Equipment Type

Employee Contest Yields Innovative Solutions at IDOT

Warning light, plow jack fitting among ideas to save money, improve operations

April 02, 2018

The Illinois Department of Transportation recognized 10 finalists last week for the agency's Operations Innovative Ideas Contest, a new in-house initiative to encourage creative problem solving that results in improved service for the traveling public and potential savings for taxpayers.

More than 100 ideas were submitted to IDOT’s internal selection committee. Submissions were evaluated by size and scope of problem, creativity in coming up with a solution, ability to be implemented statewide, and potential to save time, money or other valuable resources for the state.

“Our vision is to be the country’s most innovative state department of transportation. Listening to the talented people who do important work for our agency every day is one of the best ways to reach that goal,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. “Our employees maintaining the state’s highways see opportunities to do better all the time. This contest encourages them to turn their ideas into inventions that make their jobs easier, with even the smallest ideas having the potential to make a big difference in the service we provide.”

First Place Winner: Riverton Maintenance Yard

The winning entry came from the IDOT's Riverton maintenance yard for developing a warning light that can be installed on truck beds. Facing the cab, the light will help alert plow drivers if the bed is raised, avoiding collisions with bridges and overpasses. 15-year IDOT employee and the temporary lead worker Brian Mendenhall said his team’s idea is simple: Install a $20 light that drivers can see to know they’re able to clear a bridge overpass.

“District 6, in the last four years, has had three trucks hit either a bridge or a sign structure, totalling out the trucks,” Mendenhall said. “And between the trucks and the bridge repair on top of that, you’re talking in excess of $200,000 or greater.”

That idea came in first place, and the Riverton team will get the equipment equivalent of a new skid steer loader, a cost Mendenhall said could be up to $150,000.“This will be able to update us and get things to a newer technology and newer attachments and things that we use,” Mendenhall.

1st Runner Up: Morton Maintenance Facility

The first runner-up was the Morton IDOT maintenance facility for inventing a bracket that be can be fitted to a jack for installing plow blades, making the task safer and reducing the chances of injury. The second runner-up was the Towanda maintenance yard for creating a shield for costly road temperature sensors on trucks with simple parts that can be purchased at any home improvement store for $10 or less.

2nd Place: Peoria District 4

Second place was Peoria-based District 4’s jack attachment for installing a plow blade. Operations and Maintenance Field Engineer James Bell said the tool will help cut down on workers’ compensation costs.

“Any time we can come up with any type of way that we can do the work a lot easier and a lot safer, we’re going to explore those,” Bell said. The Peoria team will get $10,000 in new equipment.

3rd Place: Towanda Maintenance Yard

Third place was IDOT District 5’sTowanda maintenance yard team with a PVC piping cover for truck outdoor temperature sensors. The cover keeps the $300 sensor safe from being fried during hot-water truck washes.

“It’s basically under [$8],” District 5’s Billy Burris said of the cover. “And the thing's going to last five years and it works on every truck we have and it’s very portable. Any yard can make it probably with the stuff they have in the yard already, so it’s very cheap.” Burris’ crew won a catered lunch.

Other finalists included:

  •  Schaumburg Bureau of Maintenance: New lead worker training
  •  Amboy maintenance facility: Safer process for replacing plow blades
  •  LaSalle maintenance facility: New inductor to safely mix and load chemicals in large spray tanks
  • Decatur maintenance facility: Visual indicator for when a plow’s salt spreader is spinning
  •  Troy maintenance facility: New cost-effective inductor system for making hot brine
  •  Marion maintenance facility: Safer and more efficient process for spraying pesticides by mounting a spray rig to a snow plow
  •  Day Labor unit (Springfield): Invention to safely guide truck drivers towing compressor units

Governor. Bruce Rauner has encouragedBlankenhorn and other agency directors to find creative ways to make government more efficient. He says there’s no better way to do that than by tapping into the knowledge and experience of talented employees.
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