Federal grant fuels anticipated ADOT drone usage

A view of ADOT’s first drone being used near U.S. 60 in Gold Canyon in spring 2018. (Submitted photo)

The Arizona Department of Transportation is adding drones to help its engineering staff safely and more efficiently inspect hard-to-reach areas on some bridges and perform surveying work along state highways.

Through a federal innovative technology grant, ADOT has eight new aerial drones that will be part of the agency’s mission to enhance safety and efficiency while shortening highway project delivery time, according to a press release.

ADOT officials say the department expects to have eight additional drones in service later this year. (Submitted photo)

The grant to fund the drones is from the Federal Highway Administration-sponsored Arizona Council for Transportation Innovation program.

“We are committed to building a culture of innovation at ADOT to improve the safety and reliability of a statewide transportation system that millions of people depend on every day,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said in a prepared statement.

The drones provide ADOT with an important tool for maintaining safe bridges.

“State highway bridge inspections will still be done by our inspectors, but as an example, a drone can help our teams safely get video or photos of places that are difficult to see,” said David Eberhart, ADOT state bridge engineer.

The drones will go into service later this year, after selected ADOT employees go through training in order to be certified as drone pilots, officials there say.

“Drones will play a role in surveying areas near state highways where rock fall or ground movement are potential hazards,” said J.J. Liu, manager of geotechnical services for ADOT’s Bridge Group. “We’re focused on the safety of the traveling public in monitoring such locations. A drone can collect photos and other information across a larger survey area while helping to keep engineers or geologists out of harm’s way.”

In addition to the eight new drones, ADOT has already been using one drone since last year for a variety of purposes, including surveying a section of State Route 88 northeast of Apache Junction damaged by storm runoff last year. Drone video gathered by ADOT’s Engineering Surveys Section assisted agency staff in preparing for a repair project last fall.

The Arizona Council for Transportation Innovation this spring approved the use of $18,100 in federal funds and $4,525 in state matching funds for the new ADOT drones, the release states.

The Apache Junction Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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