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Turnpike's Top Ideas on Display for Innovation Week

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The PA Turnpike was innovative from the get-go – it’s America’s First Superhighway, after all.

But how do you keep up that kind of trend after 83 years? Well, that’s the job of the Innovation Council, which has been finding fun and exciting ways to develop and foster ideas since 2015.  

Senior Engineer Project Manager and council co-chair Justina Wentling said one of the core tenets of the Innovation Council comes down to the old saying – “There is no such thing as a bad idea.” Every idea is worth examining, and co-chair and Manager of Procurement and Planning Karen Ruch finds some of the best ideas come from those who work on the highway day in and day out who may just know “how to build the better mousetrap.”

The council lends a hand in turning those great ideas into a reality, but members also strive to inspire the next big innovation. And what better way is there to do it than a game?

September marked the third year of the Innovation Council hosting its own version “Shark Tank.” Just like the television show of the same name, Shark Tank contestants come before a panel of judges and present their innovations and inventions, all in the name of boosting safety, improving traveler experience, finding income sources from areas other than tolls, and making the Turnpike the best it can be.

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This year’s winners were Naomi Morris and Nate Bordner from Traffic Operations. Pictured above, they recently presented their idea for a Zinc Battery CCTV Pilot Project. Their idea took the top prize, but all ideas presented will be considered for implementation at the Turnpike. 

“The zinc battery will hook up to a CCTV camera that goes on any light fixture along our exit ramps or entrance ramps around the interchanges,” Bordner explained. “During the day, the camera is powered by the battery, and in the evening when the lights are on and there’s electricity going through the lights, it recharges the battery and runs the camera.”

Besides being economically and environmentally sound, both Morris and Bordner said their project is primarily about safety by providing enhanced camera coverage of the Turnpike and allowing crews to deploy to incidents faster with more situational awareness.

It’s one of 60-plus ideas that have come before the “sharks” in the last three years – and some have already been implemented, like an air horn used to alert distracted drivers of workers ahead and FotoKites to get an aerial view of highway incidents.



“Innovations aren’t always big, shiny pieces of technology,” Ruch noted. They can be simple, everyday fixes that make a world of difference. “I feel very proud of the commission for just the fact that the employees feel so empowered to come forward with their ideas.” 

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A panel of “sharks” take in the presentations during the PA Turnpike’s version of Shark Tank last week.