Thursday, May 17, 2018

KDOT employee turns love of UAS into more than a hobby

AJ Wilson maneuvers his drone during a demonstration.
AJ Wilson spent $50 on his first drone.

“It was really junky,” Wilson admits about the purchase in January 2017.

So Wilson, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Area Engineer in Winfield, upgraded, buying a new model for just more than $1,000 — including replacement insurance.

“It’s become an expensive hobby,” Wilson says.

Flooding of the Ninnescah River in September 2016 is what inspired Wilson to look into getting his own UAS — unmanned aircraft system.

“You can’t visualize how big a flood it was until you can get up above it,” he says.

 Wilson used his drone during an emergency project to repair and replace steel pile jetties in the river, which runs close to U.S. 81. The steel piles help prevent erosion. He used the drone to make a new map every few days to show progress of the project.

Wilson uses his Mavic Pro for work and pleasure. He’s on his third version of his current model.

The first two became victims of trees. The camera broke in the first one when it got caught in a tree and fell out. The second fell out of a tree and into a river.

“So it’s not so much getting caught in a tree as it is falling out of a tree,” he says.

Wilson uses his drone for work. He makes maps, including elevation and 3-D maps. Drones can be used to calculate the volume of stockpiles and for survey work. Wilson is excited to serve on KDOT’s UAS committee. 

He’s also excited about the recent announcement that KDOT was chosen as one of 10 entities to participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, an initiative aimed at shaping the future of drones in America.

“I’m excited to hear about this selection,” Wilson says. “This will allow KDOT to be a big player in the conversation about drone integration into both the construction and maintenance of our highway infrastructure.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#IAMKDOT: Augie Carrillo

On his way home after working all day at a project, Agustin “Augie” Carrillo, an Engineering Technician Senior for District 5 in Winfield, encountered a family stranded on the road. Instead of driving by, he stopped to make sure their flat tire was changed safely.

That’s the kind of person Augie is, co-workers say.

The family was so impressed that they took a photo with him. Augie was still wearing his safety vest.

“He gives 100 percent – there’s no doubt,” Engineering Technician Specialist Robin Gregory said.

Diligent beyond measure, Augie is known as an expert about asphalt labs, Gregory said.
He works well with contractors and “always keeps the project manager informed,” she said.

Augie is in his 19th year at KDOT. His wife, Gianna, nominated him for #IAMKDOT, saying he is a “very hard worker and a wonderful husband and father.”

They have two children in their 20s, including a daughter who has Down Syndrome. Because of her, Augie “is an advocate for NOT using the R-word in a negative way,” Gianna said.

One of his biggest accomplishments involved the rebuilding of six bridges in two years. Augie was the inspector on site and also helped other employees with their senior progressions during that time.

During the bridge projects, Augie guarded over two killdeer nests until the eggs hatched and they left the nests.

Augie loves the Pittsburgh Steelers, fishing, hiking, camping and yard work – basically anything outdoors – and his 1964 Chevy truck.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Kansas aims to save lives with “Click it. Or Ticket.” enforcement

Kansas ranks towards the bottom one-third in seat belt usage among all 50 states. State and local law enforcement are working to improve this ranking by stepping up enforcement to crack down on motorists who aren’t wearing their seat belts as part of the Click it. Or ticket. seat belt enforcement campaign.

More than 150 law enforcement agencies across Kansas will be taking a no-excuses approach to seat belt enforcement as part of the national campaign that runs from May 21 through June 3, concurrent with one of the busiest travel and holiday weekends of the year.

“The Click it. Or ticket. campaign is about saving lives. We would be grateful if every occupant we observed was wearing their seat belt” said Ben Gardner, Kansas Highway Patrol Technical Trooper. “Our increased enforcement around Memorial Day serves as a reminder that wearing a seat belt is the easiest thing you can do to save your life.”

In 2017, nearly half of the 359 deaths from crashes in Kansas were not buckled. Young adults are dying at disproportionate rates because they are not wearing their seat belts in Kansas. In Kansas, 56 percent of 18-to-34-year old occupants killed in crashes were not wearing their seat belts in 2017. Male pick-up truck drivers between the ages of 21-34, and drivers in rural areas are among the top unrestrained fatalities.

“Seat belts save lives every day. But they only save lives when they are used and there are still many people in Kansas who don’t buckle up,” said Chris Bortz, KDOT Traffic Safety Program Manager. “Our goal is 100 percent compliance. It doesn’t matter where you go, drivers need to buckle up for every ride, every time because a deadly crash can happen to anyone.”

In 2017, Kansas seat belt usage was 82 percent, below the national average of 90.1 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From 2014 to 2016, seat belts saved nearly 41,500 lives across the country.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

KDOT announces selection to drone test program

Close up of a drone in the grass during the U.S. DOT's announcement that Kansas was selected to participate in the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. 

The Kansas Department of Transportation has been selected as one of 10 participants to participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, an initiative aimed at shaping the future of drones in America.
The UAS Integration Pilot Program is an opportunity for state, local and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration.

“This is a terrific opportunity to explore new ways to use this technology to reduce the risks to our workers during infrastructure inspections, search and rescue and remote area assessments,” said Secretary of Transportation Richard Carlson. 

Undersecretary of the U.S. DOT Derek Kan said that Kansas has been a trail blazer of aircraft design and that yesterday's announcement continues Kansas leadership in the aerospace industry.

Kansas submitted an outstanding proposal because it gave us a chance to work with a transportation agency that supports aviation innovation," Kan said. "The Kansas application will enable long distance-beyond visual line of sight operations over a large geographic area utilizing a state-wide Unmanned Traffic Management system."

Kan said there were two big reasons the application stood out.

"The proposal utilizes extensive in-state resources and a fantastic partnership with several key agencies. Most notably, a fiber optic network to support operations," Kan said. "Kansas has deployed a UTM system across the state. This system offers an airspace management dashboard that integrates with FAA radar data. The development of this UTM is particularly exciting for the agriculture sector— and agriculture, of course, is one of the most important industries that could be revolutionized by drone technologies."

Secretary Carlson, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann and other Kansas officials cheer when Kansas is selected to participate in the program. 
With about 140,000 miles of public roads, many in rural areas, Kansas is an ideal location to test the technology, which will benefit not only transportation but also agriculture and many other industries doing business in Kansas.

The program will partner with industry and local agencies to test the use of unmanned aircraft across a variety of applications that will help transportation departments operate more safely and efficiently, including assessing weather-affected roads, conducting bridge inspections with minimal impact to traffic and even locating and assisting stranded motorists more quickly.

Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann said that UAS impacts lives of Kansans today and that will only grow in the future. 

"Kansas has a deep history in aviation and we understand the existing UAS positively impacts our economy, and its future growth in Kansas represents a truly historic opportunity," Mann said. "The potential improvements and advancements of emergency response search and rescue will save lives both in rural and urban areas. UAS' likely effect on production agriculture will be huge. Decreasing costs and increasing yields are crucial for our farmers and ranchers as agriculture producers in Kansas and the farmers around America work to feed a hungry world."

The program is expected foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration and provide actionable information to the U.S. DOT regarding the expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

“KDOT strives to be on the cutting edge of transportation technology,” Carlson said. “We are always looking for better, more efficient ways to help make travel safer for Kansans, visitors and the commercial industries that depend on our roads.”

More information on the UAS Integration Pilot program can be found here

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Teens from across the state gather to learn about traffic safety

The Kansas Teen Transportation Safety Conference started out with a  video greeting from Trooper Ben Gardner and surprise guest, American actor Eric Stonestreet. Together, they welcomed a group of more than 200 high school students who attended the first day of the event in Topeka. The students are leaders of traffic safety programs at their schools.

Laykn Leigh, a sophomore from Ellsworth High School, said that the first day of the conference was very interesting.
"The conference was really eye-opening," Leigh said. "We plan on bringing a lot of information back to our school."
Students from Ellsworth High School snap a selfie with Trooper Ben Gardner. They were a few of the many students who attended the Teen Traffic Safety Conference in Topeka. (Courtesy photo)

The conference, which is sponsored by the Kansas Department of Transportation and AAA, is designed to share timely topics of interest to the transportation community. It is bringing students together to collaborate, develop their leadership and strengthen their communications and teamwork skills. Once they return home, they will then have the opportunity to educate their peers and communities about the importance of improving traffic safety behaviors.

Students from Goodland High traveled across the state to attend the first Kansas Teen Transportation Safety Conference. 
While at the event, traffic safety professionals and Kansas safety advocates will continue to have the opportunity to share with the students during interactive sessions. Scholarship opportunities from Stonestreet are being awarded during the conference. The event ends this afternoon. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mighty Sampson of the Cimarron stands tall

The Mighty Sampson of the Cimarron is a bridge that stands tall in Seward County. 
Built in 1888, the Rock Island Railway put Seward County and Liberal on the map.  The railroad stretched over the plains, providing Kansas with a gateway to the rest of the world and transporting goods in and out of southwest Kansas.  In stark contrast to the drought ridden plains and dry river beds common in southwest Kansas today, the Cimarron River, located between Kismet and Liberal, presented a problem for the railroad when it was built.  

The sand-choked, low lying creek was prone to flooding during heavy rainfalls.  The initial crossing was built near the town of Arkalon, where trains slowed to 30 mph to navigate the 3.5 miles of curves and trestles crossing the river. 

In 1937, floods washed out the first of three bridges built to cross the river.  The bridge was rebuilt in the same place, but on Aug. 18, 1938, the “Gold Ball” freight train proceeded across the bridge following a heavy rainfall.  Halfway across, the bridge, weakened by heavy rainfall and turbulent waters, disappeared and dropped the train and crew into the river.  

Floods washed out bridges in 1937 and the Gold Ball freight train attempted to cross the river but fell into the waters killing two and injuring four men. Thirty train cars sank to the bottom of the river. Courtesy photo from the Kansas Historical Society. 

Two men were killed, four men were injured and 30 train cars and the engine sank into the river.  Repairs began immediately, but on Sept. 5 the Cimarron flooded again and destroyed the Arkalon bridge for the second time.  While no trains or freight were lost, John Farrington, Chief Operating Officer for Rock Island, made the radical decision to reroute the railroad. He also decided to build a state-of-the-art bridge at a cost of $1.5 million, an unthinkable amount in 1938.

Plans to build a new bridge were developed after floods weakened the old bridges
Photo Courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society

In late September 1938, work began on the new bridge.  Over the next 10 months, crews moved five million cubic yards of earth to build the approaches for the new crossing. Caison-sunk concrete piers, built in the art deco style of the period, were placed on foundation 65 feet below the riverbed.  By the summer of 1939, steelwork was being built and the actual bridge spans began taking shape some 92 feet above the river bed. 

On July 8, 1939, at 2:35 p.m., Rock Island train #13 was the first to cross the new bridge.  According to Lidia Gray-Hook with the Seward County Historical Society, the bridge was completed just in time to provide the U.S. with a safe transportation system for supplies during World War II.  In fact, the bridge was so important to the U.S. that is was closely guarded during the war to prevent sabotage.

A close up view of this 80 year-old bridge.  Courtesy Photo.

Today, 80 years later, the Mighty Sampson of the Cimarron still stands, and is a majestic marvel that can be viewed by passersby on U.S. 54. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Building the future: KDOT attends iBuild, inspires future construction professionals

High school and middle school students had the opportunity to climb inside 
KDOT vehicles and see how they operate from the inside.
More than 1,000 middle school and high school students in the Kansas City Metropolitan area had the opportunity to meet with transportation industry professionals and learn about various construction industry careers at the iBuild Showcase that took place at Bartle Hall in Kansas City on Thursday, May 5. 

KDOT crew members shared what it is like to work for the agency, what they see on a daily basis in work zones, and how to operate the various equipment and vehicles. They encouraged them to pursue careers that will help keep Kansas infrastructure strong and the economy growing.

Students asked the crews how KDOT uses advanced technology to perform their jobs every day. KDOT employees were able to explain how sensors and computer programs help determine the right mixture of road treatments during winter weather.

KDOT is committed to strengthening and encouraging construction professionals well into the future. Many of our jobs offer training and can be filled by high school graduates. For more information on job opportunities check out our website: