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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / June 1997

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-SA-97-024
Date: June 1997

Oklahoma's Plans for RWIS and Anti-Icing Technologies Get Boost from Nevada's Experiences

When implementing complicated new technologies, one way to make the process easier is to learn from others' experiences. That's why Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb recently sent two representatives to Nevada to learn about road weather information systems (RWIS) and anti-icing strategies. Nevada is one of the members of the Lead States Team for RWIS/Anti-Icing (see November 1996 Focus).

The 2-day visit included a brief look at all aspects of Nevada's RWIS system. Gary Brown of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and David Maloy, a consultant to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (DOT), visited Nevada DOT's RWIS system in the Lake Tahoe area and toured sites where Nevada is expanding its RWIS network. Brown and Maloy learned how the system was designed, how it is used in winter maintenance, and how crews are trained to use the data from RWIS units. Their host was Rick Nelson of Nevada DOT, who is also coordinator of the Lead States Team for RWIS/Anti-Icing.

Maloy says the visit to Nevada gave a boost to Oklahoma's plans to implement RWIS and anti-icing technology on major highways. "Rick Nelson speeded up our process, cut our costs, and helped us avoid duplication of research-all in the space of a 36-hour visit," he says. Oklahoma is adopting the technologies as part of a plan initiated by Transportation Secretary McCaleb to ensure that the State's existing highway infrastructure can continue to safely carry growing volumes of traffic.

Oklahoma has already adjusted its plans in response to the lessons learned in Nevada. For example, Oklahoma DOT and the Turnpike Authority are heeding Nelson's advice that they prepare a thermal map of the area before deciding where to locate pavement and weather sensors. Thermal mapping involves measuring variations in pavement temperatures along a road to pinpoint sites that are warmer or cooler than average.

The Oklahoma team also learned how to integrate pavement and weather sensor hardware and computer systems from different vendors. This is very important for Oklahoma-not only do the DOT and the Turnpike Authority use different computer systems, but they also plan to use weather data from Mesonet, a network of more than 100 weather stations around the State that was originally developed for use by farmers.

Based on Nevada's experience and the findings of the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), Oklahoma expects to reap big benefits from using RWIS technology and an anti-icing strategy. According to Maloy, RWIS technology and an anti-icing strategy could cut salt use by as much as 90 percent while making travel safer during winter storms. By reducing the amount of salt used on Oklahoma's pavements, RWIS technology and an anti-icing strategy will also extend the lives of the hundreds of steel-reinforced concrete bridges on the State's turnpikes and Interstate highways. Overall, Maloy says, Oklahoma could see a 20-fold return on its investment in RWIS and anti-icing technology.

Nevada DOT has also hosted staff from Northern Arizona University, which is investigating the use of RWIS technology in variable message signs and other applications.

Nevada has been using an RWIS system since 1991, giving it lots of experience from which to draw. In addition, Nevada experiences a range of storms, from a light dusting of snow to blizzard conditions.

"We've looked at what works and what doesn't, so we can get the word out to other States and help them avoid repeating our mistakes," says Nelson.

For more information on the RWIS/Anti-icing Lead States Team, contact Rick Nelson at Nevada DOT (phone: 702-688-1250; fax: 702-688-1189).

For more information on Oklahoma's RWIS system, contact Dave Maloy (phone: 405-722-0697; fax: 405-721-1777; email: tavazac@aol.com).

For more information on RWIS technology and anti-icing strategies, contact Salim Nassif at FHWA (phone: 202-366-1557; fax: 202-366-9981; email: salim.nassif@fhwa.dot.gov).

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