Month: November 2021

Why We Don’t Design Roads for Holiday/Summer Traffic Volumes

Arial image of a roadway intersection in Derry NH showing traffic

It never seems to fail, you make careful plans, you wake up early and hit the road, eager to get to your Thanksgiving destination or your holiday weekend getaway, but almost inevitably you round a corner on the highway and see a stretch of nothing but brake lights in front of you and your best laid plans are dashed. We all know what it’s like to travel during holidays – there can be dead stops on highways, long waits at traffic signals, and hazard lights from crashes. When you’re frustrated by all the other cars on the road, you might wonder why it doesn’t go more smoothly and the reason is transportation and traffic engineers do not design roads just for peak holiday travel times.

The reason is more complicated than you might think.

Why Are the Roads Congested during Holiday Travel?

Whether it’s the traditional annual pilgrimage home to see family and relatives or a long holiday weekend to kick off summer, certain holidays (such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day), generate a very sharp increase in road travel compared to most other times of the year. While the congested traffic may feel like a torture trip designed to make your vacation less relaxing, the simple fact is it is not responsible to design every road and intersection to meet the peak traffic demands of a holiday weekend. For the vast majority of roads, the costs for construction and on-going maintenance are paid by towns, cities, or state DOTs, which means taxpayer money. For example, if there are 10 days out of the year where the local interstate would require five lanes each direction to have an acceptable Level of Service (a performance measure used to analyze capacity of and intersections, aka LOS), but the other 355 days of the year, just three lanes each direction provides a good LOS for users, then it would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer money to build that 10-lane interstate.

Now just because all of the roads and intersections are not being designed specifically to service the peak demand of holiday travelers does not mean those traffic volumes will immediately cause backups at intersections or stand stills on the roadway or highway; those headaches generally involve the driver behavior factor. Whether someone was slow to get on the gas at a stoplight because they were looking at their phone or slammed on the brakes because someone cut them off on the highway, all of these actions have much more widespread impacts once the roads are inundated with higher traffic volumes.

These behaviors do occur all throughout the year, regardless of the traffic volumes, but it’s the flexibility or capacity of the road system that gets affected.

Consider a room and a pool of the same size; both have you and a few of your friends spread about. In the room, you flail your arms wildly, maybe your closest one or two friends feel a slight breeze, nothing significant, and anyone beyond that feels nothing. In the pool, you merely take a step and you’ve sent ripples throughout that are reaching even the most distant people. Silly as it may sound, this comparison applies to traffic as well. During normal day-to-day operations the space between cars is much like the space between air molecules where there is enough empty space that not every action causes a chain reaction, while the holiday travel is more like the pool scenario where the roads are so densely packed that any action, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is likely to cause or require a reaction from nearby drivers.

Okay, so How Much Traffic Do you Design for?

The traffic volumes accounted for in design vary depending on the element being talked about.

Let’s talk about traffic signals and road segments first. Say we’re upgrading an existing stop-controlled intersection to be a signal and need to provide turning lanes for every direction. The design of those turning lanes will usually be based on near-peak traffic volumes, the definition of which varies from state-to-state.

For other elements of the road affected by traffic volumes such as roadside barrier needs and thickness of pavement, it is usually standard practice to use the Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) for design. This is the overall average volume from the high traffic summer months to the lower traffic winter months.

Many projects require advanced planning to accommodate both vehicle and multi-modal traffic flow. Whether it be for roads, bridges, highways or pathways, proper traffic operations and accommodations for all modes of travel through urban or rural areas is essential. That’s where we come in. From traffic and safety studies to signal design, pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure, and alternative intersections, our engineers have the resources that help you arrive safely no matter when you travel.

Giving Back: The Collegiate Experience from the Front of the Classroom

Picture of a computer tinted blue photo with title of blog overlaid

One of the most important, challenging, and rewarding aspects of the civil engineering curriculum at a college or university is the senior capstone project, or senior project. A “culminating experience” or capstone project is a required component of an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) accredited civil engineering curriculum – but beyond that it provides a student with perhaps their first near-real-world experience of interaction with a client, project owner, community, or others outside of their typical academic world.

Typically students will be assigned to small teams, assigned a project (real or hypothetical), and then taught basic project management, design, and project delivery techniques to work their way through iterative solutions for presentation to their “client.” Each university may handle the details of their capstone program a little differently, but in essence, the students act as an engineering team managing and designing a project as if they were a consulting engineering firm hired by a project owner.

Hoyle Tanner is proud to be heavily involved in capstone programs of schools nearby to our several offices and find that helping to shape our team members of tomorrow to be incredibly rewarding. Being involved in these programs provides many benefits to our team members including sharing knowledge, networking, and the pride of giving back to the universities that provided us with the foundations for our careers. The students benefit by learning how the engineering industry works, establishing real-world engineering contacts that they may be able to leverage for future employment, and the accomplishment of utilizing their educational background to perform on a real-world project. It’s a win-win-win for the industry, the students, and the university.

Many of our professionals have been involved in numerous capstone programs over many years. Some examples include:

  • Matthew Low, PE, Director of Engineering Operations is in his second academic year serving as Adjunct Faculty at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and instructing UNH’s Introduction to Project Planning and Design class. He has been involved in many aspects of the UNH civil engineering program for years including awarding scholarships, and serving on the Civil Engineering Advisory Board, but the capstone program is providing him with the most direct ability to make a positive impact on a student-by-student basis.
  • Wilbur Mathurin, PE, Senior Project Manager, recently completed his fifth year as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Central Florida (UCF) instructing their Capstone Design class. Wilbur wanted to get involved to make a real difference because he believes there is real value to the students in weaving real world experience into their academic journey. He enjoys showing them how what they have learned over their four years is applied at the  project level.
  • Hoyle Tanner has sponsored senior projects for the UNH capstone class six times over the last seven years for project teams including bridge and airport projects providing hands-on mentoring as the “client” for many aspiring engineers. Hoyle Tanner’s engineers involved in these projects have included Josif Bicja, PE; Katelyn Welch, EIT; Jillian Semprini, PE; Kayla Hampe, PE; Nicole Crawford, PE; and Bob Furey, PE, to name a few.
  • Ed Weingartner, Senior Technical Bridge Engineer, is currently working for a second consecutive year as a capstone project mentor at his alma mater the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. With over 30 years of intense bridge engineering experience on complicated structures, Ed is thrilled to be able to pass along what he has learned to the students so that they will be better-prepared when they embark on their careers.
  • For the last four years, several engineers  from our Burlington, Vermont office have been involved in the University of Vermont’s (UVM) capstone program by being judges, providing feedback, and mentoring. It is a great way for our local team of professionals to support the next group of engineers in northern Vermont.
  • Jennie Auster, Associate and Senior Environmental Engineer, spoke at a graduate seminar in October 2021 at UVM. She presented on how engineers help communities solve wastewater treatment problems and have a unique opportunity to be “boots on the ground” environmental stewards. She discussed a diversity of projects and the dynamic blend of hydraulics, chemistry and biology that goes into finding solutions for our communities.

We are glad to give back to our local universities and share our expertise for the benefit of our future engineering leaders and encourage our peers to do the same. Reach out and find out how you can help your local civil engineering education program – you’ll be happy you did.

Employee Spotlight: Schuyler Lamoureux

Schuyler Lamoureux – Airport Planner & Aspiring World Traveler

1.  What drew you to Hoyle Tanner?
The two biggest things that drew me to Hoyle Tanner were the company culture and the location. There is a strong family aspect in the company, and you will find yourself getting along with everyone, including people outside of your department. Also, the location was a bonus because I love New England and wanted to work in the region where I grew up.
2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?
Communication is always important. Whether it’s with a client or a coworker, a project becomes significantly easier the more you communicate.
3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle Tanner?
I would have to say Autumn since the weather is nice and the commute to work is beautiful.
4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on?
I was able to fly a drone mission at an airport, and we are working on creating a 3D model of the airport’s approaches with the pictures we gathered from the drone. I am constantly amazed at the capabilities of this technology.
5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?
I made an apple pie with my fiancée, and it was delicious.
6. How many different states have you lived in?
3 – I grew up in Connecticut, attended college in Florida, and currently live in Vermont.
7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
I love seafood so I could probably mix it up with either fish or shrimp.
8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?
I don’t currently have a pet, but I am getting a labradoodle in March. We don’t have any names picked out yet.
9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?
My hometown, Stafford Springs, was famous for its mineral springs and was even visited by John Adams before he was president.
10. What are three things still left on your bucket list
1. Visit every continent (even Antarctica if I have the chance)
2. Become fluent in a language
3. Drive a Formula 1 racecar at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps 

11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island
1. Plenty of Books
2. Fishing Pole
3. A Wilson Volleyball

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
Honesty & kindness
13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?
About 2,000 years old. I have a coin from Ancient Rome stored away somewhere.
14. Words to live by? Favorite Quote?
I have two quotes from some of my favorite movies:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.” – Forest Gump
15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to either play on the New York Yankees or be a marine biologist.
16. If you were to skydive from an airplane what would you think about on the way down?
“I hope the parachute works!”

Stickney Hill Road: An Unexpected Culvert Replacement

Project Manager Audrey Beaulac recalls one of her most memorable projects from 2019 that stands out from the rest. It’s the story of a deteriorated culvert that wasn’t on the town’s to-do list but quickly became a priority when it failed its routine New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) inspection. Her story is below:

Stickney Hill Road in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, provides residents quick access to I-89, is a highly utilized bicycle route for those that want to ride into Concord, and is a school bus route. In June 2019, NHDOT performed a routine bridge inspection of the 10-foot-wide Stickney Hill Road Bridge that conveys Boutwell Mill Brook beneath the roadway. The inspection revealed the corrugated metal pipe had deteriorated significantly since the previous inspection; NHDOT sent a letter to the town advising them that the bridge is at critical deficiency, requiring posting a  BRIDGE CLOSED sign with suitable barricades at each end of the bridge to prevent vehicle use. As a result of this notification, the town closed the road and bridge to  motor vehicles, but fortunately bicycle and pedestrian access and use was maintained for those wanting to connect to the regional trail network close by.

However, closing the road meant potential emergency response delays for residents in the area between the crossing and I-89, Exit 3. Exit 3 is not a full-service exit and only allows access from I-89 northbound and onto I-89 southbound. The detour included using Exit 2 of I-89 to reverse direction to utilize I-89 northbound from Stickney Hill Road or using Exit 2 to reverse direction to access Stickney Hill Road from I-89 southbound. The town line between Concord and Hopkinton is also between the crossing and I-89, which would cause issues for school buses when school starts in August. Additionally, mail and package carriers were impacted by the closure, and some even stopped delivery. The town wanted to reopen the important roadway as soon as possible.

Project Site Map

Thinking outside the box, and knowing lead time to cast a precast concrete culvert could take months, the town asked Hoyle Tanner if the culvert they just had cast for the culvert replacement project they were currently working on along Briar Hill Road would provide the necessary hydraulic capacity required to convey Boutwell Mill Brook beneath Stickney Hill Road – and if it would be structurally strong enough to support the road and earth materials at that location. The town was a week away from installing the Briar Hill Road culvert but quickly switched directions when the Stickney Hill Road bridge replacement became a priority. Since Hoyle Tanner designed the precast box culvert for the Briar Hill Road project, we took a look at the size and design and compared it to what would be required for the Stickney Hill Road location. Upon further investigation, the similarities of the two sites proved advantageous, allowing for the already-cast Briar Hill Road culvert to be used for the Stickney Hill Road location.

With a quick replacement solution in hand, all that was left was the permitting. Since there would be wetland impacts at the crossing needed in order to replace the structure, a wetland permit would be required from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES)  with final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. On behalf of the town, Hoyle Tanner coordinated with NHDES and initially sought Emergency Authorization to repair the crossing. The structure was subsequently determined to not be an immediate threat, and the standard process was used for wetland permit application and approval.  

As time was of the essence, Hoyle Tanner quickly finalized the design and coordinated with NHDES. Upon approval of the wetland permit by NHDES and concurrence by the Army Corps of Engineers, the town’s contractor began construction in the fall and opened the roadway to traffic in late fall 2019.

“Hoyle Tanner is wonderful to work for and that is why the Town keeps working with Hoyle Tanner.”

Dan Blanchette, Director of Public Works

The project’s primary goals were to utilize the already-precast structure the town had on hand and open the roadway to through traffic before winter. The town was grateful Hoyle Tanner was able to meet their goals and remain on budget. Dan Blanchette, the Director of Public Works said, “Hoyle Tanner is wonderful to work for and that is why the Town keeps working with Hoyle Tanner.” And don’t worry, Briar Hill wasn’t forgotten, the town got a new culvert cast right away and was able to complete that project, as well.

The New Wave: How 3D Bridge Modeling is Shaping the Future

3D image model of bridge

OpenBridge Designer features a complete package of software that allows both 3D geometric modeling analysis and the design of steel, reinforced and prestressed concrete bridges within the same program. The benefit of using this software is its interoperability that allows us to move from modeling to analysis/design back into modeling to make geometric adjustments, then back to design and eventually into the development of CADD drawings. This software allows us to make real time adjustments and have graphics that keep up with the calculations instead of using multiple programs for different elements and stages of design.

We’re only just beginning to use this software for 3D modeling, but the program’s applications and innovation have already begun to shape the future of our industry.

Why We Use It

It seems that the future of our industry is going to be digital (with deliverables consisting of electronic data and information plan generation), and the use of paper plans may eventually disappear one day. An analogy: On the highway side, there’s OpenRoads Designer and in theory, they’re going to be able to take the 3D OpenRoads electronic files and provide them to the contractor, who will be able to use that electronic version of the roadway geometry without needing a paper plan set to build the road (since the data can be transmitted to the construction equipment).

OpenBridge is still in the infancy, and this type of capability will likely be sometime in the future for bridge construction. It is easier to build roads using 3D models instead of paper plan sets, but maybe not for bridge designs yet.

A big benefit of 3D modeling and this program is that it enables us to utilize a single software package for the major components a typical bridge consists of and – perhaps more importantly – help us to find conflicts for those components or other elements. One thing I like about this program is the ability to use “clash detection” to figure out if you have a conflict. Let’s say we did our geometry, and we modeled everything and designed our girder, but then we needed to find the minimum vertical clearance over this corridor – the program would report that clearance, and we’d be able to say whether or not we achieved the required minimum clearance. We can make adjustments from there if we have violated the design vertical clearance parameter.

How to Use It

We can start with a blank canvas when we begin using the program, but it is better to have a general idea of the design and layout of the structure (location, alignment, single span, multi-span), and to have a general idea of what type of structure it’s going to be. The nice thing about the software is that you can run it with the full 3D modeling through analysis and design, or you can start off and just do what we call a “standalone” model. Bridge Information Modeling (BIM) workflow is the full 3D geometric modeling and analysis/design tool through plan drawing development. With standalone models, in which we only use the software analytical and design tools, we can develop different structural models, to evaluate various bridge types and layouts and then work back to develop a BIM workflow to finalize the geometry and design. We want to have preliminary design done and structure type selected so that the BIM workflow has a starting point, and we know where we will end up. That’s not to say you won’t make design changes when you start BIM, but you want to be close.

We have used the OpenBridge Designer components when they were individual software packages and as standalone models now that they are all in single software package, but we are in the infancy of using the BIM workflow.

Who it Helps & Where it’s Headed in the Future

It helps designers with the process, and it helps the design work flow. When using the software, I have the capability to design the superstructure and substructure within the same software package I can go through the program and design a girder and then could add another girder, remove a girder or change the girder size without building an entire new model. The workflow is the same. Then, the substructure design could be updated with any of the girder changes I made, again without creating a new model. The models are updated as you work through your design and the BIM process.

The way we do it right now, we use multiple software programs for different design components, but I can do all that they can do with OpenBridge Designer. In theory, this will make our designs more efficient. There’s also less room for error if I don’t have to take data out of a 2D model for design loads, for instance, and then input them into several different software packages. I can just use this one software package to generate the design loads and complete my designs.

I believe this type of software is the future, but we need to be well-versed in this program before using it heavily. We recognize what this software and others like it have to offer us as designers and the future of 3D design, and are excited to learn how to design bridges with this new set of tools.

Want to learn more about OpenBridge Designer or how our bridge team can help your community? Contact me!