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Every Year, A Million-Dollar Van Inspects Vermont's Highways

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Bob Kinzel
/
VPR
The state of Vermont leases a high-tech van for 11 weeks a year, at a cost of roughly $200,000, to evaluate thousands of miles of state and local roads.

State transportation officials are using some new high-tech tools to help inspect the condition of roads throughout Vermont. And legislative leaders say the program helps the state target its transportation resources to those projects that are most in need of repair.

An oversized, white van pulls into a parking lot outside of the Statehouse. At first view, it looks like a vehicle that might be used by the C.I.A. It has six cameras and a GPS antenna mounted on its roof.

The driver slowly brings the van to a stop so that members of the House and Senate Transportation committees can check out the vehicle.

This million-dollar van represents a new way to inspect the condition of highways. The state of Vermont leases it for 11 weeks a year at a cost of roughly $200,000 to evaluate thousands of miles of state and local roads.

Ten years ago, an inspection crew could cover about six miles of highway a day. Using new technology, this van can analyze road conditions while traveling 60 miles an hour. This means it can often inspect as many as 300 miles of highway a day.  

The van is owned by the Ontario-based Fugro Corporation. Cory Hackbart, the company's project manager, says the newer technology is much more efficient.

Ten years ago, an inspection crew could cover about six miles of highway a day. Using new technology, this van can analyze road conditions while traveling 60 miles an hour.

"Old systems, you used to drive down the road … write what you find, bring it into the office, type that into the data base, export the information to the data base, load it into another analyzing software,” Hackbart says. “So, we're trying to take a lot of that first part, automatically putting this information into a data base and doing some of the summary in real time. So that's what this vehicle does."

Hackbart says the on-board GPS system precisely identifies where any road defects are located.

"If you wanted to know the cracking information, it will tell you exactly the mile point, it will tell you the size of that crack, the length of that crack, the type of that crack,” he says. “And that's important to determine the defects that are on the road." 

The van also shoots lasers from a machine embedded in its rear bumper to enhance the video pictures that are taken of the highway pavement.

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Credit Bob Kinzel / VPR
Currently, the van analyzes Vermont's roads on an annual basis, but some officials would like to have this work done twice a year in the future.

"New technologies now are actually using laser lines as the light source, so the pavement camera is taking an image of that light source; you get a nice clean-looking image and at the same time it's measuring depth of cracking,” Hackbart explains.

Colchester Rep. Pat Brennan, the chairman of the House Transportation committee, says the van provides the state with very valuable information.

"It tells us where best to put our dollars, and we get the best bang for our buck,” Brennan says. “Whether we need a leveling program or a complete reconstruction, this vehicle tells us pretty much everything we have to know about the condition of roads."

Currently, the van analyzes Vermont's roads on an annual basis, but some officials would like to have this work done twice a year in the future.

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