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South Dakota Department of Transportation
Project Synopsis

Title: Automated Road Closure Gate Needs Assessment and I-90, Exit 67 Electric Actuator Project
Project Researcher: Christina Bennett, Office of Research
Project Manager: Jon Becker
Research Period: 9/27/2002 - 6/30/2003
Cost: $34,000.00

Problem Statement: Road closure gates currently used by the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) are comprised of a gate, which is hinged to a post. These gates are used to close roads to vehicular traffic during hazardous travel conditions brought on by inclement weather (i.e., snow storms, ice storms, etc.). Deployment of these gates requires having SDDOT personnel manually swing the free end of the gate out across the roadway. Snow and ice accumulations on the roadway and on and around the gate can make gate deployment difficult. Poor visibility and slippery conditions, which typically accompany the need for road closure, can make this deployment dangerous to SDDOT and law enforcement personnel. At times, road conditions do not allow SDDOT personnel an opportunity to safely deploy the gates. A change in the road closure gate design, along with the ability to automate deployment of the gate, may reduce the labor and danger associated with using road closure gates. A needs assessment is required to determine the appropriate gate configurations and level of sophistication at the various road closure sites around the state and to what extent automation is warranted at the various sites.

A project testing the mechanical and operational reliability of electrically actuated drop-arm style closure gates is needed to determine if this type of gate would be a superior design when compared to the existing manual swing style gates. ThomTech Designs, Inc. has an actuator system that is used to retrofit drop-arm style gates. The system attaches to the existing gate assembly and replaces the manual hand winch used to raise and lower the arm with an electric linear actuator. The system also includes a wireless switch kit to activate advanced warning flashing lights and a handheld remote control device programmed to operate the individual gates and the advanced warning light system. It is proposed to install actuators on the gates that will be installed on the eastbound gates of Interstate 90, Exit 67, Project IM-P-90-2(71)66.

The needs assessment portion of the research project will focus on determining the appropriate configuration for a gate system at the existing sites statewide. While reviewing the site configuration, the benefit of automation will be evaluated. Automation of road closure gates could range from simple handheld remote control units that could be operated from a vehicle to sophisticated systems including Internet control of gate operations, advanced warning signs and real time video cameras.

Findings: Nearly all of South Dakota's road closure gates were installed in the early 1980's and few modifications have occurred to the gates since the original installations. This study examined possible changes to South Dakota road closure gates, including ways that automated features might be incorporated to make intended functionality more amenable. The ultimate goals of the project were to improve road closure gate operations and minimize the safety concerns for SDDOT maintenance personnel at road closure sites. The study required an overall assessment of road closure sites around the state to determine the performance issues surrounding existing gate configurations. The study then proceeded to relate what types of modifications might be warranted at each of the various sites, along with an assessment as to the extents that automation might be introduced. Reviews of literature focusing on state-of-the-art road closure equipment, various methodologies to perform road closures, and the dictates that frame the performance of road closures resulted in the accumulation of a variety of material on the subject. The research efforts to perform detailed assessments of road closure sites on a statewide basis were performed through in-depth surveys of maintenance personnel at SDDOT Area Offices. Other information was gathered through on-site visits to road closure locations both in-, and out of the state. To facilitate the analysis efforts of the automated aspects, an actual installation of electrically actuated drop-arm style gates was performed for testing and evaluation purposes. The "test installation" was meant to evaluate the reliability of the design, mechanical, and operational characteristics of this type gate in comparison to similar characteristics found in South Dakota's existing swing-type gates. The investigations of South Dakota's existing road closure gate systems and their functional performance led to conclusions that the currently used gates do need to be replaced. However, the history collected on the existing gates frequency of use turned out to be a primary piece of evidence that indicated the gate replacement alternatives should not include very high costs, be greatly sophisticated, or include very extensive levels of automation. Study findings eventually led to conclusions that the implementation of basic, low cost equipment configurations at South Dakota road closure sites would be the best overall approach. Recommendations for alternative site treatments at the various road closure locations are based on criteria that strongly evidenced this strategy. However, research findings also indicated the SDDOT will need to ensure that applicable laws, policies, and procedural definitions for the performance of road closures in the state are closely adhered to during the implementation efforts.

Research Objectives:
1  Install electric actuators on drop-arm style road closure gates proposed on eastbound Interstate 90, Exit 67 project.
2  Evaluate the operational and mechanical functionality of the electric actuator and handheld remote activator device.
3  Conduct a needs assessment of existing road closure gate locations to determine optimum gate configuration and applicability of future automated operation.

Research Tasks:
1  Conduct a review of literature pertaining to remote controlled road closure systems that meet FHWA standards.
2  Meet with the technical panel to review the project scope and work plan.
3  Develop a conceptual plan for actuator installation on Exit 67 gates and monitor installation of equipment for Exit 67 gate actuators and advanced warning signs to ensure that installation meets the project plans.
4  Develop an evaluation plan for the gate system that addresses costs, reliability and operational performance.
5  Develop an inventory of existing road closure gates sites, including gate style, number of gates, and available infrastructure.
6  Interview and record observations from area engineers and maintenance supervisors regarding existing closure gate usage. Past operational issues, recommendations for improvements or additional closure gate needs within their area of responsibility s
7  Briefly, summarize existing road closure policies. Discuss possible changes in policies or road closure procedures if automation is introduced to the road closure gate sites.
8  Develop a list of site criteria, required infrastructure, and costs for optimum gate configurations at existing closure gate sites to be reviewed and approved by the technical panel. Site criteria will include recommendations on equipment needed for
9  Prepare conceptual plans based on the literature review for various technically feasible closure gate system automation options, including handheld remotes, modem control, or website controlled system. The conceptual plan should include a statewide
10  Prepare a final report summarizing research methodology, findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The report shall also include various gate configurations drawings and schematic figures as well as basic costs of the various closure gate options.
11  Make an executive presentation to the South Dakota Department of Transportation Research Review Board at the conclusion of the project.

Documents Available:

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