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.
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.”)
MORE FROM Highway Contractor
- Sydney uses water curtains to alert drivers to stop (VIDEO)523 Views
- Rand Paul introduces bill to fund emergency transportation projects464 Views
- Big four cellphone companies jointly launch anti-texting campaign268 Views
- Acceptance of connected vehicles depends on cost, LaHood says258 Views
- Cities rethink transportation due to drop in young drivers235 Views