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Researchers Aim to Improve Road Crew Response During Snow

Posted at: 03/05/2013 3:54 PM
Updated at: 03/05/2013 7:51 PM
By: Stephen Tellier

Putting the plows on the roads where they're needed most. Technology and research may give the Minnesota Department of Transportation the ability to do that faster and more efficiently.

"Man, they're much better than this in Chicago," said Lamont Robinson, who lives in Chicago but was in the Twin Cities during Tuesday's snow.
He said he sees more plows in the Windy City than in the Twin Cities.
 
"I've been on University, I've been on Snelling, I've been on Rice Street, and I haven't seen one until just now," Robinson said.
 
MnDOT officials said a new study could make complaints like that one melt away.
 
"Snow and ice service is the number one priority for the Minnesota Department of Transportation," said Steven Lund, the state maintenance engineer with MnDOT.
 
MnDOT already has its eyes -- dozens of them -- on roads throughout the metro. But state-sponsored research at the University of Minnesota Duluth would take human judgment out of the equation.
 
"It will help us measure what we're doing well, and will help point to what we could be doing better," Lund said.
 
The study relies on thousands of sensors buried beneath the pavement that track traffic speed, flow, and density -- the same sensors 5 Eyewitness News uses to tell you how fast traffic is moving every morning. Researchers want to take that technology one step further, and use real-time traffic data to determine which roads are pristine and which are pleading for plows.
     
"The true test is if traffic is returning to a normal condition," Lund said.
 
Knowing that would allow MnDOT and other agencies to better direct crews to the roads that need them most.
 
"A city as large as the Twin Cities should have that already," Robinson said.
 
Lund said that if MnDOT can actually implement the technology being developed right now, it would be the first agency in the nation to do so.
 
The first phase of the study has already been completed, and the results were released in December. They were so encouraging that phase two is already under way.