College of Engineering researchers working with federal and state transportation agencies on impacts of climate on roadways

Wireless sensors track seasonal condition of nation’s highways in real time

Snow Road
The researchers believe that there is great potential to expand this system of wireless sensors to assist agencies in other important applications, such as flooding of roadways.

There are approximately 21 million miles of roads worldwide. In the United States, federal and state transportation agencies, particularly those located in colder climates, work year-round to make decisions on travel, infrastructure, and overall safety on roadways. More and more of these agencies are turning to science-based protocols and models to make those decisions.

UMass Dartmouth Civil and Environmental Engineering  Professor Heather Miller is working with her colleagues in the College of Engineering, along with partners at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Texas Tech University, the USDA Forest Service, Frost Associates, and the Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation (DOTs), to conduct a comprehensive review of several protocols/models and their effectiveness in determining the impacts of climate on roadways.

“The effects of climate on roadways, both today and into the future, is the main driver of our collaborative research,” Dr. Miller said. “Historically, many transportation agencies have relied on set dates or visual inspection to make important decisions about our roadways which impact travel, safety, and the economy. Our work is providing additional state-of-the-art monitoring and forecasting tools to assist transportation officials in their decision-making process.”

wireless roadwaysOne of three studies involved the development of remote wireless sensors, designed by UMass Dartmouth Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Paul Fortier and his students.  The sensors have been placed under roadways to collect data and display it on a decision support system (DSS) designed by UMass DartmouthComputer and Information Science Professor and College of Engineering Associate Dean Ramprasad Balasubramanian. The data provides useful information to DOT officials charged with making decisions regarding seasonal weight restrictions, which apply to heavier vehicles/trucks on certain roadways during seasons when frost-thaw processes occur beneath those roads.

The researchers believe that there is great potential to expand this system of wireless sensors to assist agencies in other important applications, such as flooding of roadways and other issues which may become more prevalent in the future due to a changing climate.

Another study included projecting air temperatures to predict climate change’s impact on the timing and duration of freeze-thaw processes beneath roadways.  That study was inspired and fostered by the Infrastructure & Climate Network (ICNet), established in 2012 with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and directed by Dr. Jennifer Jacobs at UNH. The results indicated that climate change will significantly impact the frost-thaw process beneath roadways in Northern Maine, which geographically represents the region where data was collected for model development and calibration. A third project examined the use of recycled pavement layers in highway rehabilitation. The results of that study are pending.

The three projects received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the NSF (through ICNet), and the New England Transportation Consortium (NETC). The views, opinions, findings and conclusions reflected in this write-up are the responsibility of the authors/project participants only and do not represent the official policy or position of the USDOT, NSF, or any State or other entity.

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