Monday, December 21, 2015

The old job of plowing snow and treating roads has gone high-tech in some states

Many states are turning to technology this winter to battle blizzards and ice storms, "using tools such as road sensors, tracking gear on snowplows and onboard cameras that upload photos of current conditions," Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. Rich Roman, maintenance and operations director for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, told Bergal, "Technology has changed winter services across the board. Look inside a plow truck—it almost looks like the cockpit of an airplane, with knobs and controls and radio communication.” (Associated Press photo)

Transportation officials say that in states susceptible to cold weather, "clearing snow and removing ice quickly and efficiently is one of their biggest challenges," Bergal writes. An American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials survey of 23 states "found they spent about $1.13 billion between October 2014 and April 2015 treating and plowing roads." New Hampshire spent 55 percent of its road budget treating and plowing roads, Maryland 33 percent and Massachusetts, which was hit hard by storms last year, spent more than $153 million to treat and plow roads.

About half of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s 900 snowplows "are equipped with forward-facing iPhones, which are mounted inside the trucks and take photos of the road every five to 10 minutes," Bergal writes. "The photos are posted on an in-house website so supervisors can see the actual conditions, along with the truck’s GPS coordinates." Residents can also look at Track-A-Plow to view statewide photos taken from the snowplows, "along with icons showing where the plows are located, which direction they’re traveling, and whether they’re applying salt or chemicals."

"In Minnesota, about two-thirds of the state’s 850 plow trucks are equipped to compile data on atmospheric conditions, up-to-the-minute weather information, and air and road surface temperatures," Bergal writes. "The technology takes the data and uses algorithms to come up with recommendations on which chemicals to spread, how much to apply, and how frequently to plow. The driver has that information at his fingertips—on a computer screen, in the cab."

Pilot programs in  Pennsylvania and Michigan are using tracking gear to better access how much salt is being used on roads, Bergal writes. The Pennsylvania program is expected to save $700,000 this year, while the Michigan one will cut 5 to 10 percent per year off salt costs. In an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, in Nevada "remote weather stations give officials a better understanding of actual road temperatures. If it’s warm on the pavement, even if it’s snowing, plow operators don’t put salt down." (Read more)

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