The human element involved in transportation engineering is what drew MU senior Paige Martz to the field.
“You can plan a road that looks perfectly fine on paper,” Martz says. Once actual people start using the road, though, the game changes. Drivers can be unpredictable. “Someone goes and does something, and you say, ‘I didn’t see that coming.’”
For the past two years, Martz, a senior civil engineering major, has been researching the safety of diverging diamond interchanges (DDIs) that help regulate freeway traffic. She has been selected to share her analysis with members of Congress at the national Council on Undergraduate Research's Posters on the Hill event in Washington, D.C., April 22-23.
Nearly 500 students from across the nation applied for Posters on the Hill; only 60 were accepted.
While taking associate professor Praveen Edara’s introductory transportation-engineering class, Martz learned about opportunities available for undergraduates to conduct research. One opportunity was with Edara, who had been researching DDI design, among other alternative intersection designs, since 2003. At DDIs, lanes of traffic coming from two directions cross to the opposite sides of the road. The design offers safety benefits, such as decreasing left-hand turn accidents and reducing the chances of wrong-way ramp entry.
Edara approached the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) in 2013 with the idea of conducting research for the department on the safety of DDIs in Missouri. MoDOT agreed to sponsor the research, and a University Transportation Center grant from the United States Department of Transportation helped support the study.
Martz became the lead undergraduate researcher on the study, working alongside graduate student Boris Claros.
Goals and Methods
“We wanted to see if they were actually safer,” Martz says of her team's work on DDIs.
To do that, Martz used information gathered from nearly 2,500 crash reports that occurred at freeway interchanges in the state of Missouri, comparing data from before and after DDIs were implemented. She compiled and analyzed data about traffic conditions and other crash characteristics, such as time of day, weather and road conditions.
Using the Empirical Bayes Method, Martz and Claros estimated expected crash frequency by combining a predictive model created from a set of guidelines and observed crash data. The findings were clear.
“DDIs are a lot safer,” Martz says. “We found that they reduce total crashes by about 40 percent. That’s a big deal.”
Missouri was the first state to build a DDI, opening one in Springfield in 2009. The state has the most DDIs in the country, with more than a dozen now operational. Columbia's DDI, at the intersection of Interstate 70 and Stadium Boulevard, opened in 2013.
“I like the idea that research of this kind affects a lot of people,” Martz says. “Everyone uses transportation, and everyone uses roads.”
In the Genes
Engineering runs in the Martz family. Her father, Erich, is a structural engineer and has worked on projects such as a 12,000-space parking garage in Detroit, a parking garage at the Charlotte International Airport, and the expansion projects of Kansas City’s Bartle Hall and Kemper Arena. He is currently working on renovations of Sun Devil Stadium, the home of Arizona State University’s football team.
“I saw what he was doing,” Martz says. “I always thought it was an option but wasn’t really sure until I came to MU. Now I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Mizzou Goes to Washington
Paige Martz is the ninth Mizzou undergraduate researcher to attend Posters on the Hill since 2005.
Mizzou undergraduate researchers are no strangers to Posters on the Hill. Eight other MU students have been selected to attend the prestigious event since 2005.
“Her poster is very well done,” Edara says, “which is not surprising, given how meticulous Paige is.”
Through Posters on the Hill, lawmakers gain a better understanding of the importance of undergraduate research. They have the opportunity to talk directly with the students affected by programs funded through federal agencies. Martz will have the chance to speak directly with members of Congress. She plans to schedule meetings with legislators from her home district.