Seven states use technology, innovative solutions to combat extreme winter weather


It’s no secret that extreme winter weather can drive up costs, forcing state transportation departments to think creatively when looking for effective solutions within their budgets.

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) President and Secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Mike Hancock notes that some DOTs have found solutions to cut costs, improve efficiency and minimize environmental impacts with technologies like GPS guidance systems and innovations such as potato juice.

“New technologies are being tested and implemented by state DOTs every day,” Hancock says. “State transportation officials are turning to proven solutions to do their jobs faster, better, and smarter.”

These seven transportation departments have implemented smart solutions for keeping the roads safe this winter:

1.  Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities: ADOT&PF has implemented three solutions for battling winter weather.

  • ADOT&PF is one of the first agencies in the country to deploy an icebreaker, which it started using this year. The device, which attaches to the front of maintenance truck, uses a steel drum with spikes to break up ice and expose asphalt. The device can be raised and lowered like a snow plow blade, and it turns smooth ice on top of roadways into a rough surface that provides better traction for vehicles.

  • The agency uses a state-of-the-art High Accuracy Differential Global Positioning System on several of its snowplows and snow blowers during whiteout conditions. The GPS provides the operator with a virtual view of the highway. Road crews can now clear snow in zero visibility conditions while avoiding guardrails, bridge approaches, traffic signs, and other roadside infrastructure.

  • ADOT&PF also uses the Enhanced Maintenance Decision Support System (EMDSS): a new technology being deployed this winter which turns ordinary maintenance vehicles into mobile weather stations. Specially equipped trucks us cell phone signals to automatically relay real-time road surface weather conditions. The weather data is used in conjunction with roadside weather cameras to enhance winter maintenance decisions and deploy methods best suited for current weather conditions. The department is also exploring installing mobile forecasting units on both private industry and public vehicles such as school buses and commercial trucks.

2.  Nevada Department of Transportation: NDOT is involved in a multi-state “Integrated Mobile Observation” demonstration project headed by the Federal Highway Administration. The project uses 20 NDOT plows and trucks to collect weather and vehicle data. The trucks report current road conditions via radio rather than cell phone signal for more dynamic and reliable road updates and winter operations in rural areas.

3.  Utah Department of Transportation: UDOT expanded its LiveView Technologies road condition monitoring camera network to more than 100 remote locations throughout the state. The solar-powered system uses state-of-the-art low-cost web cameras, high speed wireless communication and infrared sensors to broadcast video from distant mountain passes or other problem areas. Live streaming video is now shared with road users through UDOT’s Commuter Link website and mobile applications, allowing supervisors to look at the website or app and decide whether an area needs to be plowed rather than sending out a plow to investigate. The system has saved UDOT about $500,000 over the last three years.

4.  Maryland State Highway Administration: SHA is expanding its fleet of dual-wingplows. Dual-wingplows can do the work of three standard plows, clearing up to 24 feet of roadway — two full highway lanes — in one pass. While many snow plows include a “wing” blade on the side in addition to the plow on the front of the truck, SHA’s versatile new plow has two 12-foot wings — one on each side — and can use one, two or all three in different combinations.

5.  Tennessee Department of Transportation: TDOT is prepared to use “Magic Salt” to help melt ice and snow during lower temperatures. Magic Salt, made from potato juice, is a biodegradable, non-corrosive and environmentally friendly substance. TDOT is also using tow plows, which are attached to the back of traditional snow plows and allow drivers to clear an additional travel lane in one pass.

6.  California Department of Transportation: Caltrans is using an innovative, new tow plow on Interstate 80’s rugged Donner Pass. The tow plow swings out from behind a traditional snow plow to clear snow from two lanes of traffic. It can also apply brine solution to prevent black ice before and after a storm. For California’s motorists, Caltrans’ new QuickMap app shows up-to-the-minute chain control information.

7.  Idaho Transportation Department: IDOT has introduced a new enhancement to its 511 Traveler Services system, opening the door to two-way communication about winter highway conditions. Those who register on the IDOT system and choose specific routes of preference now have the ability to report on roadway conditions they encounter during their travels.

Motorists can do their part to help keep the roadways safe and clear of accidents by checking weather forecasts and avoiding the roadways during heavy winter storms.

Motorists should also carry an emergency kit with items like water, food, blankets, a battery operated radio, a portable shovel, ice scraper, road flares and a flashlight, and they should keep a set of chains in their vehicle and install them when necessary for adequate tire traction.