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Computers Zap Winter Away

Computer chips turn on your coffee machine in the morning, and help you drive more safely while drinking that coffee and cruising U.S. Route 422 to work. Those tiny pieces of silicon also play a big role in keeping 422 and other state-maintained highways free of ice and snow this winter, according to Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT),

The pride of PennDOT awaits winter.

The pride of PennDOT awaits winter.

More than 2,200 PennDOT trucks are ready to clear roads across the state once snow begins to fall, says state Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler. Nearly all now come equipped with computerized salt spreaders to distribute the correct amount of salt regardless of the speed of the truck, and pre-wetting equipment that helps road salt work faster when it hits the roadway.

In days gone by, plow operators’ biggest worries were knocking down a mailbox or roadside fence. Now, Biehler says,  the concern is to “attack storms strategically.”

PennDOT relies on “smart-salting” techniques that give its operators flexibility to increase or decrease the amount of salt being distributed based on specific road conditions. They abide by guidelines for how much salt is used given the type of winter precipitation, the temperature, number of vehicles and other factors.

Strategic storm handling also means PennDOT changes its snow-clearing game plan when it feels the need. Because it focuses on clearing major routes, the agency occasionally redirects plowing and salting equipment from lower-traffic volume roads to major routes during significant storms.

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