Infrastructure

Township Leans on Tech for Paving Plan

Officials in North Huntingdon, Pa., are using technology that will allow them to more accurately identify roadways in need of repair.

by Joe Napsha, Tribune-Review / October 2, 2017
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North Huntingdon, Pa., officials determined which of their 160 miles of roads need the most work through the help of computer technology connected to a video camera.

“This saves a ton of time. It helps narrow the list so we can focus on the roads” that are most in need of repairs, said Ryan Fonzi, the township's associate planning director and mapping coordinator.

Fonzi was describing the work that Pittsburgh-based RoadBotics did this year to establish an interactive map of the municipality's road system, work that cost North Huntingdon about $6,000.

RoadBotics, developed four years ago at the Robotics Institute at Car­negie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, developed a smartphone-enabled system for diagnosing defects on roads. By using the latest advances in machine vision and learning, the company said the technology has the potential to identify road issues on a massive scale.

A demo on the RoadBotics website shows a map of the findings and detailed photos for a portion of the township roads. Defect areas are categorized on a scale of 1-5.

“This is cutting-edge technology. This has brought us up to the next level,” said Richard Albert, North Huntingdon director of public works. “We're getting a lot of accolades for being part of this.”

In the past, evaluating the condition of township roads to determine which should be paved first might have taken four months of driving around the municipality, a few hours every day, Fonzi said.

Crunching the numbers assigned to the conditions of each road — a necessary task to evaluate which are in the worst condition — might take another month, he said.

For RoadBotics, North Huntingdon was a pilot program begun in April 2016. A few roads were surveyed, and a cloud-based map was created.

To make a video view, an intern this year drove the township's 600 roads with a Wi-Fi-compatible camera mounted on the vehicle. Without the need to manually rate the roads while driving, it took two weeks to complete, Fonzi said.

“The benefit is you are getting a real accurate view of what the road conditions are,” Fonzi said.

The mapping will be used for planning the road paving program from 2018-22, he said.

Fonzi sees one limit of the RoadBotics computerized program. It shows the road surface but does not evaluate the condition of the road's base, he said.

The township's consulting engineer will review the low-rated roads as determined by RoadBotics to determine what more needs to be done after assessing their overall condition, Fonzi said.

The RoadBotics program has the advantage of dividing the road into segments, block by block, to further pinpoint bad spots.

“It is becoming a real helpful planning tool,” Fonzi said.

©2017 Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.