SAFETY: Michigan DOT leverages plow data for better snow and ice removal

Dec. 19, 2016

Auto-vehicle location devices gather data from other sensors to aid agency in winter storm planning

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is banking on connected vehicle technology to help clear snow and ice from roadways faster. GPS-based automatic vehicle location devices, which the agency began installing on its winter road maintenance equipment in 2013, report where each truck is, and gather data from other sensors to report details such as atmospheric conditions, camera images, and speed and salt application rates for each vehicle.

MDOT feeds this information, along with additional pavement and weather data and forecasts, into its maintenance decision support system, which it uses to better plan for winter storms.

“Monitoring snowplow speeds and material application helps us apply efficient salting practices,” said Melissa Howe, region support engineer for MDOT’s Maintenance Field Services Section. “Maintenance supervisors can also easily adjust shifts based on the timing of a storm so we have plows on the roads precisely when they’re needed, adding people proactively rather than reactively.”

MDOT has installed AVL/GPS on all of its plows, and some county road commissions are also using the technology. With multiple systems in use, MDOT and counties are collectively researching how to expand the deployment of this technology while coordinating and standardizing its use.

AVL and MDSS have helped MDOT reduce salt consumption, contributing to an estimated 2.2% increase in efficiency, according to MDOT. The agency spends about $30 million on salt in an average year, so even modest reductions in salt use yield significant cost savings.