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The Endangered Species Act – Saving the “Fluffy” Species?

In my career as an environmental scientist, with a focus on permitting and regulatory compliance, I review projects for the potential to affect species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and assist our clients in understanding how their project can be revised, when necessary, to avoid or minimize impacting these species or their habitat while still meeting the project goals.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973 as one of the several federal laws passed in the 1970s to address the rising concerns about environmental protection. The intentions of the ESA are to protect and prevent species from becoming extinct, prepare and implement efforts towards recovering species that are trending towards extinction, protect and preserve the ecosystems and habitat on which these species depend, and provide for cooperation among state governments to assist in these efforts on a regional and local level.

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If this seems like a very large task, it is indeed! There are three different federal departments that administer the ESA: the Department of Interior (endangered animals and some plants), the Department of Commerce (marine mammals) and the Department of Agriculture (plants). Between them, over nearly 50 years, they have developed regulatory guidance that breaks this large effort down into some very specific actions and processes. They develop the official list of endangered and threatened species and enforce rules regarding the import, export, take, possess, selling or transporting any endangered or threatened species. In addition, they develop detailed descriptions and mapping of the critical habitat for listed species, including land that is presently occupied by the listed species and land that is important for its continued and future existence.

Creating The List

At the start of the process is The List – how to determine which species belong on the list and deserve the protective efforts of federal organizations? This can be a controversial topic, as critics of the ESA often say it targets the “fluffy” or “cute” species, or those that pull at our heartstrings like the Florida panther, Monarch butterfly, North Atlantic right whale, Green sea turtle. (You may also think of pandas, but we do not have pandas in the wild in the US!) You may not think the Ozark hellbender, the meltwater stonefly or the Atlantic sturgeon, all worthy of protection despite their lack of photogenic features, but these species are considered just as important as any other federally-listed species.

The biggest challenge is that we cannot protect all organisms; the financial realities are that budgets must be created to pay for enacting all of the sections of the ESA – someone needs to conduct surveys, develop Critical Habitat Plans, provide assistance in protection and enforce the rules when they are broken. It is up the federal agencies, then, to determine in a real-world way which species are essential to protect. The lists must be made based on valid science, and not swayed by popular opinions of which mammal is more huggable. And while there is certainly a school of thought that saving only certain species is by its very nature a flawed process, one must start someplace. Saving some is better than saving none.

Species are often identified for protection because that species is an indicator of the status of their ecological surrounding or is key to the regional ecological cycle – these are sometimes called “keystone species.” The sea otter, very cute and cuddly, is a great example –  they feed on sea urchins, and when sea otter numbers fell due to demand for their pelts, sea urchins boomed and munched their way through acres of kelp beds, which altered the ecosystem for the other fish and marine life dependent on the kelp forest microhabitat. Protecting the sea otter then protects a variety of other species. As another example, less cuddly, the Florida bonneted bat lives in the native forests of Florida and is a valuable source of pest control – reduction in their numbers has resulted in the need for additional pesticide use in those areas.  

Another concept is to protect “umbrella” species, like the Florida panther, which has a home range of several hundred miles in which it routinely travels. Development of new roads can fragment what are currently large blocks of contiguous habitat that allow for safe travel for panthers, so some protective measures include land use controls that are focused on reduction of expanding land development into these unfragmented areas. Leaving large areas unfragmented and undeveloped allows for protection for all of the other species that also live in these areas. In that way, the umbrella that covers the panther also covers other species.   

Decisions, Decisions…

But there is also a consideration of the fiscal realities and physical practicalities:

  • What are the measures necessary to save a species, and can we afford to?
  • Are some species too time-consuming to protect?
  • Is that species worthy of affording all of the time and effort spent preserving it?
  • Will it work? Will the effort to protect a single species result in other losses in areas that are important?

This circles back to the emotional potential for saving species that are “fluffy” and look nice on a brochure asking you to donate to the cause. These “flagship” or “charismatic” species are the celebrities of the natural world, and by pulling our attention to the plight of such species, organizations can educate and raise awareness for conservation of all protected species and natural areas. Which means that the fluffy species have a role to play.

What Can You Do?

If you can contribute to wildlife organizations, do so – time or money donated on behalf of fluffy species can benefit other species. But consider donating to organizations that actively support conservation measures for the “ugly” species, too, or to local land or wildlife conservation organizations. If you are working in land development, understand how the ESA requirements apply to your project, and be proactive in meeting those requirements. Hoyle Tanner’s team of environmental scientists is always prepared to work with our private, municipal and state clients to successfully address the ESA while advancing the needs of the project.

Artistic Expression & Engineering Solution: From Metal Work to AUTOCADD

Where did your creativity start?

I start drawing when I was around 6-years-old and really have never stopped. Art, and being creative, was what I excelled at in school and has always been a great way to pass time. I enjoy a variety of mediums such as digital art, airbrushing, leather tooling and custom car/motorcycle fabrication. I draw less now than I use to – not that I don’t enjoy drawing, but more because I wanted to go a step further and thoroughly enjoy building 3-dimensional art, my primary focus being metal (don’t let that fool you; I will be creative with any medium I can get my hands on!). Most things I build involve drawing in some form or fashion whether it be conceptual designs or templates to build something.

What is the process for your art projects?

I can’t really say there is a specific process, but I would say 99% of what I do starts with an idea whether the objective is to just be creative to pass time or to create something with the intent of building it. I typically will draw up my idea numerous times refining it in the process until I’m comfortable that I’ve identified most of the “well I didn’t think about that” scenarios and I am content with the design so I can achieve what I had in mind. If I’m just drawing to be creative, I will just pick something of interest and let my creativity run free. If it’s metal, that’s a bit harder (pun intended). I look at metal as “really hard clay” and with the right tools and understanding of how it moves, it can be molded into various shapes with use of hammers, dollies, English wheels, anvils, planishers, welders and so forth but even this process usually starts with the concept of build-it-on-paper and then make it a reality.

What is your process for engineering projects?

My preferred method whenever possible for an engineering project is to first look at the project as a whole and try to identify if there are any major obstacles that will complicate things and try to solve those problems first. Secondly, I like to look at the project components as individual elements (structure, wingwalls, guardrail, etc.) while laying them out independently keeping in mind the components must meet technical requirements and not conflict. My end goal is to create a document that conveys a clear picture to a contractor of the engineer’s intended design, knowing that the plans are a map that are detailed enough to get the contractor from A to B.

Describe a project that you’ve done with Hoyle Tanner that let you be creative.

One project, albeit small in scale, opened the door for me to create 3D elements in AutoCAD and virtually build the abutments for a small stream crossing. This allowed us to develop details for construction that where an isometric view and really provide the contractor with a clear and concise picture of the engineer’s intent (which – from what I later heard – was very helpful for the people constructing them as the engineer had intended).

There is a certain physical force that is used by both artists and engineers. What are your thoughts on this? Does any of that overlap?

Yes, there are a variety of types of physical forces involved in my art. For example, if you wanted a flat piece of sheet metal to take on a curve you might roll it through an English wheel which is essentially a linear hammer that allows you to stretch metal. This is also great for smoothing uneven surfaces. You would think that once you’ve pounded on a piece of sheet metal with a hammer it’s junk, but with a little work it smooths right back out as though a hammer had never touched it. Maybe you have a piece of metal you want to shrink; you can use a shrinker which is a compressing tool that has a bunch of little teeth that forces the metal into itself causing the metal to want to curve inward (this can also be done by hand with special tools and hammering).

As far as drawing goes, it’s the complete opposite, I often find myself holding onto my pencils for dear life; I’ve struggled for years to use less force and more flow.

Anything you’d like to add about your art? Or your work at Hoyle Tanner?

As the saying goes “I’ve never failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work” -Thomas Edison. A very applicable statement as every time I draw or build something I’m often learning as I go. Sometimes it’s learning what to do the next time, and sometimes making sure I never go down that road again.

Over my many years at Hoyle Tanner, there have been various opportunities where I was able to step outside the box and tap into the artistic end of things and do what I feel I do best: be creative. This to which I am appreciative for and look forward to additional ways to apply art and creativity in an engineering environment.

A History-Mystery: Determining the shoreline of a lake before it was dammed

Hoyle Tanner is working to repair the causeway and replace the Crystal Lake Road bridge over the northwest section of Crystal Lake where Nelson Brook enters in the Town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire

It is unknown when the bridge was first installed, however, we know that it consisted of a timber superstructure* supported on dry-stacked stone masonry abutments constructed along a manmade causeway. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1929 when the superstructure was replaced by a reinforced concrete rigid frame. The replacement bridge will be a precast-prestressed concrete deck beam superstructure founded on a precast concrete cap with deep foundations.

Where Does a Lake Begin?

Since replacing the bridge is going to result in some disturbance, or impact, to the lake on the downstream side of the bridge, a Wetland Permit was required to be issued by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). However, as our environmental coordination staff began to complete the permit application, it became evident that one important piece of information was lacking: Where does the shore end and the lake begin?

This may seem to be a pretty simple question to answer – the lake begins at the edge of the water! However, the State of New Hampshire, which has legal authority to regulate and permit work done in lakes, has a set definition of a lake that comes from both New Hampshire RSA 485-A:2 and Chapters 100 and 400 of the NHDES Wetland Rules. Those define a lake as a surface water with the normal high water line as the elevation of the boundary between a lake and upland or shore. For most naturally-occurring lakes or ponds (that have not been created by a dam), a licensed surveyor can visit the site of the proposed work area and use visual evidence to determine the water elevation where under normal or typical conditions the waters of the lake are at their highest on the adjacent bank or shore.

But for Crystal Lake, there are factors to consider that made this a bit more challenging. Crystal Lake is approximately 450 acres in size, making it large enough to be considered a public water per New Hampshire RSA 271:20 II: Public waters in New Hampshire include natural or artificially impounded (dammed) surface water bodies that are over 10 acres in size. NHDES issues an Official List of Public Waters (OLPW) that includes data for each water body such as location, dammed status (dammed or not?), the Dam Bureau number if it is dammed, and for some water bodies, the normal high water line/elevation. Crystal Lake in Gilmanton is listed as RD or raised by damming, Dam # 91.11, without providing a normal high water elevation. Why not?   

A lake that is noted as RD is a water body that was a natural lake that was more than 10 acres in size originally, but at one point the water level has been elevated by construction of a dam at the outlet, or “raised by damming.” Per the RSA and NHDES rules, only the areas of land underwater that are below the original normal high water elevation before the lake was dammed are Public Waters. Because there is not elevation provided on the OLPW, that elevation has not been officially determined by NHDES. How do you determine that elevation? By doing quite a bit of sleuthing!

Establishing a Timeline

For Crystal Lake, we enlisted the assistance of both the local surveying team, Sandford Surveying and Engineering, Inc., and our in-house super-sleuth and Right-of-Way acquisition specialist, Betsy Bosiak. Together, they reviewed current and historic mapping such as tax maps, USGS maps and survey plans for lots around the lake as they were recorded as sold or subdivided. In addition, deed records were reviewed for when the land near the dam and bridge changed ownership; other local Town records were reviewed and local authorities were interviewed. Historic books and internet sites were also scoured for any available historical information. From this collective information, our team was able to determine that the dam has been in place for at least 100 years and a timeline of ownership for the property along the lake was established.

Data from the time of the dam’s installation was gathered and reviewed in detail to glean any water elevation data that could provide the water elevations in the lake before the dam was installed.

The first available plans for the dam come from references to notes that were unable to be found, however the first photo of the dam was found dated July 1934, so we believe that the dam was installed around that time.

Careful review of plans from 1957 for a dam reconstruction project provided enough information to determine the natural mean high water elevation before damming was  617.2 feet – this was based on plan figures showing the bottom elevation of the dam to be set at 616.7 feet, with an assumed normal flow depth of 6 inches. To compare that to current conditions, the water elevations for the full lake conditions (that is, when the lake is reached its maximum volume as regulated by the dam) is 624.25 feet, or more than 7 feet deeper than the historic water levels! 

The History Mystery Took…A While

Identifying this elevation took over six months! Ultimately, all of the supporting data that was used to “tell the story” was provided to NHDES in order for the Dam Bureau and the Wetlands Bureau to determine if the proposed elevation could be used for identifying impacts to the lake and Public Waters of the State of New Hampshire. NHDES ultimately concluded and agreed with the water elevation that we presented based on the depth of supporting evidence that was uncovered.

Identifying such an important piece of information was quite a challenge for our team; however, we were able to meet this challenge while keeping the project on schedule and within the Town’s expectations of cost. Additionally, Hoyle Tanner’s bridge design team worked hand-in-hand with the environmental coordination team to successfully design a bridge replacement project that resulted in no impacts to Public Waters of the State.

Artistic Expression & Engineering Solution: One artist’s hobby and how she relates it to her career

Kathryn Dziadowicz is a structural engineer out of our Portsmouth office by day and artist in her free time, selling her handmade pieces in local stores and markets. Creativity and design are big parts of both artistic expression and engineering solutions, so Kathryn has answered some questions for us as we explore the connection between art and engineering.

  1. How did you go about starting your art business?

Going into senior year of high school, I was faced with the choice to either take advanced placement studio art or principles of engineering for my final elective since both courses took place during the same period. Since I wanted to go into the engineering field, I took the engineering course and loved it. Fast forward to the summer going into my senior year of college, and I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in four years.

One day after looking around on the internet, I saw an acrylic pouring video on the internet and I was hooked. I went to grab supplies that night and turned my college bedroom into a makeshift studio. After a few months working on pours, I discovered resin. When cured, the two-part mixture creates a glass-like finish. It was unlike anything I was ever exposed to before.

Between the acrylic pours, resin pieces, and sketches, there wasn’t a bare spot on my walls. My roommate at the time gave me a nudge and tagged me in a post for a student-only craft fair at UNH; the next thing I knew, I was selling at my first craft fair. What started as a hobby has now allowed me to travel across New England to participate in multiple markets and have my work featured in several stores and hundreds of peoples’ homes. It’s so surreal to think about how it all began.

  • What is the process for your art?

I begin by taping off the surface where I don’t want resin to adhere to. Each piece is then base coated with acrylic paint to resemble the colors of the ocean, which is the source of inspiration for my work. Then all of the pieces are individually leveled on my worktable (not the easiest task when you live in a home built in the 1800s.) Then I apply the resin, I add white pigment to a portion of the piece to blow out with a heat gun to resemble waves. This process is repeated several times over the next several days until the piece has the desired amount of depth and has a finish free of microparticles. After fully curing for 72 hours, each piece is de-taped, sanded, stamped and hung.

When a new project comes along, the big picture is usually the first thing that is looked at. Before diving into a project, it is key to properly understand the clients’ goals and what the project objective is. Site constraints, schedule and budget are important factors to understand the nuances of each project.

For most of the projects I have been involved in, I am the project representative for construction oversite. Before going onto site, I try to memorize as much of the plans as I can, review the quantities, and develop a plan for site visits. Once on site, I serve as the eyes and ears for the client to ensure the project is built as intended.

In my opinion one of the most important parts of oversite is coordination with the design team which allows me to understand why certain design elements were chosen and the thought process behind the design. Communication with other team members is one of my favorite aspects of the entire engineering process; everyone always has something to bring to the table and it goes to show how much more there is to learn.

  • Describe a project that you’ve done with Hoyle, Tanner where your artistic and technical knowledge overlapped?

Last summer while on a bridge rehabilitation project, we had called out elastomeric concrete along an expansion joint replacement. The contractor had never used the material before, but after reading the product data sheet, I realized that a key component of the material being used was epoxy resin. It was a really a full circle experience for me, my knowledge from working with resin for art applied directly to the elastomeric concrete application. I was able to relay my knowledge about surface preparation, the components of the mixture, and the exothermic reaction that occurs to the contractor.

  • Is there a reason you are drawn to resin?

Engineering is extremely left-brained; it’s technical, strategic and practical. For the most part artwork is right-brained, it is imaginative, subjective and whimsical. I think part of the reason I am drawn to resin is because it allows me to use science in art. Epoxy has numerous technical factors such as mix ratios, temperature requirements, and air percentage. These factors allow the two-part solution to create a chemical reaction turning viscous materials into a solid compound. When working with resin, one of the most critical aspects is timing; after the mix of the two parts are complete, there is a window of approximately 45 minutes before the resin begins to solidify. The style of the piece, amount of air bubbles present, and viscosity of the resin varies every five minutes during that working time. The whole reaction is fascinating to me: There are so many elements you need to be precise with, but at the same time, certain aspects such as the white waves added into ocean pieces are left up to chance based on how the resin flows. For me, it’s a perfect balance of the right and left sides of my brain.

Engineering and art both offer precision and creativity, though they manifest in different end aesthetics and purposes. With her passion for art and her appreciation of science, we see the overlap of these two practices through Kathryn. Find one of her online shops here – https://www.etsy.com/shop/KDziadowiczArt

Growing Stronger Through a Crisis: How We Got to the Other Side of the Pandemic & What’s Next

Matt Low editorial graphic with title name

COVID-19 brought challenges to our personal and professional lives that few of us have ever experienced or could have imagined. There have been strains we have never felt and losses that we couldn’t have fathomed. Through the last year, though, the engineering and public works professions have not only persevered but reached new levels of collaboration, resiliency, teamwork, and dedication. Tough times and challenges offer opportunities, if you look for them, to find out what you’re made of. Our firm is small by most standards, 100 professionals, but the last year has shown what a proud and dedicated group of teammates can accomplish in the face of adversity. Being ushered out the door in March 2020 to work remotely for an unknown amount of time was, well, unsettling to say the least. We really had no idea what was ahead for us; it wasn’t just us, the uncertainty extended to our clients, too. Still – important projects that directly affect quality of life needed to be done. The work needed to continue. Failing roadways, deteriorated bridges, antiquated wastewater treatment plants, and dated airports had no idea there was a pandemic.


So, as we get to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic – what have we learned?

For one thing, investments in emerging technology are extremely important. Those that had previously invested in networking, laptops, video conferencing applications, online collaboration tools, and other remote working technological assets barely missed a beat while those that needed to play catch-up fell behind quickly and suffered. Some of our public agency clients were not prepared for remote work because it wasn’t allowed due to network security reasons or other IT issues. It took a bit of time for those issues to be remedied and get their programs running again on all cylinders.

At Hoyle, Tanner we realized our strength and dedication to our projects carried us a long way to making sure that schedules were maintained to the best of our ability. We quickly learned that our professionals could manage themselves without needing to be in an office full time – which will be a tremendous asset in flexibility and work-life balance moving forward. Our industry and many others that were accustomed to in-person situations are likely forever changed for the better.

Lastly, company culture and leadership are integral to success. Rainy day and sunny day leadership are very different, and it takes an independent skill set to excel at either, or both. Are your employees engaged? If so, they would probably run through a wall for you to keep pushing the values and mission of your firm. If not, productivity, excuses, and missed deadlines were probably the result. During the pandemic, we took the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive strategic planning program, initiate a rebranding project, and most importantly didn’t panic. All with the goal that as we emerged from the last year of darkness, we would be poised and ready to serve our stakeholders (clients, employees, and consultant partners) better than ever before. We “leaned into the punch” and tried to use the situation to figure out who we would be next.


What’s next?

More challenges for sure. There’s talk in Washington, D.C. of infrastructure spending, recovery funds, as well as a growing need for investment into aging assets. Will injecting more money into the system solve these issues? Maybe but maybe not. There is a labor shortage in the construction industry that more money alone may not fix. Construction industry jobs have increased by nearly 2 million in the last 10 years, but openings have grown by nearly 250,000 (US Department of Labor, 2021). One of our New Hampshire offices recently assisted a client in advertising a bridge project twice with no bid responses for either. More money may not be the remedy for that. For projects that are receiving bids, the prices are escalating tremendously due to strains on the material supply chain, likely partially (or mostly) caused by the pandemic. Time will only tell if material costs and labor availability will come back into alignment with the available funding in the system.

With all we have been through in the last year, it is only natural to wonder what awaits in 2022 and beyond. One thing we can count on, though, is that the engineering and public works industries will likely be at the forefront of continuing to shape the “new normal” that we all eagerly await. One thing you can count on, Hoyle, Tanner will be here, ready to take on these and many more challenges just like we always have.

7 Things to Consider When Preserving Historic Bridges

Engineering students receive extensive training in math, science and engineering topics related to their specific field of study. For Structural Engineers, this includes courses on analyzing structures constructed from the most common building materials – steel, concrete, prestressed concrete, and in some cases, timber and masonry. These courses generally focus on modern design codes, material properties and construction techniques. While these courses do provide a good technical background, they do not typically include much instruction related to historic bridges. When we are entrusted to work on these special structures, engineers should keep the following in mind:

  1. History of the Bridge. The year the bridge was built is an important piece of information as it can provide an understanding of the design codes, standard vehicle loads (if any), material properties, and construction techniques of the time. The history of maintenance, repairs and rehabilitation of the bridge is also good information to review to have a complete picture of the bridge before beginning any structural analysis.
  • Plan Availability. Locate the original design drawings of the bridge, if possible. These drawings are not generally available for most structures built before the 1920s; however, some of these bridges may be covered by patented designs which can provide valuable information on design procedures and assumptions. It is important to note that even if plans are available, they are not typically ‘as-built’ plans and the field conditions may vary from what is shown on the plans. If design drawings are not available, the Historic American Engineering Record has prepared detailed drawings of select historic bridges that can supplement field measurements.
  • Material Properties. The materials used in historic bridges (steel or concrete) have different properties compared to modern materials which effect their strength, durability and weldability (for steel structures). There are number of excellent references that provide appropriate design values for these materials which can also be supplemented by testing. For less common materials such as cast iron, timber and stone, conservative values are typically used as these materials are typically less uniform and more variable in their physical properties.
  • Inspection Access. A thorough assessment of all bridge elements is needed during the evaluation phase of the project. Many historic bridges, however, are posted for reduced live load capacity which does not allow for the use of traditional bridge inspection equipment. In these situations, access can be gained through rope-access inspection techniques or remotely through Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones). We utilized the rope-access for the inspection of the Coos Bridge in Byron, Maine which was posted for 5-tons but where a hands-on inspection was required for fracture critical members. A drone was used for the inspection of the Kingsley Covered Bridge in Clarendon, Vermont.
  • Community Needs. While preservation of historic bridges is the primary goal of many project stakeholders, it is important to consider the needs of the community. A bridge with weight or height restrictions can have significant impacts on first responder response time and use by school buses or fuel delivery vehicles which have a negative impact on residents’ quality of life. In these situations, engineers need to be creative in their approach to meeting the communities’ needs while maintaining the historic integrity of the bridge. Our team rose to this challenge for the rehabilitation of the Union Village Covered Bridge in Thetford, Vermont: The bridge had an 8-ton live load capacity which was not sufficient for fire trucks used in the area and required them to take a long detour which increased response time. Our rehabilitation design included the installation of timber glulam stringers beneath the bridge to share load with the trusses and increase the live load capacity to 20-tons. This treatment is reversible (i.e. the beams could be removed at a later date) and the use of wood for the support members improved the aesthetic of the bridge as opposed to steel beams.
  • Coordination with Resource Agency Partners. The majority of historic bridge projects must be reviewed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This act requires that the effect of any proposed work to historic structures be reviewed and evaluated. While engineers are typically most concerned with the structural concerns of the project, resource agency professionals are charged with preservation and appropriate treatment of historic structures. Therefore, a strong knowledge of the Section 106 process and roles of each party is important to project success.
  • Aesthetics. All work completed must keep with the strong aesthetics that these historic bridges possess. This can be accomplished by using appropriate repair materials, matching the finish of replacement members to existing members (rough sawn timber, for example), and using period-appropriate hardware such as ogee washers. One simple but effective example of an aesthetic treatment was the application of a protective coating over the concrete railing of String Bridge in Exeter, New Hampshire. This two-span concrete rigid frame was built in 1935 and had undergone numerous repairs to the railings which resulted in a “patchwork quilt” appearance of the rail. We recommended a light-colored protective coating which served a dual purpose of protecting the concrete while also improving aesthetics with a more uniform appearance that matched the existing concrete. Just like I mentioned in item 6 of this list, we coordinated with the Historic District Commission before installation for approval.

Preserving historic structures is one of the many bridge services that Hoyle, Tanner provides our communities. For more information contact me, Sean James, PE, Senior Vice President and Structural Engineer for our Bridges & Structural group.

Traffic Modeling 101: Using Traffic Modeling Software to Improve Mobility

Traffic model snip showing intersection and cars

What it is

Traffic modeling takes raw data (in the form of traffic counts and speed data) and builds a visual representation. This visual representation allows us to see how things interact with each other, which can be as simple as a stop-controlled intersection or as complicated as an entire city grid. The modeling allows us to look at how intersections perform in terms of level of service, traffic delay, and capacity utilized among other metrics.

Traffic modeling doesn’t just show how cars move in a straight line on a road. Instead, the modeling shows how traffic might back up at an intersection based on how much green (light) time each direction of traffic is given, how side roads are affected by long lines of vehicles, and what is happening at turn lanes. We also include pedestrians when there’s significant data for them; at small, rural intersections, there is not enough demand to show them in the model.

The level of service is the key metric for analyzing how well a signal functions. Level of service is categorized by five letter grades (A through F), but it’s really just an incremental delay in seconds. For example, if the average driver is stuck at a traffic light for less than 10 seconds, that’s level of service A. If it’s over 10 but less than 20, that’s level of service B, and so on. So really, the level of service is just a way to say this is the range of delay that the average person gets at this intersection. It’s key that it’s the average driver; so the first person who pulls up to a red light is likely going to be sitting there for more of the full signal cycle, but someone that arrives on green had a zero second delay – that’s why it’s key to measure the average.

Why it’s useful

I’ve been using the modeling software since I started here in 2013. It was pretty basic for the first few years, really just using it to model temporary signals; like if we had to go to a one-lane work zone with alternating directions of traffic, we’d use a temporary signal for that and need to model it to make sure the queues didn’t cause any big problems. In terms of how traffic modeling differs from pure calculations, it really has to do with its scale. You know, you can input some parameters into the software, and it runs all the iterations you need and can simulate random traffic patterns that a calculation wouldn’t be able to do. It also helps give you a visual representation of it. I could do a calculation that says, okay there’s a 300-foot queue here, but then when we put it in the modeling software, we can see that the queue is actually blocking a side road or spilling into the next traffic signal.

The flexibility to play around in the software is also significant. With a calculation, if you want to change something, you more or less have to restart the calc; but in the model, you can toggle a switch and it just completely changed your model – and you can change it back if you need to.

Our standard traffic modeling program is Synchro which is the static model, and then we also have SimTraffic which creates a video simulation of cars moving through the model. The video is the simulation of when the system is populated – that’s what uses the random traffic patterns, which is helpful because there is no calculation for random traffic patterns. You need to have the computer algorithm that best approximates random traffic driving patterns. With that simulation, you get to see how signals interact with each other; so you have one signal, and then you have another one 300 feet away; they might not be coordinated, but they will still influence the traffic patterns at each other, and it’s crucial to see what sort of problems they may cause.

What the challenges are

There are only minor downsides to traffic modeling software. There are so many different parameters in the programs that you might get a totally different result if you overlook one that’s buried deep in the dialogue boxes. In terms of reporting, there are also several different analysis methods you can get from the program. The simulation doesn’t change, but I can have the same traffic volumes and signal timing and still get three slightly different results based on the analysis method. There’s no significant difference, but depending on what the client or agency expects when they review it, it can impact the program’s options.

A good example is New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) has published preferences for their report formats, but many clients do not have preferences, and so the lack of standardization can be a challenge.

Where it’s headed in the future

In the future, we will be using traffic modeling software more often. The developers of the traffic modeling software are continuously working on and releasing updates for the programs. We as designers are constantly trying to come up with new ways for traffic signals to be safer or to handle higher capacity. Sometimes, the software doesn’t have the availability to model those correctly because it’s a new innovation that hasn’t made it back into the software yet. So sometimes these updates are just the software catching up to what’s actually being in done in the field.

I expect there will also be some improved bicycle and pedestrian modeling capabilities. Right now, we can say there’s X number of bicycles per hour, but I envision software developers will be adding bicycle signal heads next to traffic lights because that’s an up-and-coming technology. It’s been tested in a couple of states already, and it could become an important part of traffic modeling software updates in the near future.

I’m part of a team that prepares traffic modeling projects for municipalities and state agencies across New England. Reach out to me with traffic questions or to learn more about NHITE.

All About LPA: A Valuable Funding Source for Maine Transportation Projects

We’re excited to have another professional get LPA certified in Maine! Sean James, PE, Senior Vice President, joins our growing number of LPA certified project managers, engineers and technicians who can coordinate on these specific projects. Sean has worked on dozens of LPA projects in the state of New Hampshire and is looking forward to bringing his tenured experience to LPA projects in Maine.

What is an LPA Project?

The Local Project Administration (LPA) program leverages local dollars with state or federal dollars through the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) on a wide variety of projects statewide. These projects can include resurfacing and rebuilding of roads, intersection improvements and non-vehicular transportation alternatives such as sidewalk and shared-use paths, pier and float installations and bridge and culvert replacement.

 
Who is Eligible & for How Much?

An LPA project can be administered by a variety of organizations including municipalities, regional transportation agencies, education institutions and tribal governments. The selection of projects is competitive and includes a variety of programs including Transportation Alternative, Low-Use Redundant Bridge Program, Small Harbor Improvement Program and the Hazard Elimination Program. Funding reimbursement varies from 50 to 80 percent of the project’s eligible costs.

Is there Certification Required?

LPA program certification is required for all projects that include federal funding; however, the training is beneficial for non-federally funded programs as well. The certification program covers the financial aspects of projects, hiring consultants, project design including environmental review, utility coordination, Right-of-Way and construction administration. Hoyle, Tanner’s team includes LPA certified professionals who understand the program and assist our clients in meeting their project goals.

The Role of Consultants

Engineering consultants act as an extension of the owner’s organization and bring specialized technical and funding program experience to the project. The consultant’s role is to understand the purpose and need of the owner, to study and provide alternatives for consideration, turn the project vision into a final design and permit the project and finally provide assistance with bidding and construction administration and oversight as well as final project closeout for reimbursement. 

The LPA program provides opportunity to improve our communities while minimizing the cost to local budgets. Our bridge, transportation and environmental teams have a wide variety of design and construction experience with LPA projects including bridges (vehicle and pedestrian), sidewalks, roadway improvement and safety and intersection improvements. For more information on how to get started and how we can assist in meeting your project goals, please contact Sean.

Celebrating Moth Week: What you Might Not Know about Moths in Your Backyard

Happy National Moth Week! This week, citizen scientists around the country will turn on their flashlights, exterior lights, and specialized UV lights to observe this often overlooked and vilified group of organisms. Although moths are perceived as pests because their caterpillars damage cloth and tree foliage, they are one of the most diverse organisms on the planet and vary greatly in size, color, shape, ecology, and abundance.

Moths tend to be feeding specialists and rely on the presence of a host plant to feed on and use for cover during all their life stages. Some species can use a variety of plant species as hosts, but others are strictly specialized. Moth species relying on plant species from imperiled natural communities inevitably become critically endangered.

Here are some interesting details about two well-known moth species that can be observed in your yard:

Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth (Malacosoma disstria)

The Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth is one of the most vilified moth species in North America. They are known for their caterpillars’ tent-like silk mats and the damage they can do to the leaves of hardwood tree species such as alder, basswood, cherry, and oak. This moth species is prone to multi-year population explosions when localized defoliation can be dramatic, leaving trees draped in tangles of silken mats.

But guess what!

The Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth has a fascinating life history. Adult females of this species lay up to 300 eggs on a tree branch and cover them with a cement-like substance to protect them from drying out or freezing during the winter. In the spring, the eggs hatch, producing a “family” of caterpillars that feed, rest, and molt communally. Members of the group produce pheromone-covered strands of silk that the group follows together around their resident tree to feed and then use to return to their resting area. As each member of the leaf-loving family grows larger and nears pupation size, they begin to compete for food resources and start to forage more independently. Parents of teenagers can probably relate to this family dynamic.

Luna Moth (Actias luna)

The Luna Moth is one of the most recognized local species of moth due to its large size and brilliant lime green wings during adulthood. It has a markedly different life cycle from the Forest Tent Caterpillar Moth, as it spends only two weeks as an egg, less than two months as a lime green caterpillar, and completes the majority of its development in a cocoon during its nine months of pupation. Luna Moth host tree species are hardwoods, such as paper birch. Luna Moths make it their business to actively fend off predators with a couple of special skills. First, their brilliant green coloration makes them very visible when they perch under your deck light, but it allows them to camouflage among leaves very effectively both as caterpillars and as adults. If an adult Luna Moth is threatened, it will make a warning clicking noise with its mandibles. Then, it will regurgitate fowl-tasting fluids to deter the attack. Finally, studies have shown that the long hindwing tails of the Luna Moth can serve as a false sonar target to deflect attacks by bats.

We have much more to learn about moths to understand each species’ importance to ecological communities and conservation needs. Due to their diversity and typically nocturnal habits, moths can be evasive and difficult to research and monitor. National Moth Week is a time when anyone can take a few minutes to look in their yard or neighborhood, photograph moths, and share the data to help the learning continue. Visit the National Moth Week website to learn more about how you can contribute to this effort.  

NEC/AAAE Panelist Evan McDougal: Opportunities and Regulatory Challenges with UAS Operations Within 5 Miles of your Airport

Man holding drone in a field

At the Annual Airports Conference in Pennsylvania, Evan McDougal, CM was a panellist and discussed the challenges and opportunities that sUAS technology creates for airport management. The continuing education session entitled “UAS Operations Within 5 Miles of your Airport. Restrict, Support, & Permit” explored the use of the rapidly evolving sUAS technology from the legal, airport management, commercial operator and regulatory perspective.

Evan is the Manager of Hoyle, Tanner’s Airport Planning and sUAS services. In 2016, Mr. McDougal acquired his Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, complimenting his existing manned fixed wing and rotary pilot certifications. Hoyle, Tanner has four certified sUAS operators and provides these services in many locations.

During the panel discussion, Evan focused on how commercial operators can use unmanned aerial systems to efficiently collect data and verify approach surfaces, document pre- and post-construction site development and assist with accident documentation. He also discussed the challenges associated with the current authorization process for operating an sUAS in controlled and restricted airspace.

The goal of the conference is to educate attendees on the leadership skills necessary to “plan, develop and execute a safe and efficient regional airport system that satisfies the needs of its constituents with due consideration for economics, environmental compatibility, local property rights, and safeguarding the public investment.”

 

 

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