States approach winter roads with variety of techniques

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Major snowfall and freezing temperatures continue to impact a large portion of North America this week, although winter doesn’t officially begin until December 21. The National Weather Service says a La Nina is at least partially responsible and the agency predicts this weather pattern could cause a second consecutive year of record snowfalls in many parts of the United States.

The challenge for most state transportation departments will be to maintain a high level of service this winter season without the benefit of additional financial resources. Many states have already turned to new technology and environmentally sensitive solutions to cut costs and improve efficiency.

• The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) recently installed seventeen HomeView Technologies® road condition monitoring cameras at 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 mountains passes or other problem areas. Now instead of sending a snow plow to investigate a location, supervisors can take a quick look and decide whether an area needs to be plowed. “So far this winter we have a net cost savings of about $200,000 using this system,” said Lynn Bernhard, UDOT Operations Program Manager.

• The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has deployed 222 snowplows statewide, equipped with a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS), which combines advanced weather and road condition prediction and rules of practice to help operators determine the proper application of anti-icing and de-icing chemicals on a route-by-route basis. CDOT is also using automatic de-icing systems to spray liquid de-icers once on-site sensors detect a decrease in surface temperatures and an increase in moisture.

• This season more than a dozen state DOTs will be using the highly efficient 26-foot-wide tow plow that is pulled behind a conventional plow truck, allowing two interstate travel lanes to be cleared and treated in a single pass. The original design for the Tow Plow was the brainchild of a Missouri DOT (MoDOT) employee who applied his knowledge of farm equipment to snowplows. MoDOT worked with a snowplow contractor to design and build the version in use today.

• This winter, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will use a substance called “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 and several other states including Maryland DOT will also use beet juice to improve snow and ice removal from roadways when temperatures fall. TDOT is also adding 10 new 14-foot snow plows across the state. The plows are more than four feet wider than traditional plows and have the ability to clear an entire travel lane in one pass. Some TDOT trucks will be fitted with new, underbody plows which are being tested for the capability to remove hard-packed ice from the roadway.

• This season, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and other state agencies that respond to emergencies will use WeatherShare, a new web-based tool that sends alerts, warnings and advisories (depending on the level of danger) for fog, ice, winds, fire and more. The system sends weather data to Caltrans’ transportation management center operators, maintenance staff and other agencies, such as Emergency Medical Services and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Users can easily gather more information about a specific location or a statewide region through WeatherShare’s easy-to-use online maps. The public can view WeatherShare at:

“Innovation is critical,” said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “And so is efficiency. Part of AASHTO’s mission is to help install new technologies as they become market ready. We accomplish this objective through an AASHTO committee called Technology Implementation Group (TIG) which helped to deploy MDSS and the Tow Plow. States suffered a major financial blow last year due to record-setting storms and blizzards, and all indications are state budgets will remain tight throughout 2011.”

State DOTs are also encouraging motorists to do their part to keep roads clear and drivers safe. When major storms are forecast, drivers should visit state DOT websites for the latest traveler information. Most states also offer 511 information lines and Twitter alerts. Citizens also should plan to stay off the roadways during major snow events to give more room to the plow trucks. They should also keep a set of chains in their vehicle and install them when necessary for adequate tire traction. Motorists should also carry an emergency kit with items like water, food, blankets, a battery operated radio, a shovel, ice scraper and a flashlight.

A complete list of state web sites is available at .

Use the following contacts to find out more information about specific state DOT Winter operations:

  • California DOT – Tamie McGowen, Email:
  • Colorado DOT – Stacey Stegman, Email:
  • Missouri DOT – Shane Peck, Email:
  • Maryland DOT –Valerie Burnette Edgar –
  • Tennessee DOT -- B.J. Doughty, Email:
  • Utah DOT – Nile Easton, Email:

Published 12-10-2010