Illinois Tollway Wins FHWA Better Mousetrap Competition

The Federal Highway Administration selected the Illinois Tollway’s Roadway Electric Training System as one of the winners of its 2021 Build a Better Mousetrap Competition. It is the first time an Illinois project has been selected as a winner of this national award since the competition began in 2009. 

The innovative training system was designed by veteran roadway lighting technicians Ben Pierce, Nick Perez and Eric Johnson to provide a more efficient, effective way to train probationary technicians.

“This national recognition highlights the kind of innovative thinking that makes the Illinois Tollway one of the best transportation agencies in the country,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director José Alvarez. “We are proud to have an environment where everyone can contribute to making improvements that help everyone do a better job.” 

Each year, the FHWA’s Better Mousetrap Competition looks for practical, proven and cost-effective innovations from transportation agencies across the country. The FHWA collaborates with Local Technical Assistance Program Centers to identify best practices of local transportation agencies, recognize the individuals and organizations that have found a better way to perform day-to-day business and share their improvements with their peers nationwide. 

The Tollway’s Roadway Electric Training System was one of three projects submitted on behalf of Illinois transportation agencies through the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Technology Transfer Program. The Tollway won in the Bold Steps category, which recognizes a locally relevant high-risk project or process showing a breakthrough solution with demonstrated high reward. 

The Build a Better Mousetrap Competition solicits ideas and inventions that focus on new or modified tools and equipment or feature streamlined processes that help local transportation agencies increase safety, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. 

The Tollway’s Roadway Electric Training System checked all those boxes. 

The new, portable training equipment is safe and efficient. It can be transported and set up at any maintenance facility or anywhere else in about an hour. This allows seasoned roadway electric workers to conduct the trainings side by side with probationary technicians in a safe, comfortable environment. 

Previously, standard practice was to train roadway electrical workers in the field under sometimes challenging conditions – working with high-voltage electricity during rain or snow storms or trying to communicate over the roar of high-speed traffic nearby. 

The Roadway Electric Training System is cost-effective, as well. It was built using mostly discarded or scrap parts found around Illinois Tollway facilities – an old light pole, lights and wires from poles damaged in roadway incidents and wood, metal and other parts from the carpenter and sign shops. In total, the new equipment cost about $1,315 – about half as much as it might cost to buy off the shelf. 

See the FHWA announcement here.

Watch the video here

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