Winter motorists grimly gripping their steering wheels as their cars careen across unplowed roads can take comfort from the thought that the federal government is working to ease their plight.

The Transportation Department's Federal Highway Administration, along with five national laboratories, is developing the Maintenance Decision Support System to help state transportation departments view weather patterns, predict the effects of various forms of precipitation on roads, allocate snowplows and salt trucks, and receive road treatment recommendations.

FHWA fielded a functional prototype of the system at several state transportation maintenance garages in central Iowa last winter. The first test results were mixed, according to FHWA, partly because of problems in receiving weather data and partly because of flaws in the weather models. Last winter's tests led the agency to add several enhancements to MDSS.

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