Animal Vehicle Crash Mitigation Using Advanced Technology Phase I: Review, Design and Implementation
Animal-vehicle collisions affect human safety, property and wildlife. The number of these types of collisions has increased substantially over the last few decades. This report describes the results of a project that explored the prospects for a relatively new mitigation measure to reduce animal-vehicle collisions: animal detection systems. Animal detection systems use ITS to detect large animals when they approach the road and to warn oncoming vehicles of their presence.
The report identifies existing animal detection system technologies and describes the selection of two experimental detection systems and their installation at two field sites:
- US Highway 191, in Yellowstone National Park, Montana. This site stood out because of its national visibility, representative terrain and vegetation (forested hills and mountains), the abundance of large mammals, and its proximity to the office of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University.
- Highway 22/322, near Thompsontown (northwest of Harrisburg) Pennsylvania (PA). This site ranked high because of the large number of animal-vehicle collisions; controlled access; limited fluctuations of deer populations; relative proximity to the vendor; and the terrain, vegetation and large animals seemed representative for eastern states.
This report documents experiences and lessons learned with planning and design, installation, operation and maintenance, test results on reliability, and user acceptance of animal detection systems.
Animal detection systems are relatively new; having yet to be deployed on a large scale at the national level. It is likely that common problems will surface which will need to be remedied. In order to mitigate emerging complications, deploying agencies need to develop a system that provides assurance that animal detection systems will be continually evaluated and maintained to the highest possible standard.
- Develop a thorough management plan after animal detection systems have become fully operational. A management plan should describe who owns the system, who is responsible for operation and maintenance, and at what moment a transition in responsibility takes place (i.e., date or condition of operation). The plan should also describe the procedures and list the contacts to report potential problems with the system. It should also specify who is responsible for addressing the problems within a certain time frame. The responsible organization should also check basic functions of the system on a regular basis to ensure ongoing functionality.
- The Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University (WTI-MSU) coordinated all phases of the animal detection system project and communication between project partners. WTI-MSU also prepared the management plan, signing plan contracts and other project related documents.
- Extensively test system components and specifications in environments similar to those experienced at potential animal detection system sites. The specifications of all components of the system should be checked and compared to specific requirements in the contract, including federal and state regulations, FCC regulations for radio signals, and maximum heights and break-away construction for objects placed in the clear zone. All system components should be designed to withstand their own weight, strong winds, heavy precipitation (including snow load and ice build-up), and in some cases, high humidity. The site specific design for the location of posts and sensors should pay special attention to curves, slopes, rises, low areas and vegetation in the right-of way to avoid "blind spots" where the sensors cannot detect the target species. All information, including product specifications and technical drawings, should be included in the engineering plan. The proposed site should be adequately surveyed to provide detailed data for equipment placement. In the case of a beam-break system, the maintenance of the proper beam height over the protected area is a critical factor. Final selection of equipment placement sites should be verified by an onsite electronic survey using a portable beam-break system. This intermediate step, taken prior to major construction, would validate the proposed layout, eliminating post-construction rework.
- Ensure proper resources are in place to conduct post installation monitoring. As with many newly deployed technologies, animal detection systems may suffer various problems after installation. It is therefore advisable to have the vendor monitor the system at the site immediately after installation. The vendor should provide a "punch list" describing individual problems, including status of the problem, proposed strategy to address the problem, and a time schedule. This list should be updated on a regular basis. It is important to continue coordination and to promote communication between the project partners during this phase. Vendors may not plan for the unexpected problems that commonly arise with these systems; therefore these requirements for post implementation monitoring and troubleshooting should be specified in the request for proposal.
- After initial installation at the Montana site, the animal detection system was faced with numerous technological challenges including: false detections, problems with communications interface, and limitations in changing detection thresholds. The required modifications caused delays which became even longer when the vendor began experiencing financial difficulties and could not afford to address the problems appropriately.
- Combine remote access with on-site visits to coordinate ongoing system maintenance. As technical challenges and dynamic natural conditions may reduce the reliability of animal detection systems, regular checking of the basic functions is vital. Remote access to the system to download and check detection data and potentially data on battery voltage and the output of solar panels may help simplify this effort. However, regular site visits will remain necessary to check components that cannot be assessed otherwise, for example, the functioning of the flashing warning lights and the presence of the warning signs. Other maintenance efforts may include a change in the management of the vegetation in the right-of-way (e.g., more frequent mowing or clipping), lower speed of snow plows to avoid physical damage to the equipment from snow and ice spray, and replacing faulty, damaged or missing equipment with spare parts. Telemetry data from the detection equipment can be used to determine the need for vegetation maintenance. The ability to quantify the overall system performance from logged data should be included to assist in evolving a maintenance plan which addresses current roadway conditions.
Because animal detection systems are a relatively new technology, evaluation and maintenance needs may be greater than other, established, ITS technologies. Establishing a thorough management plan will reduce the potential for confusion should a problem occur. Making sure vendors and/or agency staff are sufficiently able to monitor animal detection systems after they have been installed, will allow problems to be quickly identified and remedied. This can be facilitated by conducting regular on-site visits as well as utilizing remote access. This guidance helps to address the ITS goal of safety.