Utilizing Mobile LiDAR to Support Pavement Resurfacing

Many Departments of Transportation are looking for ways to save money while increasing safety on the roads. In order to do this, they are seeking out innovative ways to do this while utilizing new technology. Mobile LiDAR is being used to determine roadway geometry information for long stretches of roadways that are candidates for resurfacing. The typical DOT procurement process involves the selection of a resurfacing vendor through a competitive bid solicitation and then the selection of the most qualified and “cost-effective” bidder. As budgets have become leaner, the competition for these projects has increased and thus, drives the innovation curve to find the most cost-effective solution for the DOT.

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To achieve this goal, pavement vendors have sometimes turned to the use of LiDAR information to develop their bid packages for the DOT. Historically, vendors would use the as-built information that was available from the DOT which might be inaccurate, old or obsolete. This obviously leads to issues with the information that the pavement vendor uses to develop their bid packages. They are most interested in determining the correct amount of cut/fill needed to resurface the road while using the least amount of new material. One of the most important pieces of this puzzle relates to the cross-slop of the road which facilitates roadway drainage and ultimately makes a road safer for the traveling public.

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Mobile LiDAR provides a high-precision, digital terrain model of the roadway surface that can be used to generate very accurate cross-slope measurements at specific intervals. For example, the road surface is continuous for the entire length of the project. Cross-Slopes can be generated for each travel lane as well as for the shoulders. The extracted cross-slope is then compared to the design specification and colored based on whether it is in compliance or out of compliance.

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Once the areas have been identified that are out of compliance, it is easy for the pavement vendor to target those for the re-design effort. Instead of applying an average value across the entire section of road, specific areas can be identified and re-designed so that the pavement vendor can save the DOT money on materials. The ultimate benefit for both the pavement vendor and the DOT lies in the fact that everyone benefits – Pavement vendors can design roads more accurately and limit their risk of material over-runs while the DOT can select the most cost-effective vendor and have more budget available to pave their ever-increasing network mileage of roads.

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Since mobile LiDAR data is very cumbersome to manage (2Gb/mile) it is important to deliver the data in a format that is usable by the client. Sometimes raw LAS files work and sometimes the client can only deal with vector files that will be used in GIS, Autocad or Microstation, to name a few. We have found that KMZ files are useful as a delivery mechanism because they can be easily loaded and viewed by the client in very short order. Any derivative of these delivery mechanisms will work – it just depends on the expertise of the client and their computing environment.

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Future discussions will focus on the DOTs and their collection of mobile LiDAR data so that they can provide it to all of the pavement vendors and receive the most cost-effective bid packages. Although there is an up-front cost associated with the LiDAR collection, it is believed that the downstream cost savings for both the DOT and the pavement vendor will more than outweigh the up-front cost of collecting the mobile LiDAR data.

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Sign Retroreflectivity Compliance and Asset Management

Over the past few years, there have been many projects designed to determine an agency’s sign retroreflectivity compliance across their road network. Each project has been unique in terms of how the agency collected the data and how they ultimately managed the data into the future. Recent MUTCD regulations require the development of an inventory management program that documents the installation, maintenance and construction characteristics of sign infrastructure. Many agencies are faced with the daunting task of funding a replacement program that will comply with these new regulations into the future. Ultimately, the replacement plan needs to address non-compliance issues that are identified during the inventory/inspection process.

Step 1 – Sign Inventory

The first step in the compliance process begins with an accurate inventory. Signs can be collected utilizing many different techniques and each technique can have its pluses and minuses. Field collection programs can involve inspectors walking the roads, mobile imaging vehicles taking pictures of the roads as well as other collection techniques designed to identify compliance issues along the road. No matter which solution is selected, it needs to satisfy the overall goals and objectives of the project while providing an accurate inventory of the agency’s sign infrastructure.

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Next, an agency needs to be able to match their available funding to the technology solution that achieves their project goals and objectives. It also needs to understand the trade-offs that are the necessary evil in projects like this – available funding typically dictates the quality of the solution that can be provided by the service provider. Furthermore, the quality of the data collected and its usefulness can be impacted by the choice of the solution and available funding.

Remember that the ultimate goal of retroreflectivity compliance is centered on the replacement of signs once they fall below the minimum reflectivity standard as defined by FHWA. Many agencies would rather start replacing signs today instead of spending money to create their inventory and a management plan. This makes sense economically in the short-term, but can introduce problems from a long-term management perspective.

Step 2 – Estimating the Replacement Cost of the Sign Network

The next graphic illustrates the total replacement cost as calculated using the FHWA “Sign Retroreflectivity Guidebook” for an agency with a 4,383 centerline mile road network.

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The cost to replace all signs for this agency approaches $17.5 million dollars. Please note that this does not include the cost of the labor, equipment and other material costs incurred for the actual installation of these signs. The inventory of signs for this agency cost approximately $800k or roughly 5% of the total replacement cost for these signs. Although significant, this investment is crucial to ensure the longevity of the Sign Management program designed to manage these assets throughout their life-cycle.

Step 3 – Choosing a FHWA-Approved Sign Management Methodology

The chart below illustrates the advantages and disadvantages related to a few of the FHWA-recommended methodologies. Most of these methods have been implemented in one way or another at various agencies across the Country.

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The “Measured Retroreflectivity” method is popular at many DOTs and Toll Authorities. I believe this is the case because these agencies typically manage facilities that carry higher volumes of traffic that operate at higher speeds, thus increasing the risk and potential consequences of an accident. Many County and City agencies are utilizing the “Visual Nighttime Inspection, Expected Life, Control Sign, or Blanket Replacement” methods to manage their sign infrastructure. Each mentioned method is used for different reasons (financial vs. headcount) and has a lot to do with legacy management techniques (“We’ve always done it this way”).

There really isn’t a management method that can be considered “The Best” or “The Most Cost-Effective”. It is solely dependent upon an agency’s goals and objectives for the management of their sign infrastructure. I typically recommend conducting an inventory first and then implementing a management plan that uses the concepts of Condition, Risk, and Valuation to help prioritize which signs should be replaced along with the best timing for the replacement. This can prove very valuable since the highest risk signs can be replaced first and the least risky signs can be programmed for replacement as funding becomes available.

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Finally, I also recommend that agencies utilize asset management software to manage the work performed on their sign infrastructure so that all replacements can then be managed according to their useful life and actual condition rating. This information can then be used in concert with one another to help develop a capital improvement plan that details the planned fiscal expenditures for the next 10 years, which is the typical life-cycle of a sign.

Automated Pavement Distress Analysis – The Final Frontier?

 We have been working with some automated methods for quantifying crack measurements and have had some interesting results.  How great would it be to collect pavement images, batch them on a server and have it spit out accurate crack maps that you can overlay in a GIS?  The technology is here!  Or, is it?

Most pavement inspections involve intricate processes where pavement experts rate segments visually, either from field visits or rating pavement images in the office.  This introduces a lot of subjectivity in the rating results and typically culminates in a spreadsheet showing pavement ratings by segment.  The data is then modeled using ASTM performance curves that have been built from industry proven pavement experiments.

There is no doubt that these curves are tried and true representations of how pavement performs in varying physical and environmental conditions and each project should take these factors into consideration when developing the preservation plans for an agency.

We have been working to develop a rating workflow that focuses on a combination of automated and manual processes to bridge the current gap of Quantitative and Qualitative pavement inspections.  The way we are doing this is through the application of GIS to the automated rating process.  Here’s how it works…

First, we begin with a pavement image from our LRIS pavement imaging system.  Images are captured at a 1mm-pixel resolution and then analyzed through an automated image processing workflow.

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The resulting image creates a “crack map” that identifies the type, severity and extent of the distresses on that section of pavement.  The process is fully automated and handled by the computer.

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Once we have the crack maps in place, we then apply a manual editing process that is GIS-centric by nature and the resulting crack map is a more accurate representation of the real-world conditions.

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Once the edited crack maps are compiled, the data is exported to a GIS where the extents are calculated geospatially and then integrated with a pavement management system.  This is where all of the Pavement Condition Indices (PCI) are calculated and applied to each agency’s specific pavement rating methodologies.  Since the process is geospatial in nature, it is easily imported to ANY pavement management software and gives our clients the flexibility to apply any rating methodology they desire.

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Of course, all agencies have a certain spending threshold and there are cases where automation is the only way to cost-effectively manage large volumes of data.  We recognize this fact and are working hard to bridge the gap of available funding and high quality data.

What are you going to do with your NERC data?

So, you’ve collected your entire Transmission network using LiDAR, built your PLS-CADD models and identified your encroachments – what’s next?  How about leveraging that data to manage the Work Activities required to upgrade/maintain your Transmission network?

We have all heard about Asset Management and how it can help an agency extend the useful life of its infrastructure.  We all know that in principal it makes all the sense in the world, but the actual application of these concepts require investment in software, hardware and personnel.  What we will never know is – How much should we invest in the management of our assets?  Using the NERC regulation and the frenzied data collection going on in our industry as an example, consider the following.

Most Airborne LiDAR companies are collecting and delivering data in the $500 – $1,500 per linear mile range, depending on the downstream processing requirements.  Most of this data is delivered to the end user as .LAS point clouds, PLS-CADD .BAK, files and some other CAD or GIS formats.  Once it is delivered, the agency has a unique opportunity to leverage the delivered products for future value.

If we use Vegetation Encroachment data as an example, we can illustrate how the encroachment information can be used to create a vegetation Asset Class and managed throughout its life-cycle.  Most likely, the data delivered to an agency will include .LAS point clouds with classified data reflecting terrain, conductors, towers, buildings, etc.  In addition to this, vector data is also delivered and can be used to support maintenance management activities.  The graphic below illustrates a common Transmission LiDAR deliverable.

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Note the Red vegetation in the graphic above.  It shows the vegetation points that have been flagged as encroachment violations based on its proximity to the conductors.  These points can then be mapped in a GIS or Asset Management program for further analysis.  In doing so, an agency can gather more value from this information.  For example, the graphic below illustrates the “grow-in” (light blue) and “fall-in” (red) violations for a section of Transmission line.

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GIS mapping provides the user the spatial context necessary to make informed vegetation management decisions.  First, the location of vegetation encroachments are known and with a little manipulation, the volume and area of the vegetation can be determined very easily.  This gives an agency the ability to control the costs associated with their vegetation management program.  Asset management software that leverages GIS can provide the tools necessary to develop an immediate return-on-investment of the software purchase and associated data collection expenditures.

First, the user creates the geospatial layers from the classified point cloud.  Vegetation violations can be exported as points and then aggregated into vegetation encroachment units.  These units are then integrated with the Work and Asset management system through the use of GIS.  Since the geometry of the encroachment units are known based on its GIS attributes, an agency can then determine the following characteristics about their encroachments:

  1. Maximum Height of Encroachment Unit
  2. Average Height of Encroachment Unit
  3. Total Area (acres) of Encroachment Unit
  4. Total Area (acres) of Encroachment Units along a particular circuit

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Since the agency knows so much about their encroachments, they can very accurately determine the volume of vegetation that needs to be removed.  The agency also knows other geospatial characteristics of the vegetation units and can then apply specific cost factors to the removal process.  In addition, GIS also provides a great way to provide contractors with maps and exhibits that will help them generate more accurate bids based on relevant information.  The graphic below shows a KMZ export of Vegetation Encroachments that can be provided to field units in charge of vegetation removal.

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A typical vegetation removal contract is assigned to a forestry company who heads to the field and clears vegetation based on their perception of what needs to be removed.  Now, agencies can tell the forestry companies exactly how much (estimated) vegetation needs to be removed and WHERE it is.  Pretty amazing concept to embrace because now an agency can accurately predict the costs of their vegetation management program.

Another factor that can be applied to this information is the concept of Risk.  Risk takes into consideration the consequences of failure of a particular asset and then provides a Criticality Index for specific Asset Classes and Asset Types.  The more critical the Asset – the higher the priority it gets when determining an agency’s primary work focus.  In other words, this concept helps to identify the most critical components of your infrastructure and helps you to prioritize its maintenance over less critical assets.  By prioritizing using Risk, an agency can take measures to minimize the Risk that exists in its Asset portfolio by fixing these pieces and parts first.

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None of this stops once you get to the Work Management piece of the puzzle.  I’ll be providing more information related to tracking the work activities as they are completed in the field and using this information to develop more accurate budget forecasts for the future.

Mobile LiDAR to Support Positive Train Control

DTS/Earth Eye just completed a positive train control (PTC) project for a national train company who was evaluating the differences between Airborne LiDAR and Mobile LiDAR to support the collection of PTC data.  They are currently collecting airborne data for approximately 15,000 linear miles of rail.  In certain areas, the airborne data does not provide enough fidelity to accurately map the rails or the asset infrastructure that support the railroad operations.

From Wikipedia – “The main concept in PTC (as defined for North American Class I freight railroads) is that the train receives information about its location and where it is allowed to safely travel, also known as movement authorities. Equipment on board the train then enforces this, preventing unsafe movement. PTC systems will work in either dark territory or signaled territory and often use GPS navigation to track train movements. The Federal Railroad Administration has listed among its goals, “To deploy the Nationwide Differential Global Positioning System (NDGPS) as a nationwide, uniform, and continuous positioning system, suitable for train control.”

The project involved the collection of Mobile LiDAR using the Riegl VMX-250 as well as forward-facing video to support PTC Asset Extraction.  The system was mounted on a Hi-Rail vehicle and track access was coordinated through the master scheduler with the Railroad company.  Once we had access to the tracks, we had one shot to make sure the data was collected accurately and we had complete coverage.  All data was processed on-site to verify coverage and we had a preliminary solution by the end of the day that was checked against control to verify absolute accuracies.  We collected the 10-mile section of rail in about 2 hours and this timing included a couple of track dismounts required to let some freight trains move on through.

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The following graphics illustrate the point cloud coverage colored by elevation (left) and Intensity (right).

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Mapping the rails in 3D was accomplished by developing a software routine designed to track the top of the rail and minimize any “jumping” that can occur in the noise of the LiDAR data.  Basically, a linear smoothing algorithm is applied to the rail breakline and once it is digitized the algorithm fits it to the top of the rail.  The following graphic illustrates how this is accomplished – the white cross-hairs on the top of the rail correspond to the breakline location in 3D.

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So, back to the discussion about Airborne PTC vs Mobile PTC data.  Here is a signal tower collected by Airborne LiDAR.  The level of detail needed to map and code the Asset feature is lacking, making it difficult to collect PTC information efficiently without supplemental information.

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The next graphic shows the detail of the same Asset feature from the mobile LiDAR data.  It is much easier to identify the Asset feature and Type from the point cloud.  In addition to placing locations for the Asset feature, we also provided some attribute information that was augmented by the Right-of-Way camera imagery.  By utilizing this data fusion technique, we can provide the rail company with an accurate and comprehensive PTC database.

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This graphic shows how the assets are placed in 3D, preserving the geospatial nature of the data in 3D which is helpful when determining the hierarchy of Assets that share the same structure.

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One last cool shot of a station with all of the furniture, structures, etc that make it up – pretty cool!

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Mobile LiDAR and Cross-Slope Analysis

DTS/EarthEye just completed a 9-mile mobile LiDAR scan of I-95 here in Florida and provided one of our partners with cross-slope information in a period of days.   The data was collected with our buddies at Riegl USA using their VMX-250 mobile LiDAR.  This information will be used to generate pavement resurfacing plans for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

This project shows the value that this type of project can provide to the end user on both sides of the fence.

First, the paving contractor can use this data to develop their 30% plans for submittal to FDOT when bidding on a resurfacing or re-design contract.  Having accurate and relevant data related to the roadway’s characteristics gives the paving contractor an edge over the competition because they know what the field conditions are before preparing an over-engineered design specification.  This happens all of the time because the detailed field conditions are unknown while they are preparing their plans and they only have historical information to work from.

On the other side of the fence resides the FDOT.  They can benefit from this information because if they can provide this detailed information as part of a bid package, they can reap the benefits that are gained from better information.  If all contractors have the detailed as-built information (or in this case, accurate cross-slopes), they can all prepare their submittals using the same base information.  This will provide the FDOT project manager with more accurate responses based on true field conditions, resulting in more aggressive pricing and decreased project costs.

Here are some screenshots of the information.

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LiDAR Data Viewed by Intensity and Corresponding Cross-Slope Profile

Once the data has been collected and calibrated, we generate cross-slopes at a defined interval and export those out as 3D vectors.

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These vectors are then symbolized based on their cross-slope percentages and exported as a KML file for ease of use.

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Although this is a pretty simple step, the presentation of the data in Google Earth makes it easy for the end-user to visually identify problem areas and design the corrective actions according to field measurements.

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Pavement Management for Cities/Counties

I just spent a great week in Klamath Falls, OR training their staff on pavement management techniques with our Engineer, Will Cook.  We deployed an asset management solution for their Pavement, Curb & Gutter, and Sign infrastructure.  We were able to determine the amount of funding necessary to keep their pavement network at steady-state and how fast it is deteriorating at their current funding levels.

Believe it or not, most agencies have no idea what they own, what it is worth, and how much funding they really need to maintain it at a specific level-of-service.

Inventory

It all begins with a Network-Level inventory of everything which gives us an idea of what they own.

Condition Assessment

Then, we need to know what its condition is.  We use this data to help prioritize assets for repair and rehabilitation.

Budgeting

Once the prioritization is complete, we apply budgeting scenarios to determine what gets fixed and when.  This leads into Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) development which evolves into an agency’s work program.

This discussion makes it all sounds easy, but at this point, it is imperative to have the local subject-matter-experts make real-world decisions on what to really do.  We’ll never rely completely on computer modeling to make these decisions, but they do help with a lot of the heavy lifting involved with managing large asset networks.

I will be posting a few articles next week detailing this process with some case studies of clients who I have worked with in the past…Stay tuned!