Testing the road before it’s built

Two recent Missouri S&T graduates used a driving simulator to help a civil engineering firm evaluate a new roadway design for the $18.6 million Route 160 widening project from Springfield to Willard, Mo.

Students David Doell and Matt DeMoss use a driving simulator to test roadway design before construction of Route 60 that will incorporate a round-about on a section of highway 60.

During their final year at S&T, David Doell, EMgt’19, and Matt DeMoss, CE’19, worked with Crawford, Murphy and Tilly Inc. (CMT), a civil engineering firm with an office in Springfield, which designed the expansion of Route 160 to widen it from two lanes to four and replace some intersections with roundabouts. The company completed the design for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

CMT invested $30,000 for S&T students to develop simulations of the existing and proposed roadway, using the driving simulator on campus, and test it with actual drivers. The firm decided to add the testing to establish a baseline of data on driver behavior for the existing roadway before and after the improvements.

“It’s a high-crash area with numerous fatalities in the corridor,” says Steve Prange, regional office manager for CMT in Springfield. “The corridor is a priority for MoDOT right now. There is a lot of traffic with younger drivers going from Springfield to Willard for high school. They’re young and inexperienced drivers that are traveling on a two-lane highway with a lot of truck traffic and intersections that make it challenging.”

Doell learned the technical side of running the driving simulator. He taught himself a coding language called Python to program the simulator on campus. DeMoss prepared and converted the design drawings from CMT for Doell to input into the simulator’s software.

Then they recruited 27 participants from ages 16 to 67 in the Rolla area to drive simulations of the current Route 160 and the proposed design of the roadway. They collected data about each volunteer’s driving habits as well as their verbal comments while driving the two routes.

DeMoss and Doell say this sort of simulation research could benefit
both engineers and departments of transportation.

“The simulator provides a viable option and a much cheaper way to evaluate the roadway and how it will interact with real drivers without having to spend millions of dollars to do so and having to go back and make changes afterwards,” says DeMoss.

“Especially with new ideas,” says Doell. “If they’re building another intersection, engineers have done quite a few of those, and they have data. But for something like the roundabout that’s new to this area, it helps a lot to have this simulation.”

Prange says a great benefit to the testing was the investment in the young engineering talent coming from Missouri S&T and giving them experience in design work. “The biggest benefit for us is the collaboration between the young students and our staff and our designers here and sharing the results
with MoDOT,” says Prange. “It’s been a great project.”

“The biggest benefit for us is the collaboration between the young students and our staff and our designers here and sharing the results with MoDOT,” says Prange. “It’s been a great project.”

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