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Carlos Sun receives MoDOT award for research contributions

Carlos Sun accepts his Innovative Researcher of the Year award with MoDOT interim director Kevin Keith. Sun was recognized for his thorough research of the St. Louis Gateway Motorist Assist program.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) named Carlos Sun its 2010 Innovative Researcher of the Year for his evaluation of the Gateway Guide’s Motorist Assist and Emergency Response Program.

Sun, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Missouri, evaluated data compiled by Highway Patrol on traffic incidents, including the type and severity of each one, in order to determine the effectiveness of Motorist Assist.

“It’s important for agencies and the public to see what kind of value they get for services,” he said.

Sun’s research expanded on a similar study he conducted in 2003. He said while Motorist Assist cannot prevent primary crashes, its benefit was “dramatic” to secondary crashes, those that result from congestion or other things related to a primary crash. Specifically, he found that the benefit-cost ratio of the Motorist Assist program was 38 to one.

“The current evaluation went into much more detail,” said MoDOT Project Manager Tom Blair. “There have been multiple evaluations done by people like Carlos across the country, but I’ve never seen one that took the initiative to look into secondary crashes.”

Motorist Assist helps move stranded motorists off the freeway in order to improve traffic flow and save the public time, money and lives, according to MoDOT’s Web site. Workers in 12 trucks patrol St. Louis-area interstates seven days a week and can change tires, provide gasoline and aid in other minor repairs. They can also call for further help and act as a barrier between the motorist and the freeway until the situation is resolved.

“Without Motorist Assist, there wouldn’t be people who patrol the roads, incident management wouldn’t be as timely or efficient and clearance times would be longer,” Sun said.

Longer clearance times increase motorists’ exposure to crashes, cause greater congestion and increase the potential safety risk to other motorists.

“I’ve talked to several police departments and they really appreciate Motorist Assist because it allows the police to do other things,” Sun said.  “It’s a team effort.”

Sun has ridden along with the patrol trucks, and he said the benefit of these kinds of studies is telling the story of Motorist Assist.

“People don’t just work hard, they put their lives on the line,” he said. He knew of two patrollers who were killed on the job, one of whom he had accompanied on a ride-along.

The Motorist Assist program began in 1993 with five trucks. It now covers six interstate highways, including all of I-170, and one freeway, according to its Web site. Operators stop at any vehicle that seems to be having trouble and respond to calls within 20 minutes in most cases.

Sun said his Achievement Award was a surprise. “We try to do the best job we can in our research,” he said. “I am really thankful for it, but it’s not something we expect, we just try to do a good job.

“Professionally, it’s an encouragement to do good work,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing.”



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