CDOT enters 5-year agreement with drone operators

BOULDER — The Colorado Department of Transportation has granted several unmanned aircraft operators an agreement for drone use on future projects.

The CDOT award is not project-based but will eliminate the need for CDOT to put out a request for proposal when a project requires a drone.

The five-year award from CDOT will allow for unmanned aerial vehicle support for transportation applications across the state, said Art Hirsch, an environmental engineer and principal at Boulder-based TerraLogic Sustainable Solutions, one of the firms included in the agreement. In addition to TerraLogic, other firms in the agreement are Wohnrade Civil Engineering in Broomfield, SolSpec in Golden, Unmanned Experts in Denver and Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor Mich.

Hirsch said that CDOT put out a request for proposal looking to give a nonproject specific award to companies that could provide drone operations for services like environmental surveying or maintenance. Although there was no hard contract, when a project does arise it gives project managers the chance to contact the procurement office and put in a task order with one of the UAV operators in the agreement, without having to put out a new bid.

The decision to have a five-year drone agreement stems from a commitment to use technology to be more efficient and safe, said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.

“The capacity of UAVs to assist in a variety of transportation objectives is very significant,” Ford said. “We want to stay on the cutting edge of where technology can take us, to do our jobs more effectively.”

Ford said potential uses include using drones to monitor traffic operations and be used in crash management responses and to be eyes where other cameras can’t reach. Unmanned aircraft can also be used for bridge inspection or rockfall assessment in lieu of sending a person in possibly dangerous scenarios.

Hirsch said other departments of transportation are also using this technology, and CDOT is showing its awareness of the technology by entering into the agreement.

“We’re excited about our potential to support CDOT,” Hirsch said.

Looking ahead, Mary Wohnrade, owner of Wohnrade Civil Engineers, said she saw CDOT’s agreement as a step in the right direction.

“You’re hearing about other DOTs implementing UAS technology successfully for safety reasons and cost-savings, and there are advantages in both areas,” she said. “You don’t have to put people in a risky situation, and drones can do it safely, cheaper and faster. There are lots of advantages for using unmanned aerial systems.”