Midlands Business Journal | July 3, 2015
"Technology aiding, but funding needed for Nebraska's transportation systems"
Mark Lutjeharms, P.E., PTOE, was featured in Midlands Business Journal's Transportation, Distribution and Warehousing edition.
The national news is increasingly dire in its overall assessment of our nation's infrastructure. The Midlands Business Journal asked for Schemmer's opinion of infrastructure in the Omaha metro, greater Lincoln and the Interstate system in Nebraska in terms of condition, ability to handle current and future traffic loads and shipping needs, as well as new technology and design/engineering at work in our firm as we work on these kinds of projects. To read the full article, please see the July 3, 2015 edition of the Midland’s Business Journal. Click "Read More" to see the full Q and A.
Q. The national news has painted a bleak picture about America’s aging infrastructure. What’s the picture here locally? How well are our roads, bridges and specifically Interstate system handling the ever-growing passenger and commercial traffic?
A. The condition of the transportation infrastructure in Nebraska, including the state’s largest cities Omaha and Lincoln, are similar to what is being depicted nationally. In short, transportation funding is not keeping up with the need for taking care of our existing infrastructure, not to mention building new roadways and bridges. Growing traffic volumes, including truck traffic growth, on local streets, county roads and Interstate highways continue to add pressure to the upkeep of these important components to our transportation infrastructure. Continuous research is being conducted to enhance ways of better preserving our roads and bridges under these increasing vehicle loads and environmental conditions, including treatments for icy conditions.
Q. What do you consider the most acute or pressing need when it comes to traffic management in Lincoln and/or Omaha? What puts this particular need at the top your priorities list and what would be gained by addressing this?
A. The most pressing need is getting the most out of our current infrastructure knowing that we can’t build our way out of all traffic safety and congestion-related problems. One of the more proven ways to address this need is continued and greater use of technology…what is referred to as ITS, or Intelligent Transportation Systems. This comes in all shapes and sizes but essentially, helps us utilize our existing infrastructure more efficiently. Examples include, but are certainly not limited to providing motorists with real time information to make decisions about their commute, adjusting traffic signal timings based on real time fluctuations in traffic volumes, and monitoring of road conditions during planned and unexpected incidents and weather events.
Q. Obviously, funding is always a primary driver of any improvements, including in traffic management. Given the relative lack of funding for new projects, what have been some strategies for improving traffic flow using existing roadways? Are there certain “refurbished” or “re-engineered” traffic techniques that can be/are being implement on existing roadways and if so what are they?
A. Infrequent updates to traffic signal timing at intersections contributes to traffic congestion and delay. Where-as conventional signal systems use pre-programmed traffic signal timings, Adaptive Traffic Signal Control technology adjusts traffic signal timings based on real-time changes in traffic volumes and patterns and ultimately, produces significant benefits in terms of traffic congestion. Adaptive traffic signal control technology is currently being used and/or in the planning stages in both Lincoln and Omaha.
Q. What kind of impact can addition/subtraction of traffic lights, better coordination of lights and other design/engineering elements have on “transition” areas, such as coming into and out of various neighborhoods and their associated pockets of stores, schools, etc.? Are these techniques more in vogue today?
A. Contrary to popular belief, traffic signals are not the panacea to all traffic safety, speed and access issues that face our growing communities. Generally speaking, intersections controlled by traffic signals have higher traffic rates than intersections controlled by other means. That is why I am a strong proponent for at least considering roundabouts when addressing a new project or traffic issues at existing intersections. While roundabouts don’t work in all situations, their ability to achieve significant safety benefits while at the same time, accommodating relatively high volumes of traffic are unmatched by any other traffic control solution.
Q. Finally, what do you see on the horizon that is going to have the most significant impact on traffic management in Omaha, Lincoln or statewide? Is there anything brewing at the state or local level in terms of legislation or economic development that will infuse some investment? Are there some civic development initiatives that you are particularly excited about? Or, is the picture in reverse and there are some not-so-positive milestones approaching? What’s the future?
A. The continued use of technology combined with increased infrastructure funding are key steps in addressing traffic management issues in Lincoln, Omaha and statewide. With the Nebraska Legislature recently passing LB610, which raises the state’s gas tax by six cents over the next four years, the state, counties and cities will be better able to address their multimillion-dollar backlog of needs for road and bridge repair and construction. By the time the legislation goes into full effect in year 2019, an additional $75 million will be available for infrastructure funding statewide. Although the passing of LB610 is a step forward, it only scratches the surface in addressing the gap between infrastructure funding and the growing list of needs.