OPERA brings maintenance and operations solutions to life

Otter claw attachment placing debris in a dump truck
The Otter Claw

How do you clean debris from a culvert quickly and safely? Or monitor and maintain 3,000 miles of county roads in winter without blowing the deicer budget? 

Creative employees of Minnesota’s local transportation agencies came up with the answers, thanks in part to the Local Operational Research Assistance Program (OPERA). OPERA is funded by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board and administered by the Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (MnLTAP), a program of CTS.

“OPERA seeks agencies and workers who have ideas and are willing to build devices, test them, and share that information with others across the state,” says Mindy Carlson, MnLTAP interim director. “Agencies can learn from their peers and share best practices and new technologies.”

OPERA funds projects through a request-for-proposal process. Projects are intended to improve transportation or maintenance operations and, ultimately, encourage a safe, efficient, and environmentally sound transportation network. OPERA funding of up to $20,000 per project is currently available; eligibility requirements and submission instructions are on the funding page.

Videos and fact sheets are available for more than a decade’s worth of innovation, including these four recent projects:

Truck dumping gravel onto a road shoulder using the road widener attachment
Redwood County's road shouldering machine
  • The Otter Claw. Otter Tail County Highway Department maintenance staff developed an extendable culvert cleaning attachment for a skid steer to easily and safely remove large amounts of debris in as little as 10 minutes from culverts and ditches, around bridges, and in other previously hard-to-reach locations.
  • Road Shouldering Machine Improvements. Redwood County Highway Department staff improved the design of a new road shouldering machine with innovative repairs following extensive damage by a gravel supply truck. An added angle iron deflector has been successful in shifting the truck tailgate pins away from the machine's frame, preventing further damage and the resulting downtime.
  • Snowplow Brine Tank System. Rochester Public Works Department staff modified their snowplow brine system by adding a "nurse" tank to ensure operators can apply prewetted salt throughout an entire plow event for enhanced effectiveness in melting snow and ice.
  • Winter Weather Monitoring System. St. Louis County Public Works Department staff developed a cost-effective network of remote cameras to monitor winter road conditions on 3,000 miles of county roads to save maintenance costs and improve road user safety.

The Winter Weather Monitoring System received this year’s FHWA National Build a Better Mousetrap “SMART Transformation Award.” All OPERA and Minnesota Build a Better Mousetrap projects are entered into the national Mousetrap program, where they compete with projects from across the country. 

Minnesota Mousetrap, also sponsored by the LRRB and run by MnLTAP, shares homegrown ideas, gadgets, and more. Read about Minnesota Mousetrap winning projects.

—Pam Snopl, CTS senior editor


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