In April 2009, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sent a team of seven winter maintenance professionals on a two-week tour of high-performing transportation and road departments to evaluate their winter maintenance technologies and operations. After visiting several departments in Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Utah, and Virginia the team developed a best-practices report to help all agencies develop successful snow-removal operations, due out next month.

The team came across novel procedures used by these agencies. For example, Minnesota's DOT recycles the water from its truck-washing station by using it in its brine-making operation. And for $60, Utah DOT uses compressed, condensed carbon dioxide to cut through fog so drivers can see the road ahead of them. In Fort Collins, Colo., the salt storage facility houses two different liquid deicers that it shares with other municipalities and a morale-boosting hot dog maker complete with free hot dogs for employees. Employees love the free feed. Managers like that the food keeps employees onsite, and on the roads, longer.

The following are trends and recommendations to be included in the report.

Maintenance Decision Support Systems (MDSS)

MDSS are useful management tools that provide real-time weather, route, and material information to trucks via touch-screen monitors so drivers can make on-the-spot decisions about route priorities and materials usage. There is also potential to use them for year-round maintenance activities that depend on the weather, including chip sealing and striping.

Drivers need to embrace this technology in order to use it efficiently. To sell your drivers on these devices, make sure they understand that they:

  • Show where co-workers are at any given time
  • Inform when weather is coming
  • Provide real-time information about material usage rates and suggested application rates.

Automatic Vehicle Location Systems (AVLs)

Use AVLs year-round, as much as you can, to track vehicles in real time. Drivers will appreciate not having to call in to inform managers of their locations, and customer service staff can better field service calls from constituents wanting to know when their streets will get plowed, i.e. "your street was just plowed" or "the plow is two blocks away and will get to you soon."

Equipment technologies

The best tools for snow and ice removal include:

  • Tow plows
  • Hydraulic-assisted systems
  • Composite and poly blades (for less vibration)
  • On-board video cameras (for operator safety)
  • Laser beams (to see ends of plows)
  • Vibrating wiper blades
  • Fog busters and new headlights (for visibility)
  • Salt brine runoff control
  • Road and weather information systems (RWIS)

Training and development

A flexible workforce is becoming increasingly important in these tight economic times. Cross-train staff so they can double as snow-plow drivers in the winter months. Use simulators for training -- a University of Utah study indicates that drivers with simulator training get 3% better fuel mileage than those without.

Management issues

Successful agencies collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions to promote consistent service across borders. Some state DOTs have agreements with other states to share salt and liquid chemical supplies when needed, and to share facilities when drivers are closer to their neighbors than to home facilities.

Integration of weather, traffic, and maintenance

Effective traffic operation centers house a variety of full- and part-time positions: maintenance operations, highway patrol, and traffic signal control dispatchers; meteorologists; Snow and ice/MDSS, motorist assistance; and 511 coordinators; and private and public media announcers.

Successful agencies also have funding options in place for replacement of equipment/material, including escrow accounts and predetermined multiyear financing agreements with vendors. They also stay on top of research and training, and set winter performance measures. But above else, these agencies value their people, citing good communication between management and staff, dedication of employees, and pride in work as the main reasons for high productivity.

When finalized, the report will be posted on the AASHTO and FHWA Web sites.

Source: American Public Works Association Congress & Exposition
Session: Innovative Winter Maintenance Practices of High-Performing Agencies
David Ray, PE, PS, State Maintenance Engineer, and Diana Clonch, Assistant Administrator, Maintenance Administration, Ohio DOTColumbus, Ohio
Tues., Sept. 15, 20093:45 - 5 p.m.