) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave America’s roads a “D,” while bridges earned a slightly better “C+,” transit earned a “D-,” and aviation infrastructure earned a “D.” The problem is vast, and fixing it will be expensive, but the more time that passes, the more opportunity there will be for costly or even deadly issues to arise.
The ASCE says the U.S. is on track to invest less than half of what’s needed in surface transportation infrastructure during the next decade—a $1.1 trillion deficit. However, efforts are underway and progress is being made, and entities like America’s Transportation Awards are recognizing and celebrating state DOTs’ (Dept. of Transportation) efforts to modernize each of the states’ infrastructures for the good of citizens and businesses alike.
America’s Transportation Awards is an annual competition that recognizes state DOTs and the infrastructure modernization and improvement projects they undertake and successfully deliver to their communities. The competition, now in its 11th year, represents a partnership between AAA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Socrata, and AASHTO (American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials). Categories for the 2018 America’s Transportation Awards competition, which is currently underway, include operations excellence, which celebrates projects that make more effective use of existing transportation assets to reduce congestion, improve reliability, address maintenance, or advance systems management and operations; best use of technology and innovation, which recognizes new technology or innovative solutions used to deliver a project; and quality of life/community development.
For example, competing for a Top 12 spot in the quality of life/community development category is the Maryland DOT State Highway Admin.’s MD 404 highway widening project, which completed its safety-enhancing and congestion-reducing project on time and on budget in just 18 months. Competing for a finalist spot in the best use of technology and innovation category this year is the Arizona DOT and its Wrong-Way Driver Detection Pilot System, which leverages thermal-detection cameras to identify wrong-way drivers and trigger alerts, such as flashing lights and warning signs, that can deter wrong-way drivers while also alerting police and surrounding drivers. The Arizona DOT says the camera system will help reduce the number of wrong-way drivers and the accidents they cause along a particularly troublesome 15-mile stretch of the I-17 freeway.
In another example of a project competing for this year’s America’s Transportation Awards Grand Prize, the Oklahoma DOT has rolled out ShakeCast, software developed by the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) that’s capable of analyzing state bridge data, including age, bridge condition, and proximity to an earthquake’s epicenter, and comparing it against seismic data and magnitude ratings. In the event of an earthquake, the software helps DOT officials prioritize bridge inspections after a quake, thereby reducing man-hours and improving public safety.
America’s infrastructure may be failing, but there are plenty of bright spots—examples of projects that leverage technology, innovative thinking, bright minds, and hard work to strengthen, modernize, and improve the nation’s transportation system. Before the U.S. will be able to improve its overall grade, though, more investment and cooperation will be needed to bring its infrastructure up to where it should be in this 21st-century connected world.
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