In Midwest, where they know snow, now plows are snow-smart, too

Street fight. Three years ago, when the road agency chiefs of Michigan's Oakland and Wayne counties shared a drive to a meeting in Lansing, they mapped out an idea to help combat winter road conditions: multijurisdictional collaboration. Technology would be the conduit.

Three years and two more governments later, the Southeastern Michigan Snow and Ice Management (SEMSIM) project was underway.

SEMSIM partners'the city of Detroit, the Road Commission of Macomb County, the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) and the Wayne County Public Services Department'in January each deployed 10 smart salt and plow trucks. The trucks exchange data with their central offices through the OrbTrac-100 system from Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

10-4, good buddy. The trucks sport an array of technology:

• AVL'Automatic vehicle locators pinpoint the position of each truck via a global positioning system signal. Foremen can check the main system interface to locate trucks and dispatch the closest to areas needing work.

•'Mobile computers'Small dashboard text messaging units let foremen and drivers exchange about 20 preset messages such as 'It's raining' or type in messages, assignments and directions.

•'Sensors'Front-plow and underbelly-plow sensors indicate plow position, speed sensors adjust salt spread rate and temperature sensors on a side mirror capture air and pavement temperature.

'That makes it a mobile weather station,' RCOC public information officer Craig Bryson said.

Working together. Trucks primarily maintain their own jurisdiction's roads and answer only to their main agency. But the four jurisdictions share data through OrbTrac-100 and can ask one another for help.

For example, say a Macomb County foreman needed to send a truck to salt an icy bridge. If the system showed that an Oakland County truck by the counties' shared border was closer to the bridge than any of his own trucks, he could contact the Oakland dispatcher and request help. Financial compensation would follow.

An unanticipated system benefit is that employees of the four jurisdictions have become acquainted and seek advice from one another, Bryson said.

SEMSIM plans to deploy 500 trucks over the next two years.

'Claire E. House

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