Heavy rain, snow, ice, dust, fog, and other adverse weather conditions all cause significant effects on roadway safety, mobility, and economic productivity. Over the last decade, weather contributed to nearly 21 percent of all vehicle crashes. On average, nearly 6,000 people are killed and more than 445,000 are injured in weather-related crashes each year. Further, adverse weather causes about 25 percent of all nonrecurring delays, costing the freight industry roughly $3.4 billion and $9.5 billion overall each year for just 85 urban areas alone.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Weather-Savvy Roads initiative directly addresses issues caused by weather impacts on the transportation system by promoting two innovative road weather management solutions: Pathfinder and Integrating Mobile Observations (IMO). Pathfinder provides a step-by-step process for building relationships with partners to share forecasts and road conditions, and then provides consistent messaging to travelers. IMO involves enhanced data collection from agency fleet vehicles to improve awareness of road conditions.

“Pathfinder and IMO are two innovative solutions that enable transportation agencies to better manage the highway system under adverse weather, ultimately saving lives and keeping traffic moving safely and smoothly,” says Mark Kehrli, director of transportation operations at FHWA.

FHWA promoted the Weather-Savvy Roads initiative through round four of its Every Day Counts (EDC-4) program (2017–2018). State and local agencies may choose to adopt Pathfinder, IMO, or both to more proactively manage their roadway networks ahead of and during weather events.

Two Innovative Solutions

Pathfinder represents a collaborative effort between a State department of transportation, the National Weather Service, and any contracted weather service providers. Specifically, Path-finder provides an 8-step process to build on existing practices that share forecasts and road conditions among these partners, and then translate that information into consistent messages for the traveling public.

Implementing Pathfinder involves a multistep process of assessing the types of information to share and how to share it before, during, and after high-impact weather events. The goal is to provide the public with consistent and actionable messages on potential impacts on the transportation network.

IMO promotes the collection of weather, road, and vehicle data from agency fleet vehicles to improve situational awareness of road conditions. This initiative builds on the vehicle-based technologies that most States have already implemented in their vehicle fleets, including automatic vehicle location and real-time communications. IMO enhancements involve ancillary sensors that collect data on weather and road conditions such as air pressure, air and surface temperatures, spreader rate and materials, windshield wiper status and rate, and relative humidity.

Enhanced data from IMO provide maintenance managers with a detailed view of local conditions, as well as the location of assets along the highway network. This information can support maintenance and operations decisionmaking related to road weather forecasts, end-of-shift reporting, material management, traveler information, and performance management.

Benefits and Costs

Pathfinder and IMO each improve highway safety, mobility, and productivity. However, the benefits and costs of each vary depending on the nature of implementation.

Pathfinder benefits can include enhanced decisionmaking and better informed travelers, resulting from consistent and targeted traveler information messaging. “We find that the traveling public often looks to multiple sources for weather information,” says Jeff Williams, weather program manager at the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). “If the traveling public receives the same message about storm impacts no matter the source, we see the traveling public react.”

Pathfinder deployments also include the potential for reduced vehicle miles traveled, improved maintenance operations with less motorist impedance, and increased overall safety. The costs associated with Pathfinder are minimal and primarily associated with the amount of time staff at the agency and weather service provider must spend to conduct collaborative activities.

For IMO deployment, a key benefit is material savings from the reduced salt and sand usage. Real-time information about road conditions and fleet vehicle locations assists maintenance staff in making more informed decisions about material applications, which may enable agencies to use fewer materials. In addition, agencies may experience increased efficiencies including improved reporting, reduced time spent relaying information, better situational awareness, and reduced resources needed to respond to emergencies. More comprehensive and accurate real-time information about resource consumption provides agencies with the data needed for decisionmaking. Over time, IMO deployments could also lead to reduced equipment usage and lower legal costs from small tort claims.

Read the full article by Paul Pisano  at FHWA Public Roads Magazine