This article was originally published in the MnDOT Newsline.
When snowplow operators clear snow or ice off a route, they have more than steel and salt on their side.
Nearly every truck in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) fleet of about 800 is now equipped with road weather technology systems, giving drivers real-time data to determine the best course of action during each storm. Several systems work together to gather and share data with each operator and throughout the agency.
Road weather information systems (RWIS) collect, process and distribute current weather and road surface information through mini sensor stations located across the state. These RWIS sites can be found on MnDOT’s 511 traveler information website.
Automated vehicle location (AVL) systems provide precise geographic locations of MnDOT snowplows while collecting road and weather data. This information serves as a mini mobile weather collection system. MnDOT integrated dash or ceiling-mounted cameras into the AVL system more than four years ago, giving real-time views of road conditions from 275 snowplows statewide. This information is displayed on the 511 traveler information website.
Finally, a maintenance decision support system (MDSS) uses data from RWIS and the AVL to provide a treatment recommendation for every snowplow route before, during and after a winter storm. This year, MnDOT will also have a dedicated weather forecaster through Iteris, MDSS’s parent company. The forecaster can focus on each storm and answer operator questions to enhance decision making.
This screen shot of the Maintenance Decision Support System website shows MnDOT snowplow routes, the locations of snowplows across the state, road alerts and the weather forecast. The MDSS website updates regularly with new data, and is customizable to help maintenance crews before, during and after a winter storm.
“MDSS has been a valuable tool in predicting weather and road conditions, and providing better response recommendations to help us be more efficient and effective with our resources, especially when it comes to the use of salt,” said Joe Huneke, road weather technology supervisor. “Even though we faced our worst winter weather in nearly a decade last season, we used 49,000 fewer tons of salt thanks in part to our road weather technology systems.”
Others are noticing this success as well. MnDOT’s Road Weather Technology group was given an Environmental Stewardship Award from the Freshwater Society at the recent Road Salt Symposium in St. Paul.
Huneke says the goal is to use the latest road weather technology, combined with training, to help snowplow operators determine the right material to use, in the right amount, at the right time and in the right place.
MnDOT’s Road Weather Technology team poses with its Environmental Stewardship Award from the Freshwater Society. The team received the award at the Road Salt Symposium on Oct. 24 in St. Paul for its work to increase the use of technology to enhance resource decision making during winter storms. From left, Danny Flatgard, Jeff Jansen, Joe Huneke, Jakin Koll, Jay Pierzina, Alex Bruch, Doug Bakker, Tracy Olson, Julie Dodge and Jon Bjorkquist. Photo by Sue Lodahl.