Featured Article: Intelligent vehicle systems defy bad weather
Better Roads Staff
Michael J. Coffey, statewide maintenance and operations chief for ADOT&PF
“It doesn’t allow us to plow the road faster, but it does enable operators to be out in extreme conditions where we might have to close the road and then we’d be behind,” says Coffey, who will be making a presentation on this technology at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO Annual Meeting in Bismarck, N.D., being held July 11-14. The “smart plow” system also helps operators be more efficient. In whiteout conditions, Coffey says, an operation may roam back and forth along the road. “To get the whole road clear, an operator might have to make multiple passes because [he or she] may not be plowing in a straight line,” he says. “But with this, the guys can keep the plow right on the centerline so they don’t have to come back. It lets us be out on the road more and allows us to do a better of maintaining roads in bad conditions. It also reduces the stress of the operators, making them more comfortable being out in bad conditions. Thompson Pass has thousand-foot drop-offs on the side of the road. This keeps operators from worrying about going off the road.”
Coffey says since the use of a “smartplow” system, ADOT&PF has seen less guardrail damage from winter maintenance. In bad conditions, he says, operators have a tendency to ride guardrails. This flattens the W-beam on the rails, and it can also cause damage to the snowplows. “Instead of flattening miles of rails, operators can now see the guardrails with the heads-up display so it’s reducing damage to them,” Coffey points out.
ADOT&PF is singing the “smartplow’s” praises as being an excellent tool for snowfighters, but because of its cost, “it’s not something you’d use just under normal conditions,” Coffey says. “But under extreme or routinely adverse conditions, it’s a great thing.”
In places such as Wyoming, which doesn’t get 40 feet of snow but often has strong winds, this type of system could be very useful because visibility is compromised when the winds blow snow around, Coffey suggests. “It could be useful even somewhere like coastal California because of the intense fog,” he says.
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is using front-end truck-mounted brooms to clear light snowfall from roads in Carbon, Emery and Grand County.
A hydraulically-powered horizontal axis broom, which is typically used to sweep excess chips from roads, is successfully being used to sweep away light, fluffy snow from roads in areas that are better known for stark desert and red rocks than snow, explains Lynn Bernhard, P.E., maintenance methods engineer for UDOT. The truck operates at 30 to 35 mph as a combination unit with an anti-icing liquid applicator towed behind, and is dispatched when powdery snow is forecast.
The high mountains to the west of the state bring moisture from snow, making Utah’s snow ideal for skiers who love powder snow, but this type of light, fluffy snow makes it difficult to remove it with conventional plows, says David Babcock, UDOT’s equipment manager in Price. “Brooms throw [the snow] off the road without creating the snow cloud that regular plows create.”
The brooms are mounted on UDOT standard snowplow mounting brackets. They can be quickly exchanged for traditional plows if necessary, Bernhard explains. Because powder snow doesn’t typically turn into heavy wet snow during a storm, plow changes are few and far between, Bernhard says. “Applying salt brine early in the storm prevents packed snow bonding to sub-freezing pavements,” he says. “The trailer-mounted anti-icing unit can be disconnected and parked as operations shift from initial storm attack to repetitive plowing as the storm progresses.”
Contract Weather Forecasting
Use of a contract weather forecast service — in this case Northwest WeatherNet Inc. — to provide advance road weather forecasts throughout Utah provide pre-storm forecasts that include probable snow type and possible changes during the storm. This enables agency equipment operators to prepare for the storm or weather incident with specific equipment types — such as determining whether to use a plow, broom, or a combination of attachments.
Forecasters are located at the UDOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC) in Salt Lake City and provide detailed road weather forecasts for all state roads from Saint George in Utah’s desert southwest corner to 11,000-foot summits in the Rocky Mountains, says Lynn Bernhard, P.E., maintenance methods engineer for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
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