The most interesting project to date was to design a ski slope in Colorado. It was a challenge presented by a student’s family and who knows, it might get built one day.

Douglas Gabauer

Chances are, most of us seldom give roadside guardrails much thought – that is, until we really need one. That's when we can thank Professor Doug Gabauer, civil & environmental engineering, and his team. They are dedicated to improving roadside safety, whether that means improving guardrails, breakaway poles or any of the myriad other devices designed to ensure public safety.

Guardrails, Gabauer explains, are especially tricky. With vehicles ranging in size from compact cars to 18-wheelers, optimal guardrail design must take many factors into consideration. "Standard height has actually increased by 4 inches to accommodate the rising number of SUVs in the fleet," he says. "With the older barriers, the risk of rollover and vehicle penetration is higher." Motorcycles present another challenge altogether, he says, but the good news is guardrails can be modified to be more "motorcycle-friendly" in areas with high incidences of crashes.

In order to determine the true state of national transportation safety, Gabauer and his students examine vast amounts of data from national crash databases. Often, this data includes information from vehicle event data recorders, which function much like the black boxes on airplanes and record information whenever airbags deploy.

Senior projects give Gabauer's students the opportunity to solve real-world problems and experience working with real clients. Recently, students redesigned an unsafe intersection in Tioga County – a project currently under construction by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Another team was tasked with modifying a dangerous intersection in Ohio by stabilizing eroding riverbanks and improving the timing of traffic lights.

"The most interesting project to date," says Gabauer, "was to design a ski slope in Colorado. It was a challenge presented by a student's family and who knows, it might get built one day. It's not the type of project we typically tackle. But it certainly was fun."

Posted Sept. 22, 2014

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