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Civil Engineer wins first place in Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference poster competition

University of Missouri Civil Engineering graduate student Clay Keller won first place recognition in the Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference poster competition May 10-12 in Columbia, Mo.

University of Missouri Civil Engineering graduate student Clay Keller feels a special connection to his research — a project that won him first place recognition in the Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference poster competition May 10-12, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbia, Mo.

Keller, a native of Wyoming, Ill., has been working with civil engineering professors Praveen Edara and Carlos Sun along with the Missouri Department of Transportation to determine the effectiveness of dynamic message signs on rural highways in Missouri. Dynamic message signs are the big electronic message boards that display travel, roadway and speed information to drivers.

“I grew up in a small town, so I have an interest in the rural aspect of highway safety. It can be overlooked, and a lot of times, crashes are worse in rural areas because there is less congestion and vehicles can reach higher speeds,” Keller said.

“It is important to keep everyone safe and give the same benefits to rural residents as those in a city.”

Keller’s research for the poster presentation was based in the southeast Missouri area near Cape Girardeau.

“We were trying to determine driver satisfaction with the signs to assess their accuracy and helpfulness, things of that nature,” Keller said.

“We also conducted some speed research to see if drivers react to the signs when approaching work zones.”

Keller set up a camera and radar upstream from traffic on Interstate 55 in the summer of 2010. He then recorded the driver’s initial speed a-mile-and-a-half from the sign, as well as their speed after passing the sign.

“We concluded that the dynamic message signs were effective, and drivers were slowing down,” Keller said.

Members of the Central Missouri Institute of Transportation Engineers reviewed poster presentations from various universities before awarding Keller the first place prize of $100 cash.

“It was great to talk to people about our research and get some constructive feedback,” Keller said.

Keller will be conducting additional research for his thesis beginning Aug. 16, to determine how effective signs are in diverting traffic before a bridge closure on Interstate 57 between Illinois and Missouri.

Keller plans to process and analyze this data to later defend his thesis in September.

“This project has been extremely interesting on many different levels from the data collection on driver preferences to researching previous studies and the psychological aspect as well,” Keller said.

“Its really neat to step outside the engineering box and see how people actually do react to dynamic message signs.”