An applied research project at UAB may help law enforcement curb the expensive and hazardous presence of illegally oversized and overweight trucks on the nation’s highways.

This project to install and test the latest-generation bridge weigh-in-motion system (B-WIM) on Alabama highways also will be the first use of this European technology in the United States.

In the simplest terms, a B-WIM system is analogous to using radar to measure speed. Sensors installed under the deck of a bridge transform the bridge into a portable platform weight scale, and real-time video technology can aid the user in identifying noncompliant overweight vehicles. A vehicle initially detected by the B-WIM system as a possible violator would be routed to a permanent or temporary weigh station to determine if the load complies with the law.

“Our highway bridges and pavement will last longer with less maintenance if the larger trucks comply with the size and axle-weight limitations established by law,” said Wilbur “Bill” Hitchcock, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering and the principal investigator on the project. “Unfortunately, full adherence does not occur voluntarily, resulting in the need for a comprehensive enforcement program.”

Implementation ahead
This is a project of the University Transportation Center of Alabama (UCTA). A multi-campus team of researchers from UAB, the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama in Huntsville will test and evaluate the potential extended use of B-WIM system technology in Alabama during the next 18 months.

The technology is produced by CESTEL, a company in Slovenia; its system was observed first in field operations by the touring Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) team members.

The research team is consulting with engineers in Slovenia to learn about how B-WIM technology is applied there and is collaborating with Alabama Department of Transportation representatives, worldwide technology experts, equipment vendors, trucking industry representatives and other stakeholders.

Several attributes have made this technology a priority for investigation by government and industry officials: It is invisible to traffic crossing the bridge; it can be installed without damaging the pavement or interfering with traffic; and it can be moved from one location to another without influencing accuracy of the results.

Field-testing at selected Alabama bridges is expected to begin in late 2007 and early 2008, Hitchcock said. During that time, data recorded from the equipment will be compared to actual measurements taken on the vehicles.

Successful use of B-WIM technology is expected to provide other benefits:
• Reducing the number of vehicles that must stop for weigh-ins will enhance productivity of compliant vehicle operators.
• Fewer stops reduce emissions created by deceleration, idling and acceleration of compliant vehicles.
• Overall road safety is improved by limiting unsafe and non-compliant vehicles.
• Data generated can be used to support pavement design, bridge/structural design, transportation planning and traffic safety.

Other UAB engineering faculty involved are project manager Fouad H. Fouad, Ph.D, department chair; Nasim Uddin, Ph.D.; Virginia Sisiopiku, Ph.D.; Jason Kirby, Ph.D.; and Talat Abu-Amra, Ph.D.