Saving Lives Through Engineering
Dr. Wei Fan Works With TxDOT to Improve Road Safety
Texas roads are safer – and not just for drivers – thanks to one professor at The University of Texas at Tyler.
Dr. Wei "David" Fan, associate professor of civil engineering, is putting his skills to work on multiple research studies for the Texas Department of Transportation. Most recently he received nearly $440,000 from TxDOT to assist the agency in work zone fatality prevention, pavement performance evaluation and equipment maintenance.
"Doing research and finding ways to improve transportation roadway and work zone safety is of major interest to me,'' Dr. Fan said. "Ensuring a safer environment for both the traveling public and workers in road construction and maintenance is the ultimate goal of my studies. ... Every life counts.''
Since joining the UT Tyler staff in 2006, Dr. Fan has been involved with seven TxDOT research projects totaling nearly $1.65 million, many in collaboration with the Center for Transportation Research in Austin. The results of his research can be long-reaching – and life-saving.
One current study focuses on gathering research to help prevent construction work zone fatalities.
This type of study is crucial for hazardous work zones because of the dangerous combinations of pedestrian workers, large trucks and large moving machinery, the professor said. "The American Road and Transportation Builders Association named run-overs and back-overs as the leading cause of death for roadway construction workers."
Dr. Fan hopes his two-year study will help save lives. He plans to review current practices and procedures to prevent backing fatalities and propose recommendations for TxDOT.
Lee Radley, one of Dr. Fan's students, has worked with the professor in work zone research and other projects.
"These projects have been very interesting to me because they have everything to do with my future career and could someday save lives by preventing backing fatalities," the junior civil engineering major said.
Clayton Carroll, a junior civil engineering major, also has participated in Dr. Fan's work zone safety studies
"We reviewed new technologies; ways of designing construction zones and training workers for better safety; and methods for improving efficiency,'' Carroll said.
"Dr. Fan takes a lot of pride in each and every project he receives through TxDOT – and that is demonstrated by the quality of work he does. He is extremely professional, and shows that he really cares."
With an additional grant from TxDOT, Dr. Fan is evaluating and modifying a pay adjustment system for roadwork contractors related to the production and placement of hot-mix asphalt and the ride quality of concrete and asphalt pavements.
The agency's current system is not based on expected pavement performance but rather on historical data reflecting contractors' capabilities, Dr. Fan said. "The pay adjustment system proposed under the revised framework will be based on expected pavement performance, such that the bonuses/penalties can be economically justified.''
With yet another grant, Dr. Fan is working to enhance fleet management, including equipment replacement and retention decisions. "Any methodology that improves TxDOT's replacement procedures can potentially save millions of dollars," the professor said.
Dr. Fan joined forces with Dr. Leonard Brown, UT Tyler associate professor of computer science, and students from both computer science and engineering disciplines to develop a software system for TxDOT equipment replacement optimization.
A comparison between the new and old systems, Dr. Fan said, predicts a savings for TxDOT from $2.5 million to $5 million per year, on average.
In the Classroom
As a researcher, Dr. Fan works to improve today's road conditions and transportation safety. As a professor, he invests in the success of tomorrow's problem solvers.
Teaching a variety of undergraduate and graduate engineering courses at UT Tyler, Dr. Fan believes engineering students will be critical to the future of the nation.
"It has been my dream to be a university professor since my childhood,'' he said. "I love turning students on to the subjects I teach, seeing their eyes light up in the classroom and helping them to reach their goals.''
Dr. Fan also enjoys involving students in his research, sharing with them the operational, engineering and computer science tools he uses – tools that can make a significant difference in many areas of life.
"Engineering is an extremely important field to ensure continued U.S. economic and technological competitiveness. In particular, the civil engineering discipline is one of the world's most important fields,'' he said. "We design, build, sustain and improve infrastructural systems essential to the quality of life.''
The most fulfilling aspect of Dr. Fan's work as a professor, he said, is "to see students transform into compassionate civil engineering professionals and hear from alumni about their successes in general civil as well as transportation engineering and the positive impact they are making in communities with their work.''
Dr. Fan added, "There is perhaps no limit to the personal satisfaction a civil engineer experiences in helping to make our world a better place.''
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