Highway Contractor

Snow Business Untitled 11Snow Business

Now is the time to prepare for winter. Check out these stories for ideas that will get you ready for freezing temperatures.

By Tina Grady Barbaccia

A Certificate for Pro Snowfighters

Snowfighters have a big job. Now there is a certificate program to help them do their jobs better.

The idea of a certificate program has been an ongoing discussion in the winter maintenance community, says Mark DeVries, chairman of the American Public Works Association (APWA) Winter Maintenance Subcommittee and maintenance superintendent for the McHenry County, Ill. Department of Transportation.

The APWA subcommittee has in fact been discussing the need for additional training for the past five years. “Discussion fluctuated between pursuing a certificate program for training new supervisors versus working on a certification process to verify the supervisor’s core level of knowledge,” explains Phyllis Muder, APWA continuing education project manager and project coordinator for the certificate program.

The APWA Winter Maintenance Supervisor Certificate program was launched at the APWA Snow and Pacific Northwest Snowfighters Conference in Spokane, Wash., in April.

The certificate will next be offered in conjunction with the 31st Annual APWA Western Snow and Ice Conference and National Snow Roadeo in Estes Park, Colo., in September and again in conjunction with the 2012 APWA North American Snow Conference in Milwaukee, Wis., in April of 2012.

“We wanted the participants to be able to expand their knowledge of planning and preparation, increase their understanding of winter weather, learn how to better use traditional and alternative chemicals, improve the training of their teams and enhance communications with the public,” Muder explains. “The goal of the program was to provide a base level of knowledge for individuals charged with supervising their winter maintenance operations. All of sections focused on the environmental impacts of the policies and stressed responsible application.”

The certificate workshop was presented in six segments by a team of 12 experts from the United States and Canada. Here is an overview:

PART 1: Dave Bergner, former superintendent of public works for Overland Park, Kan., and Paul Johnson, operations manager, County of Wellington, Ontario, presented an overview of policy and procedures with a specific focus on the critical information needed to develop a written winter maintenance plan, including:

• Policies: Statutes, ordinances, responsibility and authority.

• Protocols: Levels of service (LOS); generally desired outcome within a period of time under typical conditions.

• Procedures: Details for specific tasks or activities.

• Processes: Methods, materials and machinery to be used depending on circumstances.

• Positions and People: This section defined the organizational structure and identified the number, classification, responsibilities and requirements for personnel.

PART 2: Presented by Jon Tarleton, roads marketing manager for intelligent weather solutions supplier Vaisala, and Warren Nicholishen, roads coordinator for the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario.

Snowfighter Untitled 1

A new Snowfighter Certificate program developed by the American Public Works Association provides a base level of knowledge for individuals charged with supervising winter maintenance operations.

 “The goal of this section was to give the participants a better understanding of weather terminology so they could get the most out of the weather forecasts and observations. Attendees could learn to predict, analyze and identify the changes in a storm’s progress, which would require different strategies to reduce driving hazards, use equipment, material and labor efficiently, and to apply technologies in an effective and timely manner,” Muder points out. The presenters also addressed the role of pavement temperature and the benefits of Clarus and Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS).

PART 3: Presented by: Duane (Dewey) Amsler, president of AFM Engineering Services, Slingerlands, N.Y.; Wilfrid A. Nixon, P.E., Ph.D., professor at the University of Iowa; and John Klosterman, street/sewer maintenance superintendent for the City of Dubuque, Iowa. “We explained why chemicals are used in winter highway maintenance and described the factors to be considered in selecting materials in winter maintenance,” Muder says. “There was a focus on the environmental impacts of the use and non-use of materials in winter maintenance, as well as how to determine the appropriate storage and handling methods for these snow and ice control materials.”

PART 4: The fourth segment focused on equipment and fleet. This was co-presented by John Scharffbillig, director of public works fleet services for the City of Minneapolis, and William (Pat) Kennedy, senior engineer – Street Maintenance Division, Public Works for the City and County of Denver.

“This segment addressed how to use the equipment available to meet the level of service requirements for their organization,” says Muder. “This included discussion of the various types of snowplows such as one way, V-plow, underbody, ice blade and wing, as well as the other equipment used in the fleet such as trucks, light trucks, graders, loaders and snow blowers. Emphasis was placed on why and how plows and blades are selected to accommodate different applications and conditions, meet expected levels of service (LOS), operate in the required area and achieve the desired performance. The session also stressed the importance of equipment inspection, maintenance and cleaning.”

PART 5: Presented by Bret Hodne, public works director for West Des Moines, Iowa, and Mike Kennedy, director of transportation maintenance and repair for the City of Minneapolis.

“The purpose of this section was to have the participant understand, define and describe the levels of service (LOS) their agency delivers, while reviewing some basic snowfighting standards and procedures. There was also a quick review of modern snowfighting technologies such as anti-icing, use of chemical blends and smart spreading,” Muder explains. “They stressed the importance of appropriately calibrating equipment for optimal performance and touched on how changing federal regulations affect agencies.”

PART 6: DeVries and Johnson presented the final topic – ice control. The segment addressed proactive measures used in snow and ice control operations, describing methods such as pretreatment, anti-icing, deicing and treatment recommendation. This segment also discussed the benefits of proper procedures and applications in snow and ice control, and defined the appropriate technique needed prior, during and following a snow or ice event.

Overland Park public works maintenance supervisor Ron Ditmars, although he’s no novice to winter maintenance, says he came back with new ideas for cleaning up equipment after a storm and neutralizing salt. “I learned things that I hadn’t thought of before,” says Ditmars. “This is an excellent program for people highly involved in a winter maintenance program, such as sector supervisors and the more veteran operators that have critical thoroughfares, but who haven’t had the opportunity for training. This type of training would give them an opportunity to see what decisions are based on so they understandwhy they are made.”

The certificate program drew 218 people. “We were hoping to just get at least 50, but the response was overwhelming,” DeVries says. “The winter maintenance community has been struggling with how to do something universal for winter maintenance. Because this program was such a success, our job now is to figure out how to roll it out to the rest of the country.”

Minneapolis’ Scharffbillig, who, like the rest of the presenters not only presented part of the program but helped to develop the certificate program, says, “Look at different outcomes from a removal and equipment perspective. We ultimately end up at the same place removing the white stuff from the road, making it safe for everyone to travel on. This training helps everyone from around the country have a better understanding of the ‘whys’ and ‘hows.’”

DeVries says that while the program is still under development, it has been embraced by agencies.

Monitor Weather as You Drive In It

In Alaska, winter maintenance crews have to deal with changing conditions to say the least. And those changes add a measure of difficulty to fighting snow and ice on roads.

The development of mobile monitoring weather systems may help solve some of these problems.

Alaska Untitled 1

An Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities snowplow clears the roads northbound on the state’s Glenn Highway.

Road Weather Information Systems, or RWIS as they are more commonly known, aren’t new. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has supported use of RWIS, systems composed of Environmental Sensor Stations (ESS) in the field, a communication system for data transfer, and central systems to collect field data from numerous ESS. The stations measure atmospheric, pavement and/or water level conditions, and central RWIS process observations to develop “nowcasts” or forecasts. They display or disseminate road weather information in a format that can be easily interpreted by a manager. RWIS data are used by road operators and maintainers to support decision making. But RWIS are fixed; they can only measure the conditions where they are installed.

Mobile monitoring weather systems are mounted on a truck and record pavement temperature, ambient temperature, precipitation and other factors as the vehicle passes through the weather. It’s in real time. Agencies can monitor current weather conditions directly from the maintenance vehicles.

“If it’s raining and it all of a sudden becomes snow, you can push a button and give a line on a map where it changes from rain to snow,” explains Mike Coffey, statewide maintenance and operations chief for Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Office of the Commissioner. “This information gets fed back into the RWIS and then would be available to the agency and the public.”

A bar graph would show the temperatures, and a GPS would show where the vehicle is, Coffey says. “The temperature differentials based on where the vehicle is and where it has been would be shown, and this information could then be fed back to a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS),” he says. “Predictions could then be based on the data coming in real time.”

Coffey says Alaska has about 52 stationary RWIS stations scattered across the state. This summer, he says, Alaska plans to install mobile weather monitoring systems. It will test out the system in the Fairbanks area, where the equipment superintendent’s vehicle and all four of the foremen’s vehicles will be equipped with the mobile systems.

Maintenance Untitled 1

Maintenance Decision Support Systems are used in the Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit.

Having the more widespread data will be “extremely helpful,” Coffey says, because the data will be continuous. “When performing a road inspection, we could easily be covering almost the whole valley,” Coffey says. “If you’re on the road for two hours, you then get two hours of real-time data … for the line in the sand, so to speak, where it goes from rain to freezing. It provides a much better opportunity to direct your trucks and sanders or plows to the right area.”

Incorporating the mobile weather monitoring systems is starting out as a pilot program, but Coffey says it has great possibilities. “If it works, we’ll certainly want to expand,” he says.

There’s a Toolkit for That

In this economy, spending money, even on something as vital as winter road maintenance programs, is a tough call for agencies because money is as hard to come by as it has ever been.

For the last 15 years, agencies have reduced budgets or have had budgets that remained flat, according to Clear Roads. Begun in early 2004, Clear Roads is a government-pooled fund project started in response to the need for real-world testing in the field of winter highway operations. Wisconsin DOT led this work from 2004 to 2009 under TPF-5(092). The Minnesota DOT now leads the project under TPF-5(218). The ongoing research program has 20 member states. Each of those states gives some of their research money to the Clear Roads project to help with ongoing research. In return, they reap the benefits of tools developed through research.

As a result of Phase One of the project that started last year [the “Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit” (Project Number: Clear Roads 08-02/WisDOT 0092-09-08)] state agencies are finding it easier to select and then to justify purchases and requests for services and purchases by having hard numbers to back them up.

This is critical in such tough economic times, says Paul Brown, director of snow and ice operations for Massachusetts and a project leader for the “Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit” research program. When the project began, the goal was to develop a practical tool, such as a spreadsheet or computer program, that could be used by Clear Roads states and other agencies to calculate the cost and benefits, and justify expenditures for specific new practices, equipment and operations.

The project team developed a user-friendly, web-based tool that provides support for a cost-benefit analysis (based on available research) for 10 practices, equipment and operations. The tool is expandable, so it can include additional areas for analysis as needed. A training guide is also included.

When a new purchase has to have a cost-benefit analysis to justify its dollar value, it’s essential to determine an effective method for determining the cost-benefit of incorporating new products and methods into an agency’s operations.

But sometimes it’s difficult to come up with accurate, hard numbers.

“The challenge is having all the information you need to describe what you need to do,” says Brown. “You always have bits and pieces, but it’s hard to get everything you need compiled.” The cost-benefit tool does just that. It gathers all the pieces, puts it all in one place and does a sophisticated analysis so an agency is able to determine whether a decision would be a good investment or a bad investment, and how much an agency would gain or lose by making the decision.

“It takes the emotion out of purchasing decisions in snow and ice operations,” Brown notes. “We often say that we need to have a certain piece of equipment and why we need it. But the toolkit allows us to say, ‘If we put this on our truck, the rate of return is ‘X’ or that, if we spend a dollar, we’ll get $3 back.’”

In essence, the cost-benefit tool allows an agency to “plug and play.” A number is plugged in, crunched and an answer is provided. “The tool is outstanding,” Brown says. (For a list of what factors are analyzed in Phase One of the Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit, see the sidebar, “Phase 1 of the Cost-Benefit Analysis Toolkit.”)

Phase 2 has been approved for funding. What’s more, the nation’s top transportation leaders are on board, says Brown. In May, Brown talked to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other transportation officials, and presented an argument why the toolkit is vital to state agencies, counties and municipalities.

“They agreed 100 percent with our proposal and understood that sometimes you have to spend money to save money,” Brown explains. “You’re not making up numbers and they are arranged in a way that makes sense. You have all the information, so you can justify budget, expenditures and the adjustments that go on your truck.”

The “spend money to make money” premise is exactly what Annette Dunn, winter operations administrator for Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Maintenance, used to get some needed equipment for her agency. By using the Clear Roads Cost-Benefit Analysis tool, Dunn was able to justify an allocation for investment in an Automatic Vehicle Locator/Global Positioning System (AVL/GPS system).

“You need a baseline,” says Dunn. “We need to be able to prove that we are cost-effective while improving safety and overall effectiveness of winter operations.”

For downloadable PDFs of the Clear Roads research on cost-benefit analysis, go to http://www.clearroads.org/research-projects/08-02costbenefitanalysis.html or our shortened URL, http://www.tinyurl.com/ClearRoadsCostBenefitAnalysis

Cost-Benefit Toolkit

Phase 1:

1. Practices



2. Equipment

Carbide blades

Front plows

Underbody plows

Zero velocity spreaders

3. Operations

Maintenance Decision Support Systems (MDSS)

Automatic Vehicle Location and Geographic Positioning Systems (AVL/GPS)

Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS)

Mobile pavement temperature sensors

Mobile air/pavement temperature sensors

Phase 2

(The final list won’t be determined until the project is underway)

1. Comparing flexible blades to traditional blades

2. Pre-treating prior to the storm

3. Pre-wetting at the spreader

4. Slurries

5. Plow guards

6. Spreader calibration

7. Tow plows

8. Open vs. closed loop spreader controls

9. Laser guides

10. Abrasives (sand/aggregates in different types or weights/sizes)

11. Remote cameras for monitoring remote sites locations

12. Contracted truck (private or municipal) versus a state-owned truck

13. Tailgate vs. hopper spreaders