Eyes in the storm
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) began building its own vehicle location/data collection system four years ago to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its winter operations. At the time, none of the commercially available automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems fit the department's needs, so in-house technicians developed a custom system and continue to expand its use.
WSDOT's AVL system consists of material controllers on the trucks that capture data about anti-icer/de-icer material use. It also uses vehicle data terminals (VDTs) installed in the vehicles to capture additional information, such as road conditions. All of that data is sent to WSDOT's backend system, where managers can generate summaries of the trucks' routes and material totals for driver verification.
The data is sent over cellular networks (Sprint, AT&T and Verizon), combined with the state route system and traffic flow maps, and displayed on a web-based map that shows truck location, road condition and materials applied in real time. If a truck loses cell coverage, the data is stored on the truck and sent later when the connection is re-established. The information is used by WSDOT managers to determine how much material has been applied over any time period on a stretch of road, what resources are deployed for a given maintenance area, what materials are available to resolve a winter event, what the road conditions were over a given time period, and more.
WSDOT has installed the system on 245 of its 480 trucks so far. Last winter, WSDOT had multiple snow storms, two of which were statewide and required all of the department's resources. The system had some delays with all of the department's data systems on overload, so WSDOT is adding additional hardware to handle large winter storms.
So far, the development of the backend system (SQL database and GIS system) has cost $200,000, and the material controllers and other hardware installed in the trucks cost $1.96 million. This year, WSDOT is adding enhancements to track expenditures to labor, equipment and material with no interaction needed from the driver. The department also is testing the use of internet protocol (IP) radios instead of cellular networks to send data. If the IP radio testing proves successful, WSDOT will purchase them for use with the system.
Project: Snow fleet tracking
Jurisdiction: Washington State
Agency: Department of Transportation
Vendors: Burnsville, Minn.-based Force America/Precise; Cleveland-based Parker; Parkville, Mo.-based Location Technologies; Auburn, Ill.-based Dickey John
Date started: November 2007
Cost: $2.16 million