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UW Professors’ Research Helps Keep Wyoming Roads Safer
February 17, 2012 — By Lorrie McNamee, UW communications intern
Winter weather can make driving difficult. But when research by University of Wyoming civil and architectural engineering professors is completed, Interstate 80 will be a safer highway.
Associate Professor Rhonda Young is examining the possible effects of implementing variable speed limits for four corridors along I-80 from Nebraska to Utah. Young is working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) to improve road safety during winter weather conditions and reduce the number and duration of road closures.
"Our role is to work with WYDOT to study the effectiveness of these corridors," Young says. "We are looking at strategically placed signs that tell us whether the speed limits are reasonable to assist people in making better driving decisions."
Through the use of technology, the roads are monitored based on real-time weather conditions to improve safety, she adds.
In the state's southeast corner, there is a dramatic increase in oil and gas drilling. Professor Khaled Ksaibati is helping counties develop strategies so that the roads can effectively serve the needs of the driving public as well as the oil and gas industry.
"We are trying to identify and monitor road conditions over time to identify the impact of heavy equipment activities," Ksaibati says. "A report will be submitted to the state and shared with the Wyoming legislators so they can allocate resources to city and county governments to upgrade their infrastructure to manage the heavy truck traffic."
The methodology developed will not only improve local roads but will help in ranking the importance of various improvements within each county. Ksaibati says the study will assure that the oil and gas industry can transport its equipment to drilling sites and move the product to market.
UW is part of a consortium of eight universities focused on transportation research. This Mountain Plains Consortium (MPC) was recently awarded a $3.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Research supported by the grant will focus on key areas including:
- Assessing the impact of energy development and climatic extremes on transportation;
- Advancing the state of repair and sustainability of transportation infrastructure;
- Enhancing economic competitiveness through transportation;
- Improving safety and enforcement;
- Advancing livable communities through transportation.
"MPC addresses regional transportation issues and concentrates on the strength of the participating universities so they can resolve regional transportation problems," Ksaibati says. "The program will provide funding for graduate and undergraduate students to work on timely research studies."
Dick Schmidt, head of the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, says, "The research being conducted by our transportation faculty and their students is critical to the safety of the traveling public and the state's economy. We have a strong partnership with WYDOT and Federal Highway Administration to continue to improve transportation in Wyoming and the region."
Scenes such as this are common along Interstate 80 during the winter. University of Wyoming researchers are working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to make the highway safer. (WYDOT Photo)