Washington State University estimates that U.S. road agencies spend more than $2 billion every year on snow and ice removal. Mitigating the environmental damage caused by road salt — corrosion to steel bridges and rebar in pavement, fish kills, dead trees and other roadside plants — costs another $5 billion.
iStock.com/tamaw Washington State University estimates that U.S. road agencies spend more than $2 billion every year on snow and ice removal. Mitigating the environmental damage caused by road salt — corrosion to steel bridges and rebar in pavement, fish kills, dead trees and other roadside plants — costs another $5 billion.

Every year, the Salt Institute and American Public Works Association (APWA) recognize public works departments whose safe, efficient, and sustainable winter operations model best practices.

The Columbus, Ohio, Department of Public Service was one of three to receive AAPWA’s Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Awards last year. Taking a continuous-improvement approach to winter operations, the department reviews and updates its Snow and Ice Control Plan annually. Since 2007, the process has facilitated the fight to keep the average 28 inches of snow that falls on 6,387 lane miles every year from compromising public safety.

In addition to beefing up the fleet with 30 new plows, these include:

  • Creating a webpage dedicated to snow and ice control
  • Sharing ice-and-snow-management plans on Facebook and Twitter
  • Explaining to residents and businesses what property they’re responsible for and what the city’s responsibility
  • Providing tips that make life easier for both parties (stay at least 100 feet behind snow plows when driving; shovel snow into storm sewers, where it will melt)
  • Mitigating the negative environmental impact of winter operations by blending brine solutions or road salt with Ice-Bite Liquid Ice Melt, an anti-icing fluid made from sugar beets
  • Partnering with Franklin County to improve regional response efforts via Central Ohio Management-Based Applied Technology (COMBAT). In 2007, GPS/AVL systems that track air and road temperatures, vehicle speed, and brine application in real time were installed in both city and county plows. The system enabled dispatchers to reroute trucks and drivers to signal if sick or injured. It also contributed to central Ohio’s efforts to create an intelligent transportation system by integrating data from various agencies.
  • Expanding the concept and bringing it in-house with a solution that combines Verizon Networkfleet GPS units on all winter operations vehicles with the city’s geodatabase housed in the Department of Technology. Based on Esri’s ArcGIS GeoEvent Processor for Server, the new GIS technology monitors real-time and historical performance of snow and ice removal activities. The project required the help of consultants and extensive field testing by public service employees driving existing snow routes.

That internal infrastructure enabled the department to implement a key external communications tool: Warrior Watch, a webpage that shows residents which streets were plowed or treated with anti-icers like salt or brine in the previous 72 hours.

The department refers to plow drivers as Snow Warriors. Their trucks report their position and sensor information such as whether the plow blade’s up or down and the spreader is activated every 15 seconds. The map refreshes every 15 minutes.

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