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Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration - Momentum Newsletter

A Winning Team

"Great moments are born from great opportunity. That's what you've earned here... One game; if we played them 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight... Tonight, we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can. Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world... This is your time. Now go out there and take it."

Those are the immortal words of Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 USA Ice Hockey team before the game against the Soviet Union. On the 40th anniversary of that historic event, I thought it appropriate to remember how a team built of college players from schools across the county beat the undefeatable professionals on the Soviet Union squad.

The individual players on that 1980 USA Ice Hockey team were no match for the talent, power and precision of their opponent. However, that TEAM had a singular focus, the commitment and the will to put the needs of each other above any individual accolades. They knew the name on the front of the jersey was more important than the one on the back. They communicated and worked for each other.

Being able to communicate our thoughts, opinions, and needs has always been important to our core mission.

Although we are not playing ice hockey against the Soviet Union team in 1980, we are muscling our way through a global pandemic and financial challenges, so communications are important now more than ever. That is why I hosted our first-ever online Town Hall Meeting on May 15. Thanks to our new technologies, we can now communicate with virtually any person from any place — and that's just what almost 1,000 of us did during the meeting.

The Town Hall gave me a chance to update you on many items related to COVID-19 and provided an opportunity for you to submit questions prior to and during the live event. Special thanks to Dr. Becraft and Joey Sagal for joining me during the event and to the many individuals who helped plan and coordinate this behind the scenes. It was a unique opportunity for us to share information and come together as the MDOT SHA Team!

Your feedback and questions were tremendous! From "how long can we telework?" and "what will you be doing to keep us safe when we re-enter our offices?" to "what are the economic impacts of the pandemic?" and "what should we do to protect ourselves and our coworkers?" – your questions were thought-provoking and I, for one, appreciate you voicing your opinions and concerns. To that end, we will be posting responses to your questions and a recording of the Town Hall meeting on the Intranet soon. You asked A LOT of questions and they're taking just a bit longer to get through than anticipated. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

I've always been a proponent of open and honest communication. I think our first stab at a virtual Town Hall Meeting went very well, and I expect that we'll be doing more of these in the future.

Thank you for your continued support and for doing what you do best – providing our customers with the essential services they've come to expect from MDOT SHA. You are the greatest state highway team in the world. Keep up the good work! Stay safe and healthy!

Tim Smith, P.E.
Acting Administrator

Tim Smith

Tim Smith

OMT Uses Machine Learning to Detect Data Patterns and Automate Image Recognition

Machine learning and neural networks let OMT analyze large amounts of data and make better decisions.

Machine learning and neural networks let OMT analyze large amounts of data and make better decisions.

You know a technology is really smart – and useful – when it can read information and then learn from it. The Office of Materials Technology (OMT) is working with the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to begin utilizing the technique of machine learning – which does all that – to distill useful relationships and data from extremely large historic data sets that would take a person forever to analyze.

Using tabular data sets, OMT recently enhanced its boring request tool with the ability to make predictions. Now, all boring requests have the added sophistication of predicting subsurface and scheduling information based on historic drilling data.

Subsurface exploration predictions include groundwater depth, infiltration rates, general soil type and blow counts. Project schedule predictions include permitting, drilling, lab testing and reporting based on the location and types of work requested. Equipped with this useful information, team members can anticipate expected field conditions before work starts and set a more realistic work schedule.

A related mathematical technology, the neural network, identifies images for computers using object recognition. OMT has begun analyzing annual roadway right-of-way imagery with neural networks for several purposes, including object identification and quality control of Automated Road Analyzer (ARAN) imagery. OMT Director Sejal Barot expects this technology to save time with asset identification and improve monitoring of geohazard risks, such as unstable slopes and sinkholes.

OMT, she says, is just scratching the surface of how it can use machine learning. Massive data sets, the bread and butter of machine learning, were once hard to generate. Now they are more easily compiled. Over time, as more data becomes available, machine learning models will analyze them and improve. These models will give MDOT SHA increasingly useful tools to support timely and informed decisions. OMT thanks its Field Manager Ross Cutts for working with staff and OIT to implement this new technology.

HAWK Beacon a First for AA County

HAWK Beacon a First for AA County

HAWK beacons are an important tool used by the Office of Traffic Safety (OOTS) to protect civilians on busy Maryland roads. This month, a new set of these traffic signals, only the second in the State, debuted outside the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library on West Street.

Unlike a standard traffic signal, the High-intensity Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) beacon's lights stay off until a pedestrian activates the beacon by pressing the "walk" button. When activated, the beacon flashes yellow, then changes to steady yellow, followed by steady red lights. Once the steady red lights appear, drivers must stop and pedestrians receive a walk indication. The steady red lights then change to flashing red lights. When the red lights flash, motorists must still stop, but may proceed with caution if no pedestrians are in the crosswalk.

HAWK beacon installation also includes sidewalk modifications to provide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramps and sidewalks on both sides of the crosswalk. A median refuge island with pedestrian signals and signage was built in the middle of MD 450, replacing a center two-way, left-turn lane at the crossing.

MDOT SHA and partnering agencies, including the Annapolis Police Department, Anne Arundel County Department of Transportation, Baltimore Metropolitan Council, the City of Annapolis and MDOT MVA's Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO), are teaming up to educate local residents about the new signal via signage, social media, and other outreach.

Unforseen Consequence: Lower Traffic Volumes, Increased Speeds Throughout the Region

Less congestion on highways is not an excuse for speeding.

Less congestion on highways is not an excuse for speeding.

Combine COVID-19, reduced highway congestion, increased speeds and, from time to time, inclement weather, and you get an unforeseen and unwanted consequence: serious collisions.

On April 30, a rainy day, four separate collisions involving tractor trailers took place on the Capital Beltway around Old Georgetown Road. The last one was a crash of a box truck and a tractor trailer. An increase in collisions attributed to speed have been reported across the State.

Maryland State Police (MSP) have been responding with extra enforcement. For example, from April 26-May 1, the MSP Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division and Rockville Barracks enhanced patrols on I-495 near Green Tree Road and I-270 in Montgomery County. The results weren't pretty. They issued 115 citations to motorists for driving 80-89 mph, 31 citations for driving 90-99 mph, and an astonishing 9 citations for driving more than 100 mph.

MSP initiatives across the state, including targeted enforcement at the junction of I-695 and I-70 in Baltimore County, produced similar results.

Across the country, officials are reacting.

"While COVID-19 is clearly our national priority, our traffic safety laws cannot be ignored," said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "Emergency rooms in many areas of the country are at capacity and the last thing they need is additional strain from traffic crash victims."

With traffic volumes expected to increase as restrictions across the country are easing, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other transportation organizations launched a #SafetyReminder campaign to secure the roads as drivers gingerly approach their normal routines.

Enforcement efforts also include the SafeZone work zone safety program, which is doing its part to discourage speeding. Speed detection cameras have been placed throughout the State within and near work zones. Violators will receive citations that include $40 fines.


For the local HS engineering aspirants who couldn't travel to this year's AASHTO TRAC Bridge Challenge, Tim Smith, Aaron Jones, and Chisa Winstead gave virtual congratulations on YouTube.

For the local HS engineering aspirants who couldn't travel to this year's AASHTO TRAC Bridge Challenge, Tim Smith, Aaron Jones, and Chisa Winstead gave virtual congratulations on YouTube.

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