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States implement plow trackers, dash cams to improve snow removal operations

State transportation officials around the United States have implemented new tools to help keep drivers safe this winter.

From Utah to Pennsylvania, states will handle snow and ice by using tracking gear on snowplows and onboard cameras that take pictures of current road conditions.

Utah

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) recently unveiled a new feature on its smartphone app, which allows people to see where the snowplows are located and which roadways have been cleared in the last 30 minutes.

The app covers 500 snowplows used by UDOT on state highways and freeways.

"In addition to helping the public observe plow locations, the AVL [Automated Vehicle Location] system also generates real-time notifications to UDOT on how the plow is functioning. This will make it easier for UDOT crews to manage the fleet and keep more plows on the road by addressing mechanical issues as quickly as possible," UDOT stated in a press release.

Iowa

Iowa has had a winter tracker system called Track a Plow in place since 2013.

"The first version released in the winter of 13-14 and was the first time the plow data went ‘public'," Iowa DOT RWIS Coordinator Tina Greenfield said. "It included the current plow location, basic information on what the plow was doing, a road condition reports map and an overlay of the NWS radar/warning polygons."

"In February 2014, the plow camera snapshots were added," Greenfield said. "The images are shown if they were taken within the last 30 minutes and displayed as dots on the map, [which are] clickable for a larger view. Most cameras snap an image every 5-10 minutes as the plow is driving down the road."

Greenfield stated that the idea behind Track a Plow is to show what road conditions may be from a driver's perspective.

"So far the public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and they really seem to get benefit from this information, particularly the dash-cam images," Greenfield said.

The IowaDOT is hoping that Track a Plow or another winter analysis page will have more advanced features, including salt and equipment use tallies and plow pass timers, in the future.

Michigan

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been testing a new technology in southwestern Michigan to help keep the public safe.

Using GPS technology, the public are able to see the location of snowplows and where salt is being applied through the Mi (Michigan) drive website.

When snowplows are traveling more than 10 mph and within 50 feet of a roadway, they are plotted on the website. Some plows include webcams to see current conditions of the roads they are treating.

"This [the snow tracker tool] adds another helpful layer to the the Mi drive map where people can really get an idea of what the roads look like before they go," Nick Schirripa, communications representative for MDOT, said.

Pennsylvania

After a successful test in the city of Pittsburgh last winter, Pennsylvania is expanding a program to outfit more than 700 snowplow trucks with the Automated Vehicle Location system pilot technology.

"This system will allow PennDOT to see operations and conditions on the ground in real-time, helping them to better analyze how they do their jobs and get the best investment out of every dollar," Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a news release.

The system is expected to help improve PennDOT's real-time information on the movement of the snowplows, plow-route coverage and usage of materials.

PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards stated in a new release that "The pilot [is] expected to realize a cost savings of $1.4 million over the next four to six years based on a combination of reduced salt usage and better use of department equipment."

The real-time location data will be available to the public through the 511PA traveler website.