In order to ensure the safety and efficiency of infrastructure projects, transportation officials should listen to the communities that their projects are meant to serve. Virtual public involvement (VPI), an Every Day Counts (EDC-5) initiative, provides state DOTs and local agencies with innovative tools and solutions to engage with their community as well as receive feedback on a project, program or study. Using this method, the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) collaborated with Iowa State University to create an open to the public, virtual reality (VR) simulation of the I-74 Mississippi River Bridge replacement project.
Integrating Global Positioning/Navigation Satellite Systems (GPS/GNSS) with e-Ticketing software has created persistent connectivity issues for state DOTs who use the technology to track delivery trucks. To solve this problem, Iowa DOT worked with their Construction Management System (CMS) stakeholders and e-Ticketing vendors to pilot a new delivery tracking technology. This innovation uses visual data in combination with the agency’s e-Ticketing software.
Using VR Technology to Engage with the Community
Iowa DOT, in collaboration with Iowa State University’s Reality Applications Center and Institute for Transportation, developed a VR demonstration of the I-74 Mississippi River Bridge renewal project. As one of the emerging VPI applications, VR is a computer-generated virtual environment that allows users to experience a location without being physically present at the scene. This technology enables transportation professionals to share their ideas and engage with the public during project demonstrations. Iowa DOT used the VR demonstration to engage with the community and collect their feedback. This input further shaped the agency’s plans for the upcoming bridge project.
Iowa residents were encouraged to use the software to observe, advise and provide feedback on the proposed project. Using either a headset or computer screen, users experienced the bridge’s new design in different and immersive ways. Users could virtually view the bridge by flying or driving over the bridge, walking along the pedestrian walkway or observing the picturesque view from its deck. The agency made the demonstration available to Iowa residents at multiple locations across the state. Moreover, they used the technology to host public meetings and presentations about the Mississippi River Bridge project.
Additionally, to raise awareness of the marine wildlife directly below the bridge, the demonstration included educational information about the Mississippi River environment. With the VR device, users could dive into the water and collect mussels while listening to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist provide more information about the species.
Compared to traditional methods such as two-dimensional (2D) drawings, VR demonstrations make it easier for the public to experience and explore a new design, compare alternatives and offer feedback through an interactive virtual experience. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), early and strong public engagement can accelerate project delivery by helping point out and address public concerns, thus reducing the risk of potential delays from unknown interests late in the project delivery process.
The Iowa-bound side of the Mississippi River Bridge was opened to motorists in November 2020, and was officially dedicated on December 1, 2021. Most recently, the pedestrian and bike path were opened to the public in April 2022.
Two Innovative Solutions are Better than One
Historically, highway and roadway projects have involved paper tickets and wet-ink signatures, resulting in data entry errors and redundant work. By implementing e-Ticketing, many state DOTs have increased efficiency and improved worker safety through reduced person-to-person contact during ticket transfers. However, the integration and usage of GPS/GNSS with e-Ticketing technologies has created challenges for transportation agencies who use the software to track delivery trucks. These problems are a result of data transfer, ownership, and connectivity issues.
To help solve this problem, in 2019 Iowa DOT partnered with their CMS stakeholders and e-Ticketing vendors to develop a new delivery tracking technology using visual data. This new software uses cameras at the plant, as well as on the equipment at the site to track and record each delivery using license plates, tags and other predetermined identifiers.
One year later, the agency began piloting the new delivery tracking technology in conjunction with their e-Ticketing solution. By combining two technologies and efforts, the e-Ticketing vendor and visual data vendor were able to merge their features and equip the agency with an innovative solution accessible through a mobile application. The solution also provides contractors with data analytics, fleet management and cycle timing.
Iowa DOT, FHWA