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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
Date:
Autumn 2022
Issue No:
Vol. 86 No. 3
Publication Number:
FHWA-HRT-23-001
Table of Contents

Innovation Corner

Build a Better Mousetrap Winners Transform Transportation in Their Communities

by Trinette Ballard
"The headline, “Build a Better Mousetrap National Recognition Program for Transportation Innovation.” The word “Mousetrap” is in bold lettering. Image Source: FHWA."

The Federal Highway Administration’s Build a Better Mousetrap is a national recognition program for local governments and Tribal agencies who use innovative solutions to solve transportation problems in their communities. These solutions increase safety, save money and time, and improve on the operational efficiency of their transportation programs. 

“Highlighting Build a Better Mousetrap to agencies improves transportation programs all over the Nation because sharing brings about awareness, and [awareness] provides local agencies and Tribes with options for solutions,” says Joe Conway, director of Local Aid Support in the FHWA Office of Transportation Workforce Development and Technology Deployment.

For the first time, FHWA’s Build a Better Mousetrap competition received close to 70 nominations among its four national categories: Bold Steps; Innovative Project; Pioneer; and Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound (SMART) Transformation. “[There were] a variety of innovative solutions from all over the country including Puerto Rico,” says Conway. “This speaks to how the culture of transportation is changing to think more outside the box in how we solve problems. We are excited about the role FHWA has played [in] supporting the Local and Tribal Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP/TTAP) that provide training on [fostering] innovative solutions to thousands of transportation professionals annually.” 

The Build a Better Mousetrap program is a collaborative effort between FHWA and the LTAP/TTAP centers. The centers select their State’s winners and then submit them to FHWA for consideration in the national competition. This year, a range of homegrown pioneering solutions that improved road maintenance, pandemic challenges, customer service, and emergency response were submitted—to name a few. FHWA selected one winner from each of the four national categories, with each awardee named a 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap national winner:

Bold Steps Award

The Bold Steps Award recognizes any locally relevant, high-risk project or process showcasing a breakthrough solution with demonstrated high reward. This year’s winner is the Walsh County Highway Department in North Dakota for the Guardrail Maintainer, which is an attachment tool to quickly remove debris from around the guardrails so that they do not get into the roadway creating a safety hazard for drivers.

"A closeup view of the Guardrail Maintainer device extending from a tractor and clearing debris from the ground, between a section of a guardrail. Image Source: © Walsh County Highway Department."
The Guardrail Maintainer, an innovation by North Dakota’s Walsh County Highway Department, was one of four winners of the 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap competition.
"Maintenance to a guardrail on the side of a roadway by the Guardrail Maintainer, a metal, arm-like extension from a tractor. Image Source: © Walsh County Highway Department."
The Guardrail Maintainer, an innovation by North Dakota’s Walsh County Highway Department, was one of four winners of the 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap competition.
"A full view of the Guardrail Maintainer on the ground, detached from a tractor. Image Source: © Walsh County Highway Department."
The Guardrail Maintainer, an innovation by North Dakota’s Walsh County Highway Department, was one of four winners of the 2022 Build a Better Mousetrap competition.

Innovative Project Award

The Innovative Project Award recognizes a solution that introduces new ideas that are original and involve creative thinking. The local agency winner is South Manheim Township in Schuylkill, PA, for the Sidewinder, which is a tool that is used to fill barriers or berms with compact materials such as gravel, soil, and rocks to control water flow along the roadways.

"Maintenance on the edge of a roadway by the Sidewinder, a horizontal shovel like structure, attached to a heavy-duty motorized construction vehicle. Image Source: © South Manheim Township."
Pennsylvania’s South Manheim Township created the Sidewinder, winner of the Innovative Project Award.

Pioneer Award

The Pioneer Award recognizes a locally relevant product or tool that is among the first to solve a maintenance problem with a home-grown solution. The winner is the Washington County Department of Public Works in New York for the Culvert Cleaner, which is a tool to remove dirt build-up safely and quickly from the culverts created by beavers. The Culvert Cleaner was voted Best All-Around local innovation by attendees to the 2022 National Local and Tribal Technical Assistance Program Association’s Annual Meeting in July.

"A sideview of the top half of the Culvert Cleaner, a rod-like structure made of steel. Image Source: © Washington County Department of Public Works."
Winner of the Pioneer Award, New York’s Washington County Department of Public Works created the Culvert Cleaner, a homegrown solution to a maintenance problem.
"Close-up view of the Culvert Cleaner, a large rod like structure made of steel. Image Source: © Washington County Department of Public Works."
Winner of the Pioneer Award, New York’s Washington County Department of Public Works created the Culvert Cleaner, a homegrown solution to a maintenance problem.

SMART Transformation Award

The SMART Transformation Award recognizes a locally relevant, significant change in any transportation or activity that is SMART in nature and results in improved efficiencies. This year’s recipient is the Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja in Puerto Rico for the Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events. The electronic survey tool is available to residents via social media to help improve emergency response.

"A screenshot of a slide from a presentation describing the Public Survey Tool with an image of the edge of a roadway with a large hole and words written in a foreign language underneath. Image Source: © Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja."
Puerto Rico’s Autonomous Municipality of Toa Baja invented the Public Survey Tool for Emergency Events, winner of the SMART Transformation Award.

“All of the winners join a long list of local agencies who start each day thinking about how to improve the delivery of their transportation programs. Congratulations to each of them for putting safety and innovation first,” says Conway. 

Trinette Ballard is a local support program manager in the FHWA Office of Transportation Workforce Development and Technology Deployment and worked in a variety of roles during her 15-year tenure with FHWA.

For more information on the Build a Better Mousetrap program, visit https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/babm/. For more information on the LTAP/TTAP Centers in your State, visit https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/ltap/ and https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/ttap/ or email the FHWA Local Aid Support team at CLAS@dot.gov.