In a perfect winter world, nothing would be simpler than plowing to remove all the snow and slush from the pavement. However, the reality is that winter conditions make it impossible to prevent snow pack or ice from developing on the pavement. This is where deicing materials are needed to restore safe pavement conditions. Deicers work by preventing ice from bonding to the pavement and help to remove any ice that has stuck to the pavement. And road salt is the most cost-effective material in the snowfighter's arsenal.
Abrasives don't melt snow and ice - they're inert and can't melt anything! So what can abrasives do? Well, they can increase traction, but in order to do so they must remain between the tire and the ice - impossibility in the presence of significant traffic. As a result, abrasives must be used in large quantities and applied frequently, making them far more expensive than salt in terms of material and manpower. Unfortunately, abrasives are poorly understood and often misused, resulting in wasted material and money, and reduced safety for the traveling public.
Abrasives are often used for the wrong reasons. It is nice to spread something that the public can see - it shows you're doing work and might stop complaints for a short period. But there is a growing list of negative environmental concerns with abrasives, including air pollution from the dusty fine particles. Abrasives can also pollute stream beds, ruining fish breeding. The costly post-season clean-up costs, problems with windshield damage claims and chipped auto paint make the use of abrasives a source of public irritation and criticism. It is a high price to have sand just to look at. These limitations in the application of abrasives are reflected in their rapidly declining pattern of use over the last two decades.
Abrasives can be a useful treatment in environmental conditions where conventional deicing chemicals don't work and they can be used to maintain safety at hills, curves and intersections on unpaved and low volume roads. But road salt remains the most widespread and practical deicer in use at any temperature above -6 F. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are used at lower temperatures and can also be added to road salt for rapid deicing and effective melting at a broader range of temperatures.
So if your agency is using a high percentage of abrasives, you should take the opportunity to review your practice and seek improvements in winter maintenance management. The public deserves nothing less.
See article (pdf 367.68 kB) ...
Montgomery county residents had a rude awakening this morning. After at least eight accidents occurred along the same stretch of the Capital Beltway , the Maryland State Highway Administration began to "aggressively investigate" what went wrong with pretreating the highway.
It turns out that a contractor pretreated the Beltway with the wrong chemical, making both the Inner and Outer Loops of the ring road that encircles Washington, DC a slippery and treacherous mess. The bridge decks between Bethesda and Silver Spring were the most slippery.
"We use salt brine. They used liquid magnesium combined with salt brine," said Maryland State Highway Administration Spokesman Dave Buck, describing the mistake.
Maryland highway crews corrected the situation by retreated with salt.
Many of us take mobility and roadway safety during winter for granted, yet without salt, we could not cope with winter. Using obvious poetic license the latest SaltGuru video "Coping with Winter " uses a lighthearted, but memorable series of images intended to make people think what it’s like in winter without the benefits of salt.
Road weather information systems (RWIS) provide snowfighters with unprecedented access to crucial, real-time information enabling improved winter roadway operations, improved public safety, mobility and productivity. Like all road management improvements, innovative RWIS technologies reduce the exposure of road agencies and road users to certain liabilities.
The effect can be cross-cutting. The potential for improved safety, for example, raises realistic public expectations that better plowing and salting will cut the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities. These issues are examined in a new report issued earlier this month by Jaime Rall of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Weather or Not? State Liability and Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) . The NCSL report is a resource for state legislators and state DOTs.
NCSL explains why this is an important question:
Weather significantly affects the traveling public and the transportation agencies that operate and maintain the nation’s roadways. Recent studies estimate that 24 percent of all crashes and 17 percent of traffic fatalities are weather-related—more than 1.5 million accidents per year, resulting in over 673,000 injuries and nearly 7,400 fatalities.1 Adverse weather also is the second-largest cause of non-recurring highway congestion, accounting for approximately 15 percent of traffic delays nationwide. Winter road maintenance alone accounts for about 20 percent of state DOT maintenance budgets. State and local transportation agencies spend more than $2.5 billion each year on snow and ice control operations, and more than $5 billion to repair weather-damaged roadway infrastructure.
Because RWIS systems deliver a benefit cost ratio between 2:1 and 10:1, RWIS adoption has been broad and rapid in the North American snowbelt; at least 44 states and DC have RWIS systems. The data from 33 states and three cities are integrated into the huge "anytime, anywhere" Clarus database available to all transportation users and operators.
The power of this information is a two-edged sword and state DOTs, says NCSL, are exposed to legal liabilities with regard to its public, particularly online, dissemination of this information (the problem isn't entirely mitigated if a third party like Clarus is involved), altered standards of liability for road agencies under their duty to respond to the new RWIS information and potential suits for agencies that choose not to use this useful tool.
The report makes it clear that
RWIS can help DOTs avoid a “breach of duty,” without which there is no liability, by helping them meet their legal duties. When a DOT has notice of a dangerous condition, these duties include exercising reasonable care to either alleviate the condition or provide adequate warning to the traveling public. Because RWIS can help a DOT meet these responsibilities—for example, by supporting better informed maintenance decisions, automated road treatments and real-time traveler information—it can thus reduce exposure to certain liabilities.
RWIS also creates new duties: Undertaking a new practice or service that affects public safety creates a duty to perform it with reasonable care." In sum:
RWIS might also affect what constitutes a standard of reasonable care for the traditional duties of state DOTs, raising expectations for how DOTs handle dangerous situations. There are earlier decisions in which the lack of advanced RWIS-type technologies was mentioned. In 1982, for example, the Supreme Court of Michigan held the state DOT not negligent because, among other factors, “the technology available at the time of the accident was not advanced to such point as would permit the installation of a flashing sign which would be automatically activated upon the actual appearance of ice on [a] bridge…” Now, however, real-time detection and automated
warnings are available.
The report makes a series of recommendations on how agencies can manage these new liabilities.
A decade ago, road safety and mobility policy pinned its hopes on technology to abate the appallingly high highway fatality rate. That bright promise has been laboring, not languishing, but clearly needs a boost to achieve the vision of harnessing wireless technology and on-board vehicle communications to overcome distracted driving and make our roads both safer and reliably free-flowing. A new DOT white paper, Achieving the Vision: From VII to IntelliDrive
, suggests adding a new component to the strategy -- road weather information (RWIS) data -- to break through the policy "chicken and egg" conundrum of whether to invest first in "smart roads" or rather in "smart cars."
The white paper outlines a research strategy for the next five years incorporating RWIS information. Noting that RWIS systems are an increasingly common infrastructure enhancement, the white paper opines:
For both road weather and environmental applications, vehicle systems may be a powerful source of new data. In the case of road weather, for example, vehicle-based data can supplement conventional weather data, primarily collected in the atmosphere, to provide more relevant and pervasive information about roadway surface conditions. For instance, activation of automatic stability control systems on multiple vehicles in a common location could indicate slippery pavement that needs treatment. Similarly, vehicle-based data may provide new information sources that could enable new transportation management techniques that are sensitive to environmental impact. For example, data generated from IntelliDrive systems may provide system operators with detailed , real-time information on the location, speed, and operating conditions of vehicles using their system. This data could enable transportation agencies to manage system operations more efficiently -- for example, by adjusting traffic signal timing to accommodate the predominant directional flow of traffic, which can save fuel and reduce environmental impact.
For snowfighters, this means that tools developed to help them speed their lifesaving emergency service of restoring roadway safety and mobility will have broader application. As slippery roads trigger the anti-skid brake systems and in-pavement "loops" detecting traffic flow document the congestion of snow- and ice-covered roads -- the primary impairment to winter safety and mobility -- these same tools used by snowfighters in managing their operations will provide a key input into our national vision for safer roads and more reliable roadway mobility.
The proverb avers: failing to plan is planning to fail." So true. The Federal Highway Adminstration has a new Primer on Safety Performance Measures for the Transportation Planning Process . It's worth a read.
Recently, the American Highway Users Alliance issued an important report on the economic costs caused by the paralysis or congestion caused by failed snowfighting efforts . It mirrors results from earlier studies (1999 and 2004) commissioned by the Salt Institute.
The new FHWA report points out that these economic costs of impaired mobility are overshadowed by the economic savings generated by safe roads. Safety benefits in 85 US metro areas are 1.3 to 4 times greater than congestion costs. Again, the Salt Institute has commissioned the definitive study of the safety benefits of proper winter maintenance, the Marquette Report .
As you read this report, we hope you'll be struck with two facts: 1) performance measures are what drives performance by making possible an understanding of the difference which different interventions produce and 2) that the current crop of performance measures are too blunt an instrument for the delicate operation of timely and effective winter maintenance. The state and federal databases being used may be suitable for many purposes, but their infrequent updating renders then useless for snowfighting planning and operations management. They measure most of the right variables, but an annual figure identifying an at-risk location is inadequate to identify the relationship between, for example, severe winter weather and the consequent snowfighting operations and the safety outcomes.
Special studies like the Marquette Report and a new study underway in Ontario can pinpoint the benefit of applying salt and plowing winter roads, but none of the recommended data sets can produce time- and weather/snowfighting-sensitive data.
A few years ago, a survey of state DOT Safety Management Plans found that none included snowfighting operations among the proven technologies to keep roads safe. That was a travesty then; its even worse today when ever more people depend on highways to deliver safely themselves and the goods and services they demand.
We need every jurisdiction to implement a winter operations component into their community and state/provincial roadway safety plan to identify not only WHERE crashes occur, but WHEN, as in during winter storms on untreated roads.
Today, at the National Press Club, American Highway Users Alliance released a study by IHS Global Insight estimating the economic impact of snowstorms in sixteen U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The study found that "hundreds of millions of dollars in economic opportunity are lost each day that a state is shuttered by impassable roads."
“Lost wages of hourly workers account for about two-thirds of the direct economic impact of a major snowstorm,” said James Gillula, Managing Director of Global Insight and the principal researcher of the study. “Among all workers, hourly wage workers can suffer the most painful economic losses and the indirect economic effects of their lost wages can ripple through the economy.”
The study, the Highway Users noted, gives needed perspective on the true costs of what is often thought of as harmless and fun. For state and local authorities, they suggested, it could serve as a wakeup call for bigger snow removal budgets.“Although snow days often conjure happy childhood memories, this study makes it crystal clear that they have a tangible and serious negative impact on real working people and a wide range of businesses,” said Greg Cohen, Highway Users President and CEO. “The shocking losses estimated by this study should light a fire under state and local authorities nationwide to get serious about investing in quicker and more effective snow and ice removal. When roads are left unsafe or impassible, it is like money being thrown down the drain.”
This study highlights the economic necessity of snowfighting and the fact that one successful day of snowfighting can more than repay the entire costs of a year of snowfighting in economic benefits. As we exit one of the most devastating years for snowstorms in recent memory and a difficult year economically, the press is covering this story with gusto, as they should. State and local authorities cannot afford to sacrifice commerce and safety as they make budget decisions for next year.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is notorious for his advice: "don't waste a good crisis." The National Journal (subscription required) recounts how presidents have evolved in their appreciation that blizzards are national emergencies in the magazine's current article "For presidents, snow has become a reliable catastrophe. It used to be something that you just had to live with ."
President Obama has declared a disaster to facilitate a federal bailout of DC area snowfighters. Last year, he was joking about how well Chicago handled snow and ice. Now he lives in Washington, DC and can appreciate that failed snowfighting is no joke. The article continues:
Where snow falls, disaster follows. Legally, that is. Presidents have turned increasingly to disaster designations over the past 60 years, and snow has become an ever-more-popular entry. But they ignored it at first. It wasn't until January 1977 that snow, by itself, made the disaster cut. That was in Buffalo, N.Y. (no winter wimps there).
Carter started something, and since then snow has become a reliable catastrophe. Last year alone, there were 17 disaster declarations linked to severe winter storms.
It used to be something you just had to live with. When Eva Clark of Pittsfield, Mass., sent Grover Cleveland views of her city after the Blizzard of 1888, along with pictures of the same streets in summer, the president replied, helpfully, "The storm must have been severe to have so filled the streets of Pittsfield with snow, but the views in summer show so delightful a change that you will soon be enjoying the pleasures of your shady home."
Even in the face of real disaster, presidents shrugged. After 98 people died when the roof of Washington's Knickerbocker Theater collapsed in 1922, Warren Harding said, "The terrible tragedy, staged in the midst of a great storm, has deeply depressed all of us and left us wondering about the revolving fates."
Fortunately, we don't have to accept that snowfall equals disaster. Ask your local professional snowfighter!
Apparently, we're not the only ones that thinks the Illinois Policy Institute's new study rating Chicago's snowfighting service: See What They're Saying about Ready for the Snow? is important. The IPI posted this page:
On February 16th, The Illinois Policy Institute released Ready for the Snow? , an in depth report grading Chicago's snow removal efforts. Here is a sample of what others are saying about the report:
An Associated Press story ran in several publications including the Chicago Sun-Times and News Oklahoma , mentions the Institute's snow removal study, in which we give the city of Chicago an 'A' for their snow removal efforts in the wake of a storm that dropped over a foot of snow on the city.
NBC Chicago references the Institute's comprehensive study on Chicago's snow removal efforts.
The Salt Institute calls the Illinois Policy Institute's work "outstanding advocacy on behalf of winter safety and mobility."
The Huffington Post discusses our snow report and the improvements in snow removal that it points to from January to February.
WAND-TV discusses the cost of snow removal and the 'A' rating the city received in our review of their snow removal services.
The Chicagoist compares Chicago's snow removal efforts, and the 'A' grade it received in our report, to the removal efforts of east coast cities.
For generations, assessing snowfighter performance was a virtual monopoly for transportation and public works professionals, with "purse-string-holders" looking over their shoulder. The public might be happy ... or not, but for the most part, they tolerated delinquent or poor quality service.
There were exceptions to be sure. Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic's infamous snowfighting glitch that ended his electoral career is only the most prominent example. Highway users, roadway safety groups and taxpayer advocates, however, were generally patient as crews struggled heroically to clear away ice and snow.
DC isn't the only place it's snowed, however. Today, the Illinois Policy Institute released a report assessing snowfighting effectiveness in Chicago; it is entitled "Ready for the Snow? Gauging Illinois’s performance on a critical core service ." After recounting the Bilandic episode, the report continues:
People expect clear roads during wintertime – and they want the roads cleared in a timely fashion. If government fails to meet expectations, it does not go unnoticed. In the winter of 2008-2009, Chicago cut overtime services, leaving side roads iced over for days.
Chicagoans were not happy. For the 2009-2010 winter season, Mayor Richard Daley outlined plans to avoid previous mistakes and has committed to keeping the roads safe and clear. Chicago’s Street and Sanitation Department’s 2009 personnel budget for snow removal is $6 million.
The Illlinois Policy Institute report makes a strong defense of snowfighting investments and quotes approvingly from agencies around the state with high levels of winter road maintenance service.
Budgeting for snow removal sits near the top of the priority list for local governments around Illinois; Sangamon County Highway Engineer Tim Zahrn noted, “That’s the first thing we budget for; that’s our primary responsibility.” Officials in the state capital city of Springfield say they “will deploy whatever resources are needed on a storm-by-storm basis.”
IPI calls for new performance standards for snow and ice control operations.It’s no secret snow causes car accidents.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, every year the following occurs:
- 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.
- 15 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes happen during snowfall or sleet.
- Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.
Budgeting for road clearing during winter season is a top priority and major budget item for state and local government. Preparation is key for combating winter storms, and once the storm arrives, local and state governments need to hold themselves accountable by implementing snow removal performance standards. In order to measure snow removal standards, state and local governments can set up a metric system to gauge good or poor performance.
And the metric it endorses is truly cast in terms of delivering service on winter roads for roadway users.
- How well was snow removal and salting maintained during the snowstorm?
- How many accidents occurred because of weather conditions?
- How was travel time affected because of the snow?
- At which point were main and side roads clear after the snowstorm stopped?
These are the very questions that snowfighting managers have been grappling with for years. It's nice to see the public paying more attention to its snowfighting investment -- usually the largest single roadway operating budget item for a snowbelt road agency.
Congratulations to the Illinois Policy Institute for its outstanding advocacy on behalf of winter safety and mobility.
Analyses of the economic devastation of snowfalls that paralyze roadway systems confirm the value of effective snowfighting -- and its cost-effectiveness. HIstorical studies were reinforced with the record snowfalls that hit the DC metro area last week. A Wells Fargo analyst told the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch :
Some spending increased because of the storms. More money was spent to remove snow, and to repair structures damaged by the ice and snow. Sales of snow shovels and parkas increased. Snow can be a stimulus.
On the other hand, some activity was lost forever. "The losses are real," said Mark Vitner, an economist for Wells Fargo Securities. People who were snowed in won't buy an extra lunch when they get back to work, and they won't park their car twice.
Winter storms are more disruptive than damaging.
"The February numbers are going to be a mess," Vitner said. "It's a downer, but how much of a downer, we don't know." Employment, hours worked, wages and retail sales could decline sharply in February, only to rebound in March, if history is any guide. That movement will mostly reflect the timing of the snapshots of economic activity, and not a fundamental shift in the economy's direction.
And a Deutsche Bank economist added:
Economist Joe LaVorgna of Deutsche Bank figures a snow storm in the survey week lowers payrolls by an average of 90,000 compared with the trend line.
For instance, payrolls fell by a seasonally adjusted 51,000 in March 1993 when the "storm of the century" lashed the Midwest and East during the survey week. Employment was strong before and after the storm. In February before the storm, payrolls had risen by 309,000; in April, payrolls rose by 250,000. The average workweek fell by 0.6% in March.
The 1993 storm also had an impact on seasonally adjusted retail sales, which sank 0.7% in March, only to rise 2.2% in April. Housing starts were also bruised by the 1993 storm, falling more than 10% in March and rising more than 16% in April.
During the blizzard of 1996, payrolls fell by 19,000 in January, and then rebounded by 434,000 in February. Average hours fell by 1.2%, the fourth largest decline on record. The three largest declines in hours worked were also due to severe winter storms.
An amendment just incorporated into a pending New Hampshire legislative bill seeking to create pathbreaking mandatory certification of snowfighters would exempt those who apply about 80% of the road salt in that state. That's bad public policy.
The Salt Institute has urged the NH House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee to make sure any bill require that "any 'solution' to improved salt management include all public and private agencies and businesses that apply salt." (pdf 39.48 kB)
True, private sector snowfighters need more and better training, but so do those who labor in public employ to keep our winter roads safe and passable.
Even casual observers of road salt operations in the North American snowbelt recognize that most of the salt used to keep winter roads safe and passable is applied by public agencies. And for a half century, there has been consensus that over-application of road salt imposes unnecessary environmental costs. That's why the Salt Institute has been promoting "Sensible Salting" for more than 40 years -- application of the minimum amount of salt needed to achieve desired levels of service. Sensible Salting has been the mainstay of employee training programs for decades. Sensible Salting has won public service awards.
Snowfighter training is the key to improved salt management. Every state has a federally-subsidized Local Technology Assistance Program and snowbelt state LTAPs offer training to government and private snowfighters on how to do the job right. Problem: some agencies and contractors skimp (or even ignore) training. As a result, their application of road salt doesn't reflect best management practices. Training has always been voluntary and, as a result, inconsistent. That's the case in every state, not just New Hampshire whose motto famously proclaims "Live free or die."
New Hampshire Rep. Margaret Crisler (R-Rockingham) wants to convert the inconsistent voluntary approach and force snowfighter training throughout the state. We support the intent to improve snowfighter training, though this legislative vehicle has problems.
Rep. Crisler, at the request of the Department of Environmental Services (DES), has introduced HB 1676 to require certification of all snowfighters except homeowners and business owners who are putting salt on their own property. The bill enjoys support from the entire state bureaucracy, DES (which would draft the certification standards and enforce the program), the department of transportation, the department of safety and the department of resources and economic development. But these state departments, perhaps also reflecting municipalities throughout the state, insist that state and municipal snowfighters be exempted from the certification requirement . In other words, the guy with the pick-up truck putting out hundreds of pounds of salt on a shopping center or office complex parking lot would pay fees and be required to certify their operators, but the NH DOT and the municipal crews that operate the large plow/spreader trucks that spread the vast majority of the salt would be exempted.
Live free or die?
The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill February 4. A couple part-time DES employees would be required to develop and administer the certification program, the DES estimated (before insisting the bill be confined only to private contractors).
Want to register your views ?
Also of note: hidden deep in the bill is a provision limiting the liability of property owners who employ best salt management practices.