The impact of extreme weather on transportation systems and infrastructure was the focus of a recent feature article by the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board. In “Preparing for Winter Weather with Transportation Resources,” TRB interviewed WTI Research Scientist and Cold Climates Program Manager Laura Fay about the importance of prevention in the winterization process. Fay, who serves on TRB’s Standing Committee on Winter Maintenance, discussed how good prevention for maintaining roads starts with road design and continues with the decisions made before, during, and after a storm hits.
Montana is not the only place concerned with keeping the roads clear and safe during the winter months. Over the last year, WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems program has added a number of new projects with multi-state partnerships to improve the tools, resources, and staffing available to winter maintenance agencies.
Roadway Friction Modeling:
Improving the Use of Friction Measurements in State DOTs. States often use road
friction measurement devices as guidance for snow removal activities, but there
are challenges with interpreting the readings from multiple sensors. The goal
of this project is to conduct friction testing that will improve the
understanding of the relationship between weather conditions and road friction,
which in turn will help to standardize data obtained and improve the ability of
state DOTs to use these devices to predict friction on roadways. This is a joint research effort with the National
Center for Atmospheric Research, sponsored by the Aurora Pooled Fund Research Program.
Ongoing Issues with
Winter Weather Severity Indices. Many state DOTs use winter-focused Weather
Severity Indices (WSI) (aka Severe Weather Indices (SWI) or Storm Severity
Indices (SSI)) to measure performance and manage winter maintenance operations.
However, most WSIs lack the capability to capture more complex winter
conditions, such as the impact of blowing and drifting snow. Through this
project, WTI will create a working group of experts to advance the state of the
practice of weather severity indices (WSI). This is a joint research effort
with the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is sponsored by the Aurora Pooled Fund research program.
Recruitment and Retention
of Highway Maintenance Workers. State departments of transportation (DOTs) and
local public works departments (DPW) are grappling with recruiting, retaining,
and training a highly proficient roadway maintenance workforce, including
winter maintenance specialists. The goal of this project is to produce a
concise, comprehensive guide of innovative but practical ways for DOTs/ DPWs to
recruit and retain a highly proficient, productive, versatile, and committed
roadway maintenance workforce. The
project is sponsored by the Clear Roads research
Cold Climate Program Manager Laura Fay is encouraged by the strong interest in winter maintenance
collaborations: “WTI was one of the early advocates of winter maintenance peer
exchanges, which really facilitated the sharing of best practices for
operations. Now there are opportunities to work together on advancing new
technologies and other tools that may also make it easier to monitor and manage
roads in severe weather conditions.”
The Cold Climate Operations and Systems program has new student support in the Lab!
WTI is pleased to welcome Lura Johnson as an undergraduate lab technician, who will assist with various road deicing tests and materials. Working closely with Program Manager Laura Fay and Mat Bell, she is currently supporting the Ice Melting Capacity Test and the Roadway Friction Modeling project.
Lura is currently pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Engineering here at MSU and also participates in the Honors College. Originally from Keene Valley in upstate New York, she has a strong interest in the protection of public and private lands, like the Adirondack Park near her hometown. Her long-term goal is to pursue a career in resource preservation with an emphasis on pollution control. When she’s not studying or working in our labs, she enjoys making art, backcountry and nordic skiing, trail running, backpacking, and swimming.
WTI has completed a project to create a severe weather index for the Maryland Department of Transportation, and the final report was featured in a recent issue of the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board’s newsletter.
A severe weather index
(SWI) is a management tool that can be
used to assess the performance and related costs associated with winter
maintenance operations – it considers the relative severity of each weather
event and the relative severity of weather for that season. On behalf of the Maryland DOT State Highway
Agency (MDOT SHA), WTI researchers Laura Fay, Natalie Villwock-Witte,
and Karalyn Clouser, in partnership with David Veneziano of Iowa State
University, developed and tested an SWI using Road Weather Information System (RWIS)
data and input from maintenance managers.
In addition to the development of the SWI itself, key outcomes of this effort include the identification of locations where blowing and drifting snow impacts the road network, the identification of future sites for RWIS stations, survey results describing RWIS use by MDOT SHA maintenance crews, and a detailed review of the RWIS network and data. The final report also provides recommendations to MDOT SHA for improving the SWI and overall winter maintenance operations. “We’re pleased that MDOT SHA is evaluating the tool and plans to implement it in the 2020-21 winter season,” said P.I. Laura Fay; “The sooner it’s used and assessed during actual storm events, the sooner it can be calibrated and refined, which will improve its usefulness.”
Winter’s not over yet (especially here in Montana), so winter maintenance is still a hot topic in the national media. In February, Next City published an in-depth feature entitled “Cities Are Cutting the Salt from their Winter Road Diets,” which focused on alternatives to salt and brine for roadway snow and ice control. WTI’s Cold Climate Operations Program Manager Laura Fay is quoted in the article, discussing environmental and sustainability issues related to deicers, as well as the value of best management practices, such as equipment calibration. The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board then shared the story via Twitter, highlighting Laura’s quote “If you’re applying the right material at the right time, you’ll save on product, money, and time.”
After the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., Laura Fay (left), Karalyn Clouser (right), and Natalie Villwock-Witte traveled on to Maryland to meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) about the Severe Weather Index (SWI) project. An SWI is a management tool that can assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations. P.I. Laura Fay is leading the development of an SWI specifically for Maryland DOT, which assesses operations and costs by region, Maintenance Shop, and winter storm event.
As winter gets underway, state Departments of Transportation are planning their snow and ice maintenance programs. In the process, they are considering findings and recommendations from WTI research projects.
A challenge that many state DOTs face is the accurate assessment of winter maintenance operations. One tool that has been successfully used by DOTs is the severe weather index (SWI), which can assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations. It considers the relative severity of each weather event, and relative severity of weather for that season.
Principal Investigator Laura Fay is leading a new project to develop a severe weather index for Maryland DOT by region, Maintenance Shop, and winter storm event. Maryland DOT can use the SWI to determine if costs incurred during each event and winter are reasonable, as well as if the resources deployed and contracted amounts are also within reason.
To follow this project, visit its webpage on the WTI website.
TR News magazine, published by the National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board, recently dedicated an entire issue to successful efforts to move research into practice. In the article “Going, Seeing, Showing, and Doing: Low-Tech Technology Transfer Works,” the authors highlighted WTI’s efforts to spearhead the National Winter Maintenance Peer Exchange from 2007 – 2015. Specifically, they note that attendees have “overwhelmingly cited the sharing of best practices and innovations as the most helpful part of the event.”
The article is included in the July/August issue of TR News, which was recently released online (see pages 38-43) or available For Download.
For more information about WTI’s Winter Maintenance projects and activities, click here.