York, Maine, Plans Installation of Underground Sensors to Predict Potholes

The new infrastructure system uses ground-penetrating radar sensors to provide a picture of not only of the road surface but the underlying system supporting the road down to 18 inches into the ground.

by Deborah McDermott, Portsmouth Herald, N.H. / August 25, 2016

(TNS) -- Tired of potholes in the spring? Concerned about that ever-widening crack in the pavement on the road outside your house? Wondering when the public works crew is going to do something about the condition of your road?

York’s Department of Public Works is doing something about these situations, in a proactive, high-tech way that will put York on the road to recovery in the next few years, said director Dean Lessard.

The town recently signed a three-year contract with StreetScan, a new Burlington, Massachusetts-based company that uses ground-penetrating radar sensors to provide a picture of not only of the road surface but the underlying system supporting the road down to 18 inches into the ground.

“With this technology, we can objectively look at what are the best roads and what are the worst roads in town and prioritize our work accordingly,” Lessard said. “This can give a very accurate reading to help us.”

StreetScan is the commercial end result of an $18.9 million research project at Northeastern University funded by the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s Technology Innovation Program. TIP sought a technological answer to the country’s aging road infrastructure.

The university created the system ultimately acquired by StreetScan in April 2015, in what marketing and sales manager Stan Karlin called “the largest engineering project ever undertaken by Northeastern.”

During the middle of August, a StreetScan van came to York and has covered every inch of the town’s roads using the radar sensors attached to the front and back of the vehicle.

According to Michael Cavanaugh, the field engineer who was in York, surface radar sensors on the back of the van are looking at the condition of the pavement, where there are potholes, where there are cracks. A microphone set up above the rear tire is picking up the noise of the road, looking for variations in sound. At the front of the van, the ground-penetrating radar is recording conditions underneath.

“If we have poor gravel underneath the surface, we wouldn’t necessarily know that. This is going to help us make better decisions,” Lessard said.

All of this information – “terabytes of data, more than you can imagine,” said Karlin – is fed into a secure computer system and then backed up. This information is then made available to the town. Karlin said the town’s GIS software meshes with the software StreetScan uses, so there will be a smooth transition in terms of the town being able to access the information.

Ultimately, said Lessard, it should be possible for any town resident to access the GIS system and look at the same information the town has.

Lessard, a former Maine Department of Transportation employee, said MDOT and the Maine Turnpike Authority have had a similar system for years and he found it very helpful. He said he’s been waiting for something available to municipalities.

The town will actually own the data, and pays StreetScan a user fee to access it.

Selectmen recently approved a three-year, $94,000 contract with StreetScan, at a cost of $40,000 the first year, $30,000 the second year and $24,000 the third year. At the end of that time, said Lessard, the town would likely begin the process all over again.

Karlin said the major benefit of the StreetScan system is that it will target taxpayer dollars to those roads that really need work.

“Everyone has budget issues and spending money wisely is important,” he said.

©2016 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs