The Evolution of Public Works

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In celebration of the PWX 2021 Conference in St. Louis this week, we invite you to jump back in time with us as we track a few notable innovations used by Public Works teams across the nation to become safer, objective, and more efficient!

First Electric Traffic Signal Debuts in Cleveland, Ohio

Right of way wasn’t always a thing! Traveling to your destination was a hodge-podge of people, horses, motor vehicles, and bikes. Thanks to the first electric traffic signal designs of James Hoge of Cleveland, Ohio, cities were able to navigate the chaos of growing populations while they developed a more robust traffic control system.


Traffic Begins on America’s First Superhighway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened and impressed the country by having no cross streets, railroad crossings, or traffic lights. Not only that, it also boasted 7 miles of tunnels, 11 interchanges, 300 bridges and culverts, and 10 service plazas.

The superhighway stretched 470 miles, from the Ohio border towards Scranton and Philadelphia, by the mid-1950s.

Construction of Rural Roads Expedited by the Use of the First Concrete Pavement Slipforms

Highways and roads in Iowa were in desperate need of repair. In 1946, Iowa Highway Commission engineers conceptualized a mix with increased cement that could be vibrated into place by a machine and eliminate forms, which typically acted as a template for the road building process. 

The first concrete pavement made using slipforms was built in O’Brian and Cerro Counties, Iowa. This technology continued to evolve and develop into more advanced machines. The use of slip forms had many advantages - namely, reducing construction times, labor, equipment, waste, and improving smoothness. 

Large-Scale Mapping Of Resources with GIS

Geographical Information Systems are put to use everyday in public works. We owe their existence to Roger Tomlinson, who was the first person to implement digital mapping systems at a large scale.  

U.S. Begins Public Transportation Revolution

UMTA started to make massive strides in the 1980s with the development of Advanced Group Rapid Transit Systems (AGRT).  Their R&D focus was on using testing sites, namely in Seattle and Denver, to figure out what methods and technology performed best. The major elements of the program included Automated Guideway Supporting Technology, New Systems Alternatives, Advanced Group Rapid Transit Systems (AGRT), and the Downtown People Mover (DPM). 

Drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) First Authorized for Commercial Use Tip the Wire for Automation Digitalization

Drones have been used since the 1800s, but not in the way you’re thinking! Rather, balloons, torpedoes, and aerial targets were used as an innovation of war. Throughout WWI and WWII, advancing versions of unmanned torpedoes and planes were common. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the US Military started developing their drone technology more seriously.

This technology was mainly used for military purposes until 2006, when government agencies found they could be used for disaster relief, pipeline inspections, border patrol, and pest control on farms. It took another 10 years for drones to “boom” within infrastructure adjacent industries like construction, engineering, and public works. 

Wastewater Treatment Options Become Modernized

Ammonia Recovery Technologies were emerging in 2013, and the EPA cited: “This new process of recovering ammonia in wastewater treatment (ARP) uses significantly less gas volume and operates at a lower temperature, vacuum distillation systems have a much smaller footprint and power requirement than steam or hot air stripping. In addition, established methods of ammonia removal are significantly less when compared to the 90% that is removed/recovered with vacuum distillation.”

Artificial Intelligence Optimizes Asset Management

The use of computer vision to identify where infrastructure asset improvements can be made reduces the amount of man power and time needed from public works to maintain local community assets.

The use of geospatial data can be paired with artificial intelligence algorithms to make mapping and maintaining a wide variety of assets an easy feat- like with our own AgileMapper.

New technologies and tools arise from a need to solve challenges. Public works has its own set of challenges, and we’re proud to work with communities to help them make data-driven decisions.

If you’re as interested as we are in leveraging modern advancements in public works, stop by PWX 2021 booth (#1113) in St. Louis, and let’s chat! If you can’t make it to St. Louis, click over to our Virtual Booth


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