InTrans / Sep 30, 2023

2023 Iowa Build a Better Mousetrap winner named

Clay County earns top spot with Wright and Des Moines counties getting second and third, respectively

Clay County’s Type 3 barricade weight

Some old tires and the shop’s reciprocating saw was all it took for the Clay County Secondary Roads Department staff to solve two issues at once and to invent a simple Type 3 barricade weight.

The staff’s ingenuity helped Clay County earn the top prize in the Iowa Build a Better Mousetrap (BABM) Competition this year. Their innovation has also been submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for a chance to receive national recognition.

Wright and Des Moines counties earned second and third place, respectively, in this year’s competition. Wright County submitted an auger safety valve, and Des Moines County submitted a culvert inspector device.

The winning counties were initially recognized at the Iowa County Engineers Association (ICEA) Mid-Year Conference in July and received a plaque at the Iowa Streets and Roads Conference in September. All three received a number of free workshop registrations, and first place will also get a celebratory lunch at their county shop. Congratulations to them all!

More details about those innovations are as follows:

Clay County – Type 3 Barricade Weight

Clay County used a Sawzall reciprocating saw to cut a single snowplow truck tire to make two barricade weights. Not only did it reuse old and otherwise unusable tires but it also saved the county from having to purchase sandbags and sand as well as the associated issues with lifting the sandbags, their storage, and their damages/leaking over time.

“The tire barricade weights have at least a 20-year shelf life and can be reused over and over again. Once enough weights have been created, there is no need to create more,” read the county’s entry.

Thus, there will not be future costs once enough barricades have been created. The overall costs were simply replacing the Sawzall blades (at $3 per blade) and less than two minutes for labor, though the invention also saved on tire disposal fees and sand costs.

Wright County – Auger Safety Valve

Wright County’s auger safety valve

Wright County staff developed a safety valve that disables the hydraulic auger motor on the sander of a plow truck in order for the bottom tailgate of the truck to be able to open. The safety valve isolates the motor such that it is safe for the driver to clean out the auger area without the possibility of the auger turning.

The device was made at a cost of about $105 in materials using shop tools and assembled within 1 to 2 hours, with 1 person doing the work, though an assembly line process could make the valve faster. It uses a stainless rod, high-pressure quarter turn valve, and a stainless flat steel to make a bracket that holds the rod and valve.

We created a device to help plow truck drivers stay safe when working around the auger with as little inconvenience to the driver as possible. Our goal was to have this device to minimize the possibility of an accident to help insure that everyone goes home safely at the end of their shift,” read the county’s entry.

Des Moines County – The Culvert Inspector

Des Moines County’s culvert inspector device

Looking for a way to inspect the inside of crossroad culverts that were too small in diameter to fit a person, county staff went shopping, spent a couple hours fitting the pieces together, and then ultimately ended up with the culvert inspector.

Their purchases? A remote control car, GoPro camera that links to a phone application (app) and some accompanying accessories, a flashlight, zip ties, duct tape, and a rope. The shopping trip totaled $450, and then 2 hours of labor later, they had a device that could go where staff could not and to allow them to see inside smaller culverts.

“Since January 2021 this has been a game changer for us. We can effectively get a good visual on the condition of our pipe, where before we didn’t have the greatest access,” read the county’s entry.

Additional details about this year’s innovations will soon be available on the Iowa Innovations web page. In the meantime, check out the previous years’ winners.

2023 saw the most entries to the BABM Competition for the past several years, and Iowa Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) staff appreciate all participants. To get a head start on the 2024 contest, visit the BABM Competition page to learn more about submitting an entry next year.