QR Codes Speed Traffic Signal Repair Response, Improve Accuracy
January 27, 2016—When Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) electrician Owen Werth gets called about a malfunctioning traffic signal, it’s not always during daylight hours, and less often during good weather.
Sometimes the problem, and the solution, are evident and easily remedied. The trouble arises when the electrician needs more information in order to get the signal operating correctly again.
In the past, MDOT electricians and traffic and safety engineers have stored paper copies of relevant documents in signal cabinets for access during repairs or updates. These might include signal timing permits, the documents outlining signal operations and timing phases used to program the signal, plan sets, and sometimes cost-sharing agreements with local agencies for the electricity bills and maintenance costs.
That method has a couple of drawbacks. For one, the paper copies, despite being largely shielded from the elements, get damp and deteriorate or are sometimes chewed by mice. More importantly, the signal permits can expire or be modified, and staff weren’t always certain that the paper copies in the cabinet were the most current versions. And 3 a.m., in the pouring rain or in the middle of a blizzard, isn’t the best time or conditions to make that determination.
Electronically, the same information resided across three places: ProjectWise, a centralized server for design, construction and operations information; SafeStat, a program for traffic signals; and an MDOT internal server.
Remotely, the electricians didn’t have access to ProjectWise, so the traffic and safety engineers needed to print copies and bring them to the site. SafeState could be accessed remotely, but could take 45 minutes to open the program, log in, and retrieve the plans.
“It was wasting a lot of time,” Bodell said. “We determined that the best way was to have all of the information in a centralized location, accessible with little effort while in the field, through the internet.”
North Region Engineer Scott Thayer challenged Bodell and Werth to figure out a better method. Inspiration to use QR codes came from the State Transportation Map, which uses the codes to lead travelers to the MDOT home page, the Pure Michigan campaign, the Mi Drive travel information site, and other locations online. Bodell contacted MDOT’s Mapping and Media Services unit for guidance on creating the codes, which can be developed using readily available applications.
Bodell was able to print and laminate copies for each of the 106 MDOT signal cabinets in Emmet, Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Antrim, Otsego, Crawford, Roscommon, and Ogemaw counties, and a “book” of codes for the electricians. Using a tablet or QR code scanner with a laptop, electricians and engineers can pull up the latest signal information, usually in about 90 seconds.
“We know the information is centrally located, where it’s easy to monitor for accuracy,” Bodell said. “There’s no confusion.”
The signal cabinets are locked, and the information is protected on a secure site requiring log-in credentials.
“It’s still secure, locked in the cabinet, and even if someone was able to get to the QR code, they can’t access the information,” Bodell said.
Through the same system, anyone working on the signal can fill out an online activity log, tracking what each staff electrician or engineer does each time they make changes, making the online information even more current than before.
“Knowing what’s been a problem and what’s been done to date at a location can help diagnose problems or rule out some concerns,” Werth said.
While the main benefits of the program are increased accuracy and speed, the cost to implement was minor. Bodell said he was able to design, produce and laminate the QR codes for less than $50.
MDOT’s North Region, which includes the 21 northern counties in the Lower Peninsula, is working on expanding QR code use in signals throughout the region, and MDOT’s statewide signals crew is looking at the system for statewide implementation. The department is also considering how other areas, such as construction, maintenance or signs, can incorporate QR codes.