How Idaho’s non-invasive RWIS network is paying for itself while
Faced with limited budgets in an economic crisis, today’s winter road maintainers are being tasked with providing higher levels of service and road safety for the same or less cost. In this challenging operational landscape, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has emerged as a prime example of how to accomplish that goal using a cost-effective, non-invasive Road Weather Information System (RWIS).
Solving problems before they happen
“The biggest advantage of our RWIS network is that now we can solve problems before they happen,” says District 4 Maintenance Foreman, Dennis Jensen. “Vaisala’s non-invasive sensor data eliminates the guesswork and lets us deal with knowns instead of unknowns. We know how much grip our roads are providing to drivers at any time. We monitor real-time pavement temperature and moisture and know when black ice is going to form. And we can see the effect of each treatment and how long it takes to work.”
“A few years back, we used to depend on the reliability of forecasts, react only when there was at least an inch of snow on the road and aim to have trucks out within an hour of a storm’s arrival. Now we act as soon as we anticipate a loss of traction - often before a storm even hits. The sensor data gives us plenty of lead time.”
40 percent savings on treatment materials
“Despite rising product costs and an almost equal number of snow events, we decreased our material costs by 10 percent recalls Jensen. “In 2007-2008, we had 73 storm events (35 percent more) and certain product suppliers raised their prices by about 50 percent. But we were still able to reduce our material costs by another 30 percent by using our RWIS data to optimize our de-icing processes and be proactive in our treatments. In our line of work, a 40 percent reduction in material costs is significant. What we’ve essentially done is create safer roads using less product. A big part of that is having data that tells us when the job is done so we can avoid over-applying materials.”
Increased efficiency and resource allocation
“The ability of the sensors to independently monitor frost, rain, snow, slush and black ice has made it easier for us to plan the right treatments. Being able to measure grip in real-time and time operations to maintain it has helped us to decrease accidents in some key traffic areas.”
Improved ability to forecast and plan
“When ITD first opted for RWIS, embedded sensors were the only technology available,” recalls Jensen. “So we went with what was considered a quality system at that time. But the in-pavement sensors proved to be unreliable. When some of the pucks stopped working altogether, we opted to replace them with Vaisala’s new non-contact solution, the non-invasive Guardian RWIS.
“We had no idea the non-invasive sites would work so well. Their range of data, accuracy and reliability, along with a Vaisala’s intuitive Web display, have helped us to really improve how we do things. The non-invasive sensors are far superior to embedded pucks. They have helped ITD to meet three core objectives: giving our customers as much information as possible, keeping them safe and saving them time.”
ITD’s RWIS data and camera images provide real-time content for its popular 511 Traveler Service. Users can access up-to-date information on highway conditions, weather, detours and lane closures simply by calling 511 or visiting 511.idaho.gov.
Can other road maintenance operators expect the same kinds of benefits with non-invasive RWIS?
“Absolutely,” advises Jensen. “As long as you work with a manufacturer who is a partner instead of just a supplier. Vaisala was able to integrate the data from two other suppliers and build a reliable, accurate and easy-to-use RWIS network that is quickly paying for itself. And they are proactive in making sure we get the most out of it. In the few times we had a minor issue, they helped us correct it in about 15 minutes. It’s been a positive experience all around.”
Vaisala’s non-invasive Guardian RWIS package includes surface and temperature sensors, traffic camera, Web-based display and data management services.