Another Department of Transportation Sees the Light

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) certainly cannot consider a department-wide procedural change to be as simple as a “running an idea up the flagpole” and see if it flies. Nor will Pennsylvania’s massive highway department consider innovative technologies viable just because other states have been successfully using them for years.


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PennDOT is ranked as the fifth largest network of state controlled highways in the nation according to a 2016 annual highway report. Consisting of nearly 40,000 miles of state controlled roads that log an estimated 227,127,000 driver/vehicle miles annually. It stands to reason that one of the largest system of transportation in the United States has mounting concerns for the need to maintain the equally vast system of road drainage infrastructure collectively reaching the end of a life expectancy at an alarming rate.

PennDOT’s Bureau of Roadway Maintenance and Operations is aware of the road drainage infrastructure rehabilitation task at hand. The bureau conducts an annually rotating assessment of the condition of all storm drainage infrastructure that services it’s highway systems. Based on a risk assessment model that prioritizes the urgency for drainage pipe and culvert rehabilitation for each structure based on its water tightness, structural deterioration mode and risk of creating dangerous sink holes among others, PennDOT plans for the huge pipe maintenance task at hand. And then there is the ever-tightening maintenance budgets. Facing exponential growth in traffic volume, traffic safety concerns and political pressure to keep commuters moving without delays, PennDOT’s long-standing position on “dig-and-replace” as the optimal procedure for its infrastructure rehabilitation methods is currently being heavily challenged.

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It stands to reason that PennDOT’s “old school” position on road closures as a necessary evil to open-dig replacement of failing underground drainage structures are being re-evaluated. From a responsible management perspective, we can ascertain that the State Highway Department must know without a shadow of doubt that any new infrastructure rehabilitation technology be reliable, safe and provide optimal long term return on investment. PennDOT manages a Department of New Products and Innovations (NPI), whose sole task is to learn and understand the offerings of advancing technologies, test new materials, write and update specifications and determine product and material worthy of approval for department wide use under PennDOT’s stringent “Bulletin 15”, Qualified Products List for Construction.

In 2008, Abel Recon, a Pennsylvania-based trenchless infrastructure rehabilitation contractor servicing storm and sanitary sewer infrastructure markets of the Mid-Atlantic states, and Reline America, the Virginia based manufacturer of Alpahliner, full fiberglass composite cured-in-place-pipe liners cured with ultraviolet light (UV-CIPP), began an initiative to educate PennDOT on the benefits that fiberglass UV-CIPP could offer the department as an option to more efficiently tackle it’s huge undertaking of fixing it’s failing storm drainage pipes and culverts. The goal was to gain the PennDOT Bulletin 15 approval so that this UV-CIPP method can become a standard for statewide department use.

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Abel Recon general manager Hap Witmer has been involved with the PennDOT initiative from the start. PennDOT’s agency structure consists of 11 district administrative bodies, or engineering offices, spaced geographically across the state with a Central Office located in the state capital of Harrisburg. The department’s decision-making power as it relates to approval of qualified products (Bulletin 15) exists solely through Central Offices. Abel Recon’s Business Development staff saw an opportunity to assist PennDOT’s NPI research staff in producing field performance validation of certain trenchless pipe repair technologies by taking a “grass roots” approach toward getting these technologies into use within the state’s highway systems.

“By providing direct education to the district level engineering offices on solutions available to them through the utilization of our trenchless pipe lining materials, for very specialized or problematic situations, we felt we could prove the value and performance of technologies such as Alphaliner UV-CIPP,” says Witmer. “A pilot program so to speak.”

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District level managers can request the use of a certain material that is not currently approved in Bulleting 15 under a department procurement process known as “Special Provisions” if specific needs warrant. According to one district level construction manager for Highway Maintenance and Operations, “Our greatest obstacle in getting our underground drainage infrastructure fixed isn’t budgetary anymore, but rather dealing with the public’s harsh push-back from being delayed in their daily commute. Inevitably long duration lane closures go hand-in-hand with digging up our drainage pipes under the streets to fully replace them.” That coupled with the high costs of repaving, right-of-way landscape reclamation and the safety concerns of diverting traffic in today’s over-congested highways means trenchless pipe lining such as Alphaliner will inevitably generate department demand.

Over the next several years. Abel Recon would successfully meet the pipe rehabilitation needs of PennDOT through many Special Provision contracts. These involved installing Alpaliner in failed storm drainage pipes ranging in all geometrical shapes and sizes from 12 to 48 in. diameters with capabilities up to 60 in. in diameter. The various district level problems being addressed with the Alphaliner include UV-CIPP lining for emergency sinkhole remediation on major interstates due large holes found in host pipes, general maintenance road resurfacing projects, which included lining of PennDOT owned storm drainage pipes that were found to be aligned near other underground utilities that were not owned by the department; that which would present a substantial risk of collateral damage to the other utilities if the dig and replace excavation method were to be used. Conversely, Alphaliner has been installed as an acceptable remediation for newly installed storm drainage pipes which fail to meet the stringent quality standards as put forth by PennDOT’s “100 Year Pipe Design” protocol for new roadway construction.

Abel Recon’s perseverance to provide the benefits of trenchless pipe rehabilitation options to PennDOT’s multiple districts level managers proved to be successful in driving demand for PennDOT’s Division of New Products and Innovations (NPI) to proceed with the approval process for the Alphaliner UV-CIPP under Bulletin 15 Qualified Product List. According to a research project manager from the NPI Division, “To proceed with the departments approval process, Alphaliner must prove standards in manufacturing, installation QA/QC, high physical properties, long term case history and repeatable end results,” among many others.

One of the features of the Alphaliner system that has been determined by the NPI department’s evaluation team to be a key factor in meeting its expectations is Reline America’s “Quality Tracker” quality control monitoring system. This Alphaliner curing system is manufactured by Reline America to be a complete integration and a key to maintaining a quality control link form the liner manufacturing, liner insertion and on to a completed full cure to meet Reline America’s high standards. The system controls, computes, advises and reports by CCTV cameras, speed sensors, pressure sensors and multiple infrared sensors which are designed into the curing light train. This light train will travel the entire length of the liner tube to cure and provide downloaded visual inspection in addition to cure verification data for every inch of the fiberglass composite liner. Because the Alphaliner fiberglass composite has been developed to provide third party tested physical properties which typically exceed those of corrugated metal, HDPE and concrete pipe, relative to round structural conduit design, the department has confidence in Alphaliner’s structural performance. Long-term performance has been presented and justified based on documented case history of more than 25 years of successful Alphaliner use from around the globe. This in addition to many years of successful interdepartmental district level use of this UV-CIPP technology has been recognized by the department.

Currently, PennDOT Bulletin 15 approval process of Alphaliner UV-CIPP stands at near completion.

Scot W. Snyder is business development manager at Abel Recon.