How Maryland Used MDSS To Optimize Statewide Salt Usage (And Save The Environment) – Part 1

Like our many city, state and municipal agency partners throughout the U.S., we are committed to helping improve the safety, efficiency and sustainability of our transportation networks through the development of innovative roadway management solutions. So when we heard how successful the state of Maryland had been in implementing its new salt management plan, both from a financial and environmental perspective, we wanted to gain a better understanding of how and why they got it so right.

Scott Simons is the Division Chief of Maintenance Operations for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA). After legislation was passed in 2010 that required MDOT SHA to produce a salt management plan to document best practices and guidelines for winter operations and salt usage, Scott and team immediately got to work. While developing the plan, MDOT SHA worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and other local groups to ensure their plan was solid and had a good chance of reducing salt usage. Scott worked tirelessly with multiple agencies, utilizing a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS) to successfully reduce salt usage throughout the state. This not only saved the state money but also positively impacted the environment.

How did they do all this? We spoke to Scott, who shared why MDOT SHA decided to make these changes, how they went about accomplishing their goals and all the benefits they saw from their hard work and dedication.

How and why did Maryland begin this program?

MDOT SHA started investigating salt usage in 2010 when legislation in the state of Maryland required the agency to write a salt management plan. This plan was to document and establish best practices on equipment usage, plowing operations, salting operations, storage of their resources and anything that had to do with winter operations and salt.

What was the state’s need?

Prior to 2010, they were seeing an increasing trend of salt usage that eventually would impact their environment. They were at risk of contaminating their drinking water, effecting their aquatic animals and they were beginning to see corrosion in their roadway infrastructure. They have recently seen salinity levels rise in the Chesapeake Bay. MDOT SHA decided to be proactive and not reactive by creating a plan that would decrease salt usage statewide.

How did they accomplish their goals?

Scott and his team began documenting everything so they could showcase what was currently taking place and devise a plan on how they were going to improve on their process. By using their Emergency Operations Reporting System (EORS), they were able to calculate down to the event level per shop location the salt usage for a particular event. The EORS equation takes into account the inches of frozen precipitation and the lane miles maintained for that region. So basically, it takes tons of salt used and applies it to lanes of miles maintained and then applies it to the inches of frozen precipitation gives a calculation of pounds per lane mile per inch of accumulation. They also equate their data at the shop level per event, and at the district level (which is all of the shops in a specified area) per event, and then they can roll it up into a statewide average per event. It gives the end of season data for all of those specific scenarios.

Since 2011, MDOT SHA implemented Iteris’ MDSS system in certain areas throughout the state. MDSS provides a 48-hour pavement temperature and condition forecast, allowing decision makers to see hour-by-hour phase changes (wet, icy, compacted snow) on the roadway. The MDSS also provides maintenance recommendations, pinpointing the best time and amount of salt to put on the roads to be most effective without over salting. Year after year, they have increased their MDSS usage and training efforts. After doing so they have seen a decrease in salt usage especially in the western region where they receive the most snow throughout the state.

Scott said, “We needed to implement a plan to strategically reduce salt usage statewide. We established training workshops to showcase where we were, where we are and showcase where want to be and how to change it for the better.”

Once they instituted a training program to raise awareness statewide, they could showcase the “whys” and “hows” they needed in order to execute on this program to each district. Multiple agencies got involved and supported their efforts. They conduct over 28 facility workshops each year to showcase the data and train each shop.

Scott informed, “We needed to raise the awareness and explain why it was important so they can understand why theyshould make these changes.”

What has been some of their results?

In 2015 we saw a 5% reduction, in 2016 we saw a 24% reduction and in 2017 there was a 32% reduction. Overall within the last 5 seasons we have had a salt savings of 53%!

In order to discover these results, they had to rely on the data from MDSS and their EORS system. Good data in provides good data out. Scott noted, “Data integrity is crucial and has a huge impact on making change happen.”

Bottom Line:

There was a growing concern for the water quality and environmental standards in the state of Maryland, so they needed to act fast to see how they could help improve the environment – and they did.