Snow way it’s staying on the highway, how the plows predict the future

Snowplow(Jeffrey Lindblom)
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 4:52 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The South Dakota Department of Transportation has been nationally recognized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and their Research Advisory Committee, who select 16 projects each year.

The featured worked is a system that monitors the weather, and predicts the necessary highway winter maintenance procedure and required materials ahead of time.

”The Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS),” says Mike Calrson, Rapid City Area Engineer with the South Dakota Department of Transportation. “It allows us to know what’s going on, and so it depends on when the storm comes in. They come in at all times of the hours.”

“We get a forecast two days early,” explains Calrson, “and so we start looking when a storm’s coming in. We start looking at MDSS a couple days early, and start tracking that storm. We need to start bringing our people in. Getting them in their plows. So, they can start going out to the roads that they’re assigned to and start treating those roads.”

He says that nowadays, there’s a lot more to snowplows than meets the eye. They’re equipped with all kinds of gadgets, gizmos and gear to make sure that when you hit the streets, you’re safe and sound.

“They are no longer trucks,” says Carlson. “What we call them now, is they’re computers on wheels.”

The trucks have smaller versions the MDSS system called MDC’s.

“It records with our plows up or down the amount of material going out of the back of the truck, and if anything’s fallen from the sky,” Carlson says. Which gives them a forecast of how that road is progressing and determines the output of materials.

“The more information we get,” explains Carlson, “the better we can do our jobs.”

Doing their jobs better means saving money by using the least amount of materials necessary. Plus, helping out the environment, because excess salt tends to find its way into ditches, “and,” adds Carlson, “it migrates into the streams. We don’t want to do that if we don’t have to.”

In the 15 years that MDSS has been around, it’s continued to get better and better.

“It’s still not a finished product yet. We’ve still got a long way to go to make it even better,” says Carlson, “and weather’s unpredictable. So, we try to do the best that we can to put the material down. And that’s what MDSS allows us to do, is put down the right material at the right time, so we can keep the roads safe.”

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