Clearer Roads at Less Cost
A new technology is helping to keep roads clear during winter storms and cutting the cost of winter maintenance.
The Massachusetts Highway Department works hard to keep roads clear of snow and ice. It also strives to protect the environment and make the most cost-effective use of labor and materials.
To make that job easier in the Boston metropolitan area, the Massachusetts Highway Department installed a road weather information system (RWIS), a technology evaluated and enhanced under the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP). The system provides timely, accurate information on weather and pavement conditions.
Putting the Technology to the Test
The Highway Department has installed nine RWIS stations in and around Boston. These sensors help the agency keep tabs on about 1,050 km (650 mi) of roadway. Data from the RWIS are used to determine when and where to apply salt and other materials—commonly called deicing chemicals—that either prevent ice from bonding to the pavement or break the ice-to-pavement bond.
This information helps make winter travel less hazardous. Equipped with up-to-the minute pavement and weather data, the Massachusetts Highway Department is able to commit winter maintenance resources as effectively as possible. The agency can start planning its response to potentially dangerous road conditions even before the storm hits.
The RWIS also saves the Highway Department money. The first season the RWIS was used, the winter of 1994-1995, was fairly mild by Boston standards, with average snow accumulations of only 375 mm (15 in). The RWIS allowed the agency to use even less deicing materials and to deploy fewer crews and less equipment than normal by doing a better job of predicting where and when they would be needed.
That first year, the Highway Department saved over $53,000 with the RWIS system, reports Scott Venuti, assistant snow and ice engineer with the Massachusetts Highway Department. One-quarter of the savings were attributed to labor costs and the rest resulted from reduced use of equipment, salt, and sand.
The Highway Department saved almost $21,000 during just one storm in March 1995. The storm was expected to bring freezing rain during the morning rush hour, but RWIS data showed that pavement temperatures were high enough to prevent the roads from freezing up.
The Highway Department estimates that a complete RWIS could yield savings of $150,000 to $250,000 during a typical Boston winter.
The Massachusetts Highway Department's use of an RWIS in the Boston area has a very tangible benefit: savings of more than $53,000 in one winter. In addition, says Venuti, "the RWIS helps to reduce accident rates, a savings that is difficult to quantify." But there are several even less tangible benefits, including:
- Shorter travel times during winter storms.
- Less disruption to emergency services.
- Reduced workplace absenteeism.