There’s no business like snow business


(D.C. Department of Transportation)
(D.C. Department of Transportation)

If you’re a snow lover, or simply despise snow, you may be interested in new tricks states are using to clear the roads. Steel spikes! Magic Salt! Mini-Cams! Winged plows! Potato juice! Potato juice? Potatoes have juice? Who knew?

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials checked in with its members and provides this list of innovative stuff some of them are doing as the snow wars get underway.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is expanding its fleet of dual-wing plows this winter. Standard snowplows can clear only nine feet of roadway at a time. Dual-wing plows can do the work of three standard plows, clearing up to 24 feet of roadway, or two full highway lanes, in one pass. The plow was the brainchild of SHA Shop Chief Steve Henry, who began his career with the agency driving snowplows in 1972. Henry still works for the agency. While many plows include a “wing” blade on the side in addition to the plow on the front of the truck, SHA’s versatile new plow has two 12-foot wings – one on each side – and can use one, two, or all three in different combinations.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities uses a variety of advanced technologies to combat extreme winter weather. This year it became one of the first agencies in the country to deploy an icebreaker. The device, which attaches to the front of a maintenance truck, uses a steel drum with spikes to break up ice and expose asphalt. The device, which can be raised and lowered like a snow plow blade, turns smooth ice on top of roadways into a rough surface that provides better traction for vehicles.

The Nevada Department of Transportation is involved in a multistate demonstration project that equips 20 plows and trucks to collect weather and vehicle data, essentially creating a mobile weather reporting station that reports current road conditions via radio rather than cellphone signal for more reliable road updates  in rural areas.

The Utah Department of Transportation recently expanded its road-monitoring camera network to more than 100 remote locations throughout the state. The solar-powered system uses state-of-the-art, low-cost web cameras, high-speed wireless communication and infrared sensors to broadcast video from distant mountain passes or other problem areas. Live streaming video is now shared with road users through UDOT’s Web site and mobile applications. Instead of sending a snowplow to investigate a location, supervisors can take a quick look and decide whether an area needs to be plowed.

This winter, the Tennessee Department of Transportation will use a substance called “Magic Salt” to help melt ice and snow during lower temperatures. Magic Salt, made from potato juice, is a biodegradable, non-corrosive and environmentally friendly substance. TDOT is also using tow plows, which are attached to the back of traditional snow plows and allow drivers to clear an additional travel lane in one pass.

This season, the California Department of Transportation is using an innovative new tow plow on Interstate 80’s rugged Donner Pass. The tow plow swings out from behind a traditional snow plow to clear snow from two lanes of traffic. It can also apply brine solution to prevent black ice before and after a storm.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.



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Ashley Halsey III · December 17, 2013

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