Road Management & Engineering Journal
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While gearing up to battle the elements is an annual event for the Ohio Department of Transportation, this year's preparation will include a new tool: advanced technology. More than the usual equipment checks and supply stocking, as part of the ODOT's 2001 Strategic Initiatives the department will add technology such as pavement sensors, GPS tracking devices, and computer-modeled plow routes to its snow and ice program in order to provide the best possible service to Ohio motorists.
"The use of new technology is the key to a more effective snow and ice removal program," said Mary Ellen Kimberlin, assistant director of Highway Management for the department. "Because new technology is now available and more cost-effective than before, the department will be able to implement new tools to tailor each county's winter weather processes, by adjusting our responses based on weather data collected from each region."
Each year in October the ODOT's 12 district offices begin inspecting equipment, making sure all trucks, plows, salt spinners and graders are ready for the upcoming season. In the future, with the addition of technological advances, ODOT will be able to monitor highway conditions during winter storms and respond more efficiently.
Pavement sensors will deliver site-specific information to the district offices, then to highway management personnel and motorists via the Road and Weather Information System (RWIS) on the ODOT Web site. Although the sensors are currently only in use in the Central Ohio, Toledo and Cleveland areas, the department plans to install them statewide over the next few years, as highway projects develop.
"The sensors give us valuable information like pavement temperature and road conditions," said Kimberlin. "They act like additional eyes for ODOT, spotting weather conditions on the highway and reporting them back to us, so we can prioritize our response and more efficiently clear the roads."
The pavement sensors relay pavement and air temperature; precipitation accumulation; wind speed and other valuable information. This data is used by county garages and ODOT district offices to adjust the snow and ice removal process to address the most- needed locations first.
The information can also help motorists plan ahead for their commute or travel plans. In addition to the data, the RWIS site also lists winter weather advisories, snow warnings, road conditions and highway closures. The information is kept up-to-date, and is available 24 hours a day via the Internet.
"With a little advanced planning, motorists can allow for adequate travel time to reach their destinations," said ODOT Deputy Director of Highway Operations Bill Lozier. "The safety of motorists is always the department's priority, especially during the winter months, and this information can greatly aid not only the snow plow drivers, but any Ohio motorist."
As part of its technological strategy, ODOT will also use computer software to plan plow routes in each county. The routes will account for equipment capability, personnel resources, facility location, and highway type. By examining the highway layout and location of available plows and salt stores, the department can devise the most effective routes for its equipment, enabling a faster and more efficient response to winter weather.
Global Positioning System devices may also be used in the future to monitor locations of equipment. These tools will also enable the department to maximize service by keeping track of precisely where equipment is located, and what routes have been serviced.
While not all of these tools and technology are fully underway yet, they are currently being examined for implementation and will be in use where most effective by the end of 2001.
Whether this winter proves to be snowy or mild, ODOT is prepared. The ODOT snow and ice removal season typically runs from November through mid-March. This year, approximately 1,550 trucks will spread more than 550,000 tons of salt on the interstates, state highways and U.S. routes in Ohio.
"Our snow and ice program will be more effective and more cost-effective this year, thanks to this initiative," said Lozier.
Motorists can track winter weather conditions on Ohio's highways on the ODOT Road and Weather Information system at http://www.odotonline.org/rwis/default.asp.