« Back to Focus Areas

Cost-Benefit of Various Winter Maintenance Strategies

Started: December, 2013 Ended: July, 2015 Project ID #4W4757 Status: Completed

Results & Findings

As detailed in the Final Report and Research Brief, nearly all winter maintenance practices reviewed through this project had a high benefit-cost ratio. Plowing had a particularly high ratio, with benefits 5.3 times the costs. The use of deicing or anti-icing agents, including liquid sodium chloride, corrosion-inhibited salt brine, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and blended products, was also extremely effective, with benefit-cost ratios between 3.5 and 4.0. Solid sodium chloride was somewhat less cost-effective than other deicers, with a ratio of 2.4, although benefits still significantly exceeded costs. The only winter maintenance practice evaluated for which costs exceeded benefits was the use of abrasives, due to high costs of cleanup and environmental impacts. The report includes a matrix that details the costs and benefits of each winter maintenance practice, the level of service it can be expected to achieve, and its positive and negative impacts, pros and cons, and environmental impacts. The matrix also describes performance details about each practice such as plow blade life and labor time necessary to replace blades, typical deicing agent application rates, and temperatures at which various treatments are effective.


The objectives of this research were to assess the costs and benefits of at least three winter maintenance strategies and identify winter maintenance strategies that would be sustainable for departments of transportation from a cost, safety, and mobility standpoint.  


One of the most significant activities highway agencies such as Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are tasked with are winter maintenance operations. In completing winter maintenance, agencies employ a suite of approaches customized to their local snow and ice control needs and funding, staffing, and equipment constraints. This can include, but is not limited to, activities ranging from anti-icing, deicing, and sanding, to mechanical removal (e.g., snowplowing) and snow fencing, depending on the road weather scenarios, resources available, and local rules of practice. The absence of guidance regarding the costs and benefits of different maintenance scenarios is a significant void for the winter maintenance community. Therefore, efforts are necessary to address this void and develop initial guidance for different scenarios, , in order to provide all levels of decision-makers with information on which sound decisions can be based. This would include: agency costs in achieving a specific LOS; economic impacts of different maintenance strategies; corrosion and abrasive impacts on highway users, equipment and infrastructure; safety benefits achieved through different strategies; and environmental impacts resulting from different strategies. Consequently, the objectives for the proposed research are to identify the costs and benefits previously cited in literature, identify and address any gaps in the cost and benefit information previously documented through a survey of practitioners, and to analyze and organize the available information into a format ready to be communicated to stakeholders.


Files & Documents

Sponsors & Partners

  • Clear Roads Winter Highway Operation Pooled Fund Sponsor

Part of: Winter Maintenance and Effects, Cold Climate Operations & Systems

Project Tagged In: winter maintenance, benefit-cost analysis, snow and ice control

« Back to Focus Areas