ODOT/Miller Cable Co.

For more than a year, Green Springs, Ohio-based Miller Cable Co. has been installing an intelligent transportation system (ITS) at 206 locations across seven counties in northeast Ohio for Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) districts 3, 4 and 12. The $18.2 million project, which is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be completed in September 2011 after 24 months of construction.

According to George Saylor, senior ITS engineer for ODOT’s central office, ODOT developed a comprehensive freeway management system plan more than a decade ago. The Cincinnati system had been in place since 1998, and phase 1 of the Columbus system was in place by 2000.  Phase 2 of Columbus was in 2003, and Miller Cable was the contractor for that project. Miller is currently installing the Cleveland and Akron systems, and the Dayton and Toledo systems will be bid later this year.

ITS uses surveillance cameras to help departments of transportation make informed decisions on how to advise motorists effectively, whether it is posting traffic advisories or funneling vehicles around detours, by using real-time data that is transmitted to a central traffic management center. This information is made available to the public through a type of digital signage known as dynamic message boards, and in ODOT’s case, it also will be available on the highway advisory AM radio station and the ODOT website, www.buckeyetraffic.org. 

The surveillance cameras have the capacity to record traffic for five days before the data is erased and filming begins anew. The information is available to most public agencies upon request, including law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. However, “We want to make it clear to the public that ODOT is not an enforcement agency,” ODOT Public Information Officer Amanda Lee states. “It’s not meant to catch people speeding or disobeying the law – it’s about helping the public get from point A to point B as safely as possible.”

Based on the magnitude of the project and the number of counties covered, the Northeast Ohio ITS Project initially was supposed to be two separate projects. But due to the compressed timeframe in which the work needed to be completed, it was combined into one big initiative. This is unusual for ODOT because multiple districts seldom oversee the same construction project. “It’s rare,” says Jeff Hebebrand, construction area engineer with ODOT District 12. “Has it happened in the past? Yes, but not very often.”

Districts 3, 4, and 12 are administered by District 12. For the Northeast Ohio ITS Project, Matt Mantaghi is the project engineer for District 4 and portions of District 3, and Jim Rosa is the project engineer for District 12 and portions of District 3.  The two have been working closely to ensure the work is completed by the fall 2011 deadline. “Whereas districts usually design and build the projects in their districts, the ITS projects are designed by the central office either in-house or through consultant design contracts,” Saylor notes. 

“We then turn to the individual districts for construction management, but the central office still maintains an active role because of the nature of the project,” he explains. “For District 12 to manage such a large project in terms of scope and scale, with new design concepts employed, they’ve done an exemplary job, and we certainly appreciate that.”

Innovations Employed

Although Miller Cable specializes in highway and airport lighting, traffic signalization and ITS, there were several aspects that have made the Northeast Ohio ITS Project unique, Vice President Jim Chamberlin Jr. says. “There are a number of devices deployed on this project, all of which require power,” he notes. “We can’t transmit this data without a communications medium, and ODOT has chosen to use a T1 telephone line.”

ODOT had looked into a fiber-optic backbone communications system, but discovered it could save more than $10 million if each individual device had its own phone line, Saylor says. Aside from being less expensive, Chamberlin says it’s easier from a constructability standpoint because the fiber-optic system would have required at least 300 miles of trench and fiber-optic lay.

“Another interesting thing about this job is, historically, Ohio has been a steel pole state,” Chamberlin adds. “They do their traffic signals and lighting on steel poles, but when you install a steel pole, you have to auger out the earth and pour concrete with anchor bolts. The fact that prestressed concrete poles were used eliminated the need for anchor bolts.”

Using concrete poles provided by StressCrete Group instead of steel poles works well in areas that are sensitive to vibrations and high winds, Saylor says. But “It’s a different league when putting these concrete monsters up,” Chamberlin remarks. The concrete poles are 79 feet long, with nine to 10 feet in the ground. All together, they weigh more than 1,100 tons.

“On the District 4 side, the concrete poles had to be installed on a sloped area,” Mantaghi says. “This complicated our construction, but with the help of the contractor, manufacturer and additional footage, the pole was penetrated down in order to accommodate the sloped area.”

“Another item that Miller brought to the table was the use of foam backfill or polycrete stabilizer made by BMK Corp.,” Rosa adds. “After they excavated the hole for the concrete pole, instead of replacing it with dirt, they poured foam, and through a chemical reaction, it hardens and creates its compressive strength. This saved a lot of time, material and equipment.”

An additional feature of the project was the implementation of a lowering system provided by MG Squared for the security cameras. “With cameras sitting on poles 70 feet in the air, you can imagine the maintenance issues may prove quite challenging,” Chamberlin says. “So, we came up with an elaborate lowering system where the operator or maintenance technician can stand on the ground and bring the camera down to him so he can work on it without having to use a bucket truck, which makes it much safer.”

Miller Cable likes to suggest new ideas to its clients to make construction easier and more cost effective, and has developed a reputation for ingenuity. “One thing we’ve always tried to do at Miller Cable is to be on the cutting edge and to be the contractor that breaks new ground and shows our competitors the way,” Chamberlin says. “We really do our homework when we become involved in these things, and we believe in taking the cream of the crop along for the ride. The subcontractors on this project stand head and shoulders above the rest in their respective fields.”

A Need for Speed

The main challenge Miller Cable and ODOT have faced on the project is coordinating communication with the utilities representing each location. “Just the coordination and various paperwork required – nothing is ever consistent from one utility to the next,” Chamberlin says.

“We engaged all of the utility companies to make sure we were placing our devices in locations that could be accessible and serviced by local utilities,” Saylor notes. “However, we still ran into problems during construction in terms of timing and coordination to actually provide those services.” 

Many of the people ODOT worked with during the design phase were no longer available during construction, which created a lapse in communication. “Jimmy and Matt have done more work scheduling with the utility companies for power service than what is expected of an ODOT project engineer due to the number of sites between all three districts,” Hebebrand says. “I believe we’ve done a very good job in trying to have the power installed as quickly as possible so we did not have a delayed project.”

“ODOT has been very pleased with the number of devices they’ve been able to use at a date earlier than they thought they would have been able to do so,” Chamberlin says. “There is a contract in place to replace a large bridge in Cleveland.  These traffic management and surveillance devices are intended to be a key tool in helping direct traffic during that multiyear construction period. So, the faster we can get these things deployed to ODOT, the happier they are – and I think they’ve been very happy.”  

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