IN THE NEWS: TRB Highlights Interview with WTI Cold Climates Researcher

Laura Fay -WTI Research Scientist

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.

The article also highlights several of Fay’s studies, including a recent Transportation Research Record journal article she co-authored on friction and snow pavement bonds, and an NCHRP synthesis project she led on strategies to mitigate the impacts of chloride roadway deicers.

RESEARCH NEWS: Winter is coming — What’s new in Cold Climate research?

snow plow drives on snowy 2 lane highway through forest

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 program.

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.”

STUDENT NEWS: Gaining Research and Testing Experience in the Cold Climates Lab

Staff photo, Lura Johnson

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.

On the Air: Podcast Digs into Snow and Ice Topics

Winter is coming – Did you know that the Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program (SICOP) offers a podcast “devoted to all things winter maintenance”?

Don’t miss Episode 41: “The latest word on alternate methods for deicing.” WTI Program Manager Laura Fay talks about the key findings from the recent Clear Roads project on alternate deicing methods.

Learn more about the podcast series on the SICOP podcast webpage.

Transportation Research Board Highlights WTI’s Severe Weather Index Project

Bicyclist and car travel through neighborhood in heavy snow conditions

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 Maintenance in the News

Laura Fay -WTI Research ScientistWinter’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.”

PROJECT NEWS: Just a short train ride from D.C.

Laura Fay and Karalyn Clouser in train traveling to MarylandAfter 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.

Winter Maintenance Research in the News

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.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is incorporating alternative products into its deicer mix.  The Hutchinson News published a recent article entitled “KDOT using beet juice to clear ice on roadways.” The article states that engineers reviewed WTI’s study “Understanding the Effectiveness of Non-Chloride Liquid Agricultural By-Products and Solid Complex Chloride/Mineral Products” to identify agro-based products for winter maintenance.

The Lake Superior News reports that Cook County, Minnesota is also reviewing its current use of salt-sand mix to treat icy roads. In “Navigating the Slippery Slope of Winter Maintenance,” a Cook County Highway Engineer notes that the agency consulted WTI’s 2017 report, Field Usage of Alternative Deicers for Snow and Ice Control, to learn more about potential alternatives to road salt.

Both of the reviewed studies were written and co-written by WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems Program Manager, Laura Fay.

New Project: Developing a Severe Weather Index for Maryland DOT

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 Praises WTI Winter Maintenance Peer Exchanges

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.

View an an archive of the winter peer exchange events.