Snow plow cameras coming in handy for MDOT

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

After a Southwest Michigan test run, the Michigan Department of Transportation is helping the public track where snow plows are working on state roads this winter.

Using GPS technology, members of the public are able to see the location of plow trucks and where salt is being applied on the Mi Drive website at www.michigan.gov/drive.

The pilot program, introduced to MDOT plow trucks in Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties, has since branched to include the rest of the state.

For days like Friday, when at least six accidents took place along I-94, the new technology has come in handy for drivers.

Under certain circumstances, plow truck locations are plotted on the Mi Drive Interactive Map when they are traveling faster than 10 mph and are within 50 feet of the roadway. Those visiting the site are able to see if the plow is down and if salt is being applied. Camera images are available for some of the plows.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Nick Schirripa said the program, which began last winter, equips each plow truck with a GPS locator. However, not all the trucks have the camera.

The blue truck icons on the map don’t have cameras, but still tell residents if they are plowing or salting. The purple icons do both, while also showing updated images from the road.

Since making its debut in Southwest Michigan, the rest of MDOT has taken on the program.

This area was chosen for the pilot project because of its high level of winter storm activity and the concentration of MDOT maintenance services in the region.

“We have the largest percentage of direct work force in the state,” Schirripa said. “By that I mean most MDOT regions contract with their counties. However, we have more plows in our region, which gave us a better idea of how the project would fare.”

MDOT’s Southwest Region has 86 plow trucks and about 140 plow drivers, who work out of seven regional garages. Among those drives, there are 62 routes to cover.

There are other states that use the dash camera feature, Schirripa said.

While MDOT has done the GPS locator for its snow plows before, it was never for the public’s benefit.

Schirripa said the locator was originally used to incur details about their snow plows from how much material is used and what areas tend to require more attention from plowing.

Then the idea came about to put the locators on the Mi Drive maps to let people know where the heaviest activity of plow activities were. The cameras came along soon after.

When the pilot program was re-evaluated last spring, Schirripa said it was received so well that other regions wanted to do it.

“When we first unveiled it, the feedback was unbelievable – especially on Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “It’s just an easy way of letting people know when a snow plow is near their street. People really appreciated that and the cameras as well. The truck cameras gave them another look.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 7, 2017)

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