Preventive care

Proactive monitoring along the transportation corridor
Coast Highway
Landslide damage on California Highway 1, where a 40-foot section collapsed into the Pacific Ocean.

Maintaining a world-class transportation infrastructure— highway, railway, and pipeline—is critical for the health of the US economy. Geotechnical assets are literally the foundation.

These geotechnical assets include embankments, cut slopes, tunnels, foundations, retaining walls, and more.

Current management practices for geotechnical assets along the transportation corridor often involve restoring the asset after any failure rather than identifying and remediating hazardous conditions before they occur. Since such assets are vast, and the cost and labor for manual monitoring are prohibitive, transportation agencies are not engaged in proactive monitoring.

Thomas Oommen believes that remote sensing from satellite, aerial, or mobile platforms using Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), or optical sensors could provide an economically-sustainable proactive solution. “Such sensors are not only capable of imaging the asset, but they also can be used to quantify precise measurements of movements in mm to cm scale over time,” Oommen explains. “The challenge involves relating these movement measurements to the condition of the asset in a meaningful way, and identifying which platform and sensor are most useful for different geotechnical assets in varying transportation environments—highway, railway, and pipelines.”

Oommen and his research team are attempting to address these challenges by imaging various geotechnical assets in different transportation environments. They are employing different sensors and platforms and relating their conditions to a remotely-sensed image. The team is also conducting lab-scale studies to understand the limitations of the various sensors.

“Aging infrastructure, changing weather patterns with more precipitation, and increased volumes of heavier and faster traffic have all placed a great burden on geotechnical assets along the transportation corridor,” adds Oommen. “Proactive monitoring is extremely important for strategic long-term investments and hazard prevention.”