Highway safety and transportation research

May 24, 2005

With the twin forces of summer travel and road construction poised for their annual collision this time of year, reporters may be interested in projects at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that focus on the safety and reliability of America's highways.

UW-Madison is a national leader in transportation research and is home to an interdisciplinary program on transportation engineering and urban planning. The following research ideas were compiled by engineering communications editor Renee Meiller, who can be reached at (608) 262-2481, meiller@engr.wisc.edu.

'Preventive maintenance' may reduce the construction bottleneck
There's an old joke that the Upper Midwest has just two seasons: winter--and road construction. Thanks to a study led by Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Teresa Adams, drivers setting out for summer vacations might encounter a little less of the latter. Her research team is identifying preventive maintenance strategies for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation that not only could save the department money, but also improve or extend the life of the roadway surface.
CONTACT: Teresa Adams, (608) 262-5318, adams@engr.wisc.edu

Median barriers may lessen crossover crash costs
As average highway speeds increase, the standard medians on divided highways no longer offer the same measure of protection for drivers, says UW-Madison Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering David Noyce. Noyce, who co-directs the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory (TOPS), recently concluded a study of such crossover crashes that may lead to safer roads and improved divided-highway safety policy. As part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation-funded study, researchers in Noyce's group reviewed more than 16,000 police reports for highway accidents that occurred in the state from 2001 to 2003. They found that more than 730 incidents involved vehicles, tires, disconnected trailers, motorcycles and people who crossed the grassy median and entered the opposing travel lane. Nearly 20 percent of those vehicle crossovers became part of a head-on crash on the other side, resulting in 53 fatalities. "No one expected those kind of numbers," says Noyce.
CONTACT: David Noyce, (608) 265-1882; noyce@engr.wisc.edu

New approaches to bridge-building
There are more than 14,000 bridges in Wisconsin--and the costs of maintaining them can add up. Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jeffrey Russell and Associate Professor Michael Oliva are developing innovative bridge design and construction systems using fiber-reinforced plastic materials. Their systems could lead to lower highway bridge life-cycle costs.
CONTACT: Jeffrey Russell, (608) 262-7244; russell@engr.wisc.edu

Managing intentional threats to networks
A team of researchers led by Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Vicki Bier is studying how to manage intentional threats to networked transportation systems. They are developing guidelines to help decision-makers use their funding in the best way possible to protect such systems.
CONTACT: Vicki Bier, (608) 262-2064, bier@engr.wisc.edu

New advance-warning technology for highways under review
Researchers in the UW-Madison Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory recently studied how effective overhead speed signs, such as those mounted on bridge overpasses, are on regulating motorists' operating speed. Initially, the group thought that these signs, placed in the driver's line of sight, would more effectively persuade drivers to comply with the speed limit. However, the researchers found no significant evidence to suggest that installing regulatory speed signs on bridge overpasses had any effect on average operating speed. Researchers are also hoping to help drivers predict the future by warning them of weather-related driving conditions, such as fog or heavy rain, ahead. Solutions include dynamic roadside signs -- such as one that flashes, "Fog ahead, reduce speed to 35 mph" -- or warnings that alert drivers via their vehicles' dashboard readout, cellular phones, or car radios.
CONTACT: David Noyce, (608) 265-1882, noyce@engr.wisc.edu

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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