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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 66· No. 3 > Internet Watch

Nov/Dec 2002
Vol. 66· No. 3

Internet Watch

by Keri Funderburg

New CD-ROM Takes the Bite Out Of Bad Weather

Temperatures are dropping and winter is fast approaching. For most people, this simply means making sure last year's coat still fits and finding matching gloves. But for transportation professionals, colder weather means it's time to start preparing for the harsh driving and road conditions that will grip much of the Nation for the next several months. Ensuring that Americans can move smoothly and safely to their destinations in winter is not easy, given that wet and slushy highway conditions can lead to 25 percent speed reductions and an 18 percent reduction in capacity. Nor is it inexpensive. Each year, State and local agencies spend more than $2 billion on controlling snow and ice on roads and an additional $5 billion for infrastructure repair due to snow and ice damage.

To improve management of roads for extreme weather conditions and use transportation funds more efficiently, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed a CD-ROM, Best Practices for Road Weather Management. Released in August 2002, the CD-ROM provides traffic, emergency, and maintenance managers with new and innovative solutions to various weather threats, including fog, high winds, rain, snow, ice, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and avalanches.

A Wealth of Information

To compile the CD-ROM, FHWA staff scoured trade journals, attended conferences, and talked with transportation professionals across the country to garner best practices in managing roadways for weather conditions. One section of the CD-ROM consists of a series of case studies highlighting innovative approaches. The case studies describe the technologies, results, and contact information for each project. Users can search through the case studies by title, category, or keyword. Examples of best practices include:

  • An anti-icing and deicing system on Minnesota's Interstate 35 that monitors environmental conditions, activates flashing beacons to alert drivers to icy conditions, and sprays liquid potassium acetate on a bridge deck to prevent surface moisture from freezing
  • A low-visibility warning system in Tennessee that monitors environmental and traffic conditions in a fog-prone area, alerts drivers to hazardous conditions, manages speed limits, and restricts freeway access
  • A flood warning system in Dallas, TX, that monitors water levels at streams located near roads to advise motorists of adverse conditions until barricades can be erected

The CD-ROM includes a listing of more than 100 road-weather publications, along with article abstracts and source information, which also may be searched by title or keyword. Examples of publications listed on the CD-ROM include: "Application of ITS for Winter Maintenance," "Current Practices in Transportation Management during Inclement Weather," and "Friction as a Tool for Winter Maintenance."

A final component of the CD-ROM lists Web sites related to managing roadways for weather conditions, such as the Snow and Ice Cooperative Program (www.sicop.net), the National Weather Service (www.nws.noaa.gov), and the Standing International Road Weather Commission (www.bham.ac.uk/geography/met/sirwec/intro.htm).

Other Management Practices

In addition to FHWA, a number of other transportation agencies have developed computer programs or Web sites devoted to this kind of road management:

  • The Washington State Department of Transportation's traffic and weather Web site provides users with real-time road and weather conditions. An interactive State map enables users to access current statewide weather conditions, road temperatures, and mountain pass driving conditions. Users also can view radar and satellite pictures of the State. (www.wsdot.wa.gov/rweather)
  • The Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) operates an information system on a section of highway between Reno and Carson City. The system collects current weather data, alerts traffic managers to poor conditions, activates an alarm and variable message system during high winds, and transmits weather data to NDOT's Web site. NDOT's weather surveillance system enabled the agency to reduce the number of maintenance vehicle passes required to treat that particular stretch of roadway and reduced anti-icing chemical application by 74 percent. (http://www.nevadadot.com/traveler/rwis/dist2/)
  • Several State departments of transportation are participating in FORETELL, an initiative (funded partially by FHWA) that collects, forecasts, and distributes highly specific information on road and weather conditions pertinent to highway and trucking professionals, transit operators, commuters, long-distance travelers, and other road users. (http://www.foretell.com/help/Foretell/about.htm)

Transportation professionals may be unable to control the weather, but this CD-ROM should help road managers make more informed decisions once bad weather strikes. Better decisions will lead to better driving conditions and fewer accidents. In the future, FHWA plans to post information from the CD-ROM online.

For more information about the Best Practices for Road Weather Management CD-ROM, contact Paul Pisano at 202-366-1301.


Keri Funderburg is a contributing editor for Public Roads.

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