The University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Build a Better Mousetrap

by Dr. Airton G. Kohls & Matt Cate, P.E.


The Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety hosted a regional Local Road Safety Peer Exchange in Atlanta on March 6 and 7. The peer exchange brought together representatives from state departments of transportation, local and regional transportation agencies, and Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) centers to discuss topics including: enhancing collaboration and cooperation with federal, state, and local partners; local involvement in the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP); moving safety projects on local roads forward; and improving local road safety data collection and analysis.

Since 2009, the Federal Highway Administration's Local Technical Assistance Program and Tribal Technical Assistance Program centers have gathered innovative, cost-saving ideas from local agencies around the nation through the Build a Better Mousetrap competition. The purpose of this annual contest is to collect and document real world examples of best practices, tips from the field, and creative solutions to common problems. More importantly, the Build a Better Mousetrap competition is a fantastic way to share these ideas with others that may benefit from different concepts and perspectives. Finally, the competition provides well-earned recognition for the hard work and creativity of these city, county, and tribal transportation workers.

We want the Volunteer State to share in this recognition. TTAP is looking for projects that you, your employees or crew designed and built. Potential Build a Better Mousetrap projects include the development of tools, equipment modification, and/or processes that increase safety, reduce cost, improve efficiency, and improve the quality of transportation.

If you have developed a unique solution to a common problem or have found a faster/better/cheaper way to serve your community's transportation needs, we want to hear from you! Additional details of the Tennessee Build a Better Mousetrap competition will follow on the TTAP website and in the Fall issue of RoadTalk. In the meantime, please contact Matt Cate (865-974-4614, or Airton Kohls (865-974-0298, for more information.

To get you started, here are some examples of the great ideas collected in previous Build a Better Mousetrap competitions. You may benefit from one of their ideas!

Object Marker Spring-Loaded Post Holder

Object Marker Spring-Loaded Post Holder - Nebraska

Problem: Inability to keep object markers (OM-3) up at bridge sites.

Solution: Use of an object marker spring-loaded post holder (see picture) has basically eliminated the problem.

Labor/Material/Cost: 45 min. of labor per unit; welder, drill press and band saw; 2" sign post anchor; 1 3/4" slide in sign post; (1) adjustable spring; (1) 1 1/2" flat bar for pivot; misc. bolts. $32.00 per unit.

Under Vehicle Washer - Connecticut

Problem: The use of winter de-icing chemicals was having a tremendous corrosive effect on the trucks. The salt material gets caught in a lot of hidden areas under vehicles and cannot be reached by rinsing with a regular hose and nozzle.

Under Vehicle Washer

Solution: The unit (see picture) is connected to a hose - preferably with good water pressure. The unit is then moved under the vehicle and water is turned on. The operator (employee) then moves it around under the vehicle rinsing the underside from all different angles. The holes were placed at varying angles along the copper pipe to maximize reach and coverage.

Labor/Material/Cost: Depending on in-house supplies or parts that can be recycled from other things, the cost estimate would be around $100 (if all parts needed to be purchased).

Sign Repair Stand - Colorado

Sign Repair Stand

Problem: Two of the Street Departments many tasks include maintaining all of the City's information and regulatory signage (name signs, speed limits, stops, etc.) and low to the ground right of way tree trimming around signage and other structures. Unfortunately the City is not resourced with a vehicle (bucket truck) specifically designed for these duties. As a result we would end up with somebody standing in the back of a pickup or climbing a ladder to do these low to the ground maintenance repairs. We feel climbing a ladder always represents a risk factor, especially on uneven rights of way, during all forms of weather conditions. We further felt that climbing in and out of a pickup bed, reaching out over the edge of the bed, and just standing in a wet or snow covered pickup bed while doing repairs was too great a risk for staff members to continue doing. A new truck, mounted with the appropriate attachments and safety protection, was not a feasible option. We needed a low budget solution that was both practical and safe.

Solution: The Street Department is fortunate to have a Crew Leader that is very knowledgeable in the area of steel fabrication. When faced with the task of building some kind of a sign repair stand, it was desired to find a low cost solution that would fit in the bed of a pickup, be easily installed or removed by two men, and provide the safety measures needed for personnel doing repairs. The design in the picture was developed.

Labor/Material/Cost: About $380.

Hose Reel for Rubber Patching Rig

Hose Reel for Rubber Patching Rig - Pennsylvania

Problem: Before we made this mount for the air hose it was difficult to control the hose used to blow out cracks before rubber sealing. When the hose was run over by the truck it would scratch the hood and get in the way of the driver; then, when you wanted to move to the next job, you had to wrap up the hose and disconnect the wand and put it in the bed of the truck.

Solution: We made a removable mount to attach a retractable hose reel, so that the hose and wand would always be in front of the truck and ready at any time. We then fished an air hose along the frame of the truck, and attached quick connects on either end for easy disconnect and hook up. By creating this mount, we can move to the next job in minutes, and by using only one vehicle, it results in less fuel usage and smaller work zones.

Labor/Material/Cost: About $400

TTAP is looking for projects that you, your employees or crew designed and built. Projects can be anything from the development of tools, equipment modification, and/or processes that increase safety, reduce cost, improve efficiency, and improve the quality of transportation. If you are interested in participating, please contact Airton Kohls/Matt Cate for information.


The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Big Orange. Big Ideas.

Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System