Snow removal is one of the major activities performed by the Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) Operations and Maintenance Division. UDOT’s maintenance forces take ownership and pride in their work, ensuring that the roads are clear and safe for travelers to reach their destinations.
Doing their part to help Utahs economy flourish, UDOT maintenance diligently works to ensures year-round transportation throughout the state.
UDOT’s proactive strategy for ensuring that roads are clear and safe begins with state of the art simulator training. Operators are trained on an electronic simulator that helps them sharpen their skill, improve their efficiency and increase safety. Once on the highway, maintenance operators begin working the storm before the snow even hits. Pre-storm treatment typically includes the use anti-icing chemicals, chiefly salt brine, to pretreat the road surface. The brine pretreatment of the roads helps reduce the bonding of ice to the roadway surface. By pretreating, the plows are able to more cost effectively remove the resulting slush. This method is preferable to removing the snow after allowing some accumulation on the roads, plowing, and then salting the surface, in much the way that homeowners treat their driveways.
State road maintenance crews are also utilizing wing plows and tow plows to clear the roads. These devices allow the roads to be cleared more quickly and make travel by the public even safer under wintry conditions. Wing plows and tow plows are additional plows attached to the sides or towed behind the truck. The use of these devices allows one truck to clear multiple lanes, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing the need for additional equipment and drivers.
UDOT also employs high-tech instruments such as Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) which deliver information such as snowfall rate, freezing rain, wet bulb temperature, and road surface temperature, as well as cameras and wind sensors to create a Winter Road Weather Index (WRWI). WRWI uses the field sensor data to develop a numerical status of road condition related to the mobility of traffic.
WRWI aids in deployment of the f leet. The information allows supervisors, for example, to determine if a truck has salted a section of the road by measuring the depression of the freezing point. WRWI road temperature data also helps supervisors make other critical decisions such as whether to use salt or, if so, what type of salt should be used on the surface. The cameras are used in conjunction with WRWI to be the crews’ eyes on the road, allowing supervisors to view and check conditions in remote locations and determine if deploying snowplows to those locations are necessary.
UDOT also partners with Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) and the public to obtain eyewitness accounts of road conditions. Thanks to a UDOT Citizen Reporting App, the public is able to report directly to the UDOT Traffic Operations Center road conditions via their phone. This provides first-hand information to the traveling public and allowing the maintenance crews to better understand the conditions on the road before and during deployment for a snow event.
UDOT maintenance crews work closely with UHP to identify and address areas that need snow maintenance such as icy spots or drifting snow along state owned roadways. UHP is partnering with UDOT maintenance crews to better coordinate the temporary shutdown of ramps or lanes that may not be safe for travel during heavy snow conditions. This partnership allows better effectiveness for both the troopers and UDOT maintenance crews.
The State of Utah has budgeted for an average of 25 storms a year and removes approximately 65 million tons of snow annually. UDOT has approximately 500 plow trucks statewide, most of which can be equipped with wing plows, tow plows, or anti-icing tankers. The UDOT annual budget for snow removal is approximately $24 million.
UDOT’s strategy for the future includes working even smarter and becoming even more efficient at snow removal. UDOT has been investigating software that will allow it to examine current snowplow routes within and across station boundaries, and efficiently optimize snowplow usage by removing these boundaries and matching the level of service necessary for the functional classification and emergency routes. UDOT is also considering investment in an automated vehicle location (AVL) system that can be installed on the plow trucks for their management and to provide important information to our traveling public. UDOT will be able to use this information to make better decisions about the deployment of snow removal resources and the public will have improved information about driving in wintry conditions. Optimization of snowplow routes, along with the AVL system, will work together to make sure the funding for snow removal is stretched as far as possible. UDOT’s ultimate goal is the safety of the traveling public. By effectively utilizing these new technologies and maintaining the strong, on-the-ground partnership between UDOT maintenance workers and UHP troopers, the roads of Utah will be passable and safe throughout the winter season.