Major snowfall and freezing temperatures continue to impact a large portion of North America this week, although winter doesn't officially begin until Dec. 21. The National Weather Service says a La Niña is at least partly responsible and predicts this weather pattern could cause a second consecutive year of record snowfalls in many parts of the U.S.
The challenge for most state transportation departments will be to maintain a high level of service this winter season without the benefit of additional financial resources. Many states have already turned to new technology and environmentally sensitive solutions to cut costs and improve efficiency.
- The Utah DOT recently installed 17 HomeView Technologies road condition monitoring cameras at remote locations throughout the state. Now instead of sending a snow plow to investigate a location, supervisors can take a quick look and decide whether an area needs to be plowed.
- The Colorado DOT has deployed 222 snowplows statewide, equipped with a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS), which combines advanced weather and road condition prediction and rules of practice to help operators determine the proper application of anti-icing and deicing chemicals on a route-by-route basis.
- This season, more than a dozen state DOTs will be using the highly efficient 26-ft-wide Tow Plow that is pulled behind a conventional plow truck, allowing two interstate travel lanes to be cleared and treated in a single pass. The original design for the Tow Plow was the brainchild of a Missouri DOT (MoDOT) employee who applied his knowledge of farm equipment to snowplows. MoDOT worked with a snowplow contractor to design and build the version in use today.
- This winter, the Tennessee TDOT will use a substance called "Magic Salt" to help melt ice and snow during lower temperatures. Magic Salt, made from potato juice, is a biodegradable, noncorrosive and environmentally friendly substance. TDOT and several other states, including Maryland DOT, will also use beet juice to improve snow and ice removal from roadways when temperatures fall.
- This season, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and other state agencies that respond to emergencies will use WeatherShare, a new web-based tool that sends alerts, warnings and advisories (depending on the level of danger) for fog, ice, winds, fire and more. The system sends weather data to Caltrans' transportation management center operators, maintenance staff and other agencies, such as Emergency Medical Services and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
"Innovation is critical," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials. "And so is efficiency. Part of AASHTO's mission is to help install new technologies as they become market-ready. We accomplish this objective through an AASHTO committee called Technology Implementation Group (TIG), which helped to deploy the maintenance support system and the Tow Plow. States suffered a major financial blow last year due to record-setting storms and blizzards, and all indications are state budgets will remain tight throughout 2011."