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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / February 1996

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-SA-96-013
Date: February 1996

Iowa DOT's Anti-Icing Campaign Reaps Generouse Rewards

Lee Smithson has snow on his mind. Every October or early November, before Iowa's first big storm, he sends out news releases and invites reporters from local newspapers and radio and television stations to his office to discuss snow and ice control.

As deputy director for the maintenance division of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), Smithson says fall is a good time to talk about the department's anti-icing strategies. Reporters usually research and draft articles on winter storms and snow and ice control well ahead of their publication date. That way, the reporters are ready when the storm hits to give the readers the information they want. The reporters need only update the article to reflect current conditions.

Smithson says that meeting with the press every year provides an opportunity to bring them up to date on Iowa's strategies for snow and ice control. He also talks to them about the anti-icing studies initiated under the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) and continued under a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) test and evaluation project (TE 28). As a result, Smithson says he is no longer besieged with telephone calls from the press during storms, when he has little time to discuss snow and ice control. "Now, when the first snow storm hits, the only thing to be added to an article is how much snow fell and who got hit the hardest," says Smithson.

By being better informed, the media can do a better job of informing the public. For example, Iowa DOT collaborated with the Des Moines Register to prepare an article explaining the purpose and effectiveness of anti-icing strategies. The article clearly explained the difference between anti-icing strategies, which prevent a bond from forming between the pavement and the freezing precipitation, and the more time-consuming and costly deicing strategies, which have to break the bond.

"It's crucial to take the time to explain the tenacious bond that is formed between pavement and ice and the mechanics of applying chemicals at the right time for snow removal," says Smithson. "People can then begin to understand how these technologies can greatly benefit them."

Smithson encourages television news crews to ride along with maintenance crews as they clear the roadways of snow and ice. This gives the reporters a real sense of how plowing limits the driver's visibility, so they can warn motorists to stay safely away from the plow truck. "It also provides some dramatic TV coverage," says Smithson. Smithson says the response from the public has been positive, and the exposure has been a morale booster for Iowa DOT staff as well. "Our people are delighted to receive recognition for the jobs they do."

Smithson also works with the Iowa Transportation Center, located at Iowa State University in Ames. He keeps them informed of Iowa DOT's anti-icing strategies, and he gets them involved in local field demonstrations. The Transportation Center's publication, Technology News, helps spread the word to local government highway engineers and technicians. "The Transportation Center publication gives me access to a different audience--one that generally understands the technology but can use assistance in application techniques," says Smithson. "By using external resources, I can reach into all areas of the State."

For several years, Iowa DOT's anti-icing strategies have made front-page news in the Des Moines Register. Iowa's 2.8 million residents, scattered over a large geographic area, depend heavily on the State highway system. Reporter Bill Petroski, who has been covering the transportation beat for the Register for 11 years, says that readers are very interested in transportation issues and Iowa DOT's work.

"People are interested in the smallest types of changes within the DOT--from what kind of weather data systems and snow plows Iowa DOT uses to why they pay farmers to keep rows of corn standing to act as snow fences," says Petroski.

By taking advantage of new technologies and nurturing a working relationship with the media, Smithson has helped the DOT to stand out as a winner. The added attention from the public and the media has also motivated the DOT to consistently seek ways to improve its anti-icing strategies (see sidebar). When asked what advice he would give to other States considering setting up a media outreach campaign, Smithson said, "You have to take the attitude that the news media are your friends. They can reach the customer more efficiently and effectively than you can. Figure out how to use that asset, and then celebrate your successes so that people know about them."

Iowa DOT's Anti-Icing Strategies Keep Getting Better

Iowa DOT's involvement in FHWA's TE 28 project sparked new ideas for applying anti-icing approaches. The DOT set up a test section to demonstrate the use of a sodium chloride solution in anti-icing application for local highway agencies. Using livestock watering tanks and polyvinyl chloride pipes, the DOT built a liquid spreader for much less than what a commercially available spreader would have cost ($1,500 instead of $25,000). The DOT also made its own brine and stored it in a 5700-liter (1,500-gallon) tank. Response from local highway agencies has been enthusiastic, says Smithson.

FHWA's TE 28 project has opened the door to experimenting with other anti-icing strategies, such as prewetting materials before applying them to the roadway. Iowa DOT found that this method not only saved materials, but was also more effective since dry materials often bounce on striking the pavement and can be blown off the pavement by traffic. Prewetting the materials also helps break the chemical bond between pavement and ice. Iowa DOT recently purchased 197 liquid applicators, at a cost of $900 each, which equipped all of Iowa's interstate maintenance crews.

Iowa DOT also has 22 road weather information system (RWIS) sites operating throughout the State, which provide real-time, site-specific information about pavement conditions, air temperatures, and bridge conditions. By combining anti-icing strategies with RWIS technology, Iowa DOT can better plan maintenance procedures for each storm.

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