Winter Operations

Winter Operations
Snow removal operation in Garrett County
A critical aspect of highway maintenance in winter is the effective and efficient control of snow and ice. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is keenly aware of its responsibility to provide safety and mobility for motorists on state-maintained roads during winter storms, and at the same time, do so in a cost-effective and environmentally sensitive manner.

Several years ago, SHA embarked on a major effort to reduce road salt usage and intensify environmentally friendly practices during winter operations. A nationally recognized team of winter operations experts performed a “Top-to Bottom” review of SHA operations. At the team’s recommendation, SHA adopted Opportunities for Improvement (OFI’s) such as increased proactive anti-icing (spraying salt brine on highways before the onset of frozen precipitation), close monitoring of salt application rates used by SHA and contract operators, and increased personnel training in “sensible salting” operations.

As SHA continues to implement the OFI’s, it’s seeing positive impacts. Anti-icing is now performed on most interstates and major corridors, increasing safety for more motorists across the state. Our maintenance shops track the salt usage of every snow plow operator, allowing SHA managers to identify plow operators who are getting the job done with lower amounts of salt. SHA empowers these “champions” to mentor others in sensible salting practices.

SHA continues to test and deploy new materials, equipment and strategies. SHA has expanded the use of salt brine that will increase anti-icing effectiveness, lessen salt usage and increase motorist safety. SHA has deployed snow fighting trucks fitted with larger front plows, side “wing” plows, and, in some cases, trailer-mounted tow plows. The equipment increases plowing effectiveness, resulting in a further reduction of salt application. Continuing deployment of an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) system will improve communications with plow trucks and allow better coordination of our resources.

SHA is continuing an initiative to expand the coverage and reliability of its Road Weather Information System (RWIS) sensor sites. These mini-weather stations provide up-to-date weather and road information to managers, allowing them to make timely and appropriate plowing and salting decisions.

SHA has learned a lot about how best practices can have positive safety, cost and environmental impacts. Many of these best practices formed the basis for the Statewide Salt Management Plan, created by SHA in conjunction with the Maryland Department of the Environment. The plan is one of the many ways that SHA is helping other state, county and municipal highway agencies fight winter storms.