Michigan Road Commissions Share Winter Road Maintenance Expertise Nationwide

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

Nearly 600 road maintenance personnel at 191 locations in 19 states learned about the latest research and best practices in de-icing and sustainable road maintenance during a national winter road maintenance web conference.

The Michigan Tech Transportation Institute (MTTI), the University Transportation Center for Materials in Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure (UTC-MiSTI) and Michigan's Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP)—all based at Michigan Technological University—sponsored the webinar. Technical support was provided by the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Corporate and Professional Development in Washington D.C.

Representatives of three of Michigan’s County Road Commissions--from Kent, Manistee and Ottawa Counties—presented information on sustainable winter maintenance practices, best uses of salt and liquid additives, and ways to reduce salt usage.

Mark Cornwell, a winter maintenance consultant from Holly, Mich., opened the broadcast with a presentation on sustainable winter maintenance practices. Tom Byle and Ken Hall from the Kent County Road Commission, shared their experiences with pre-wetting salt, concentrated placement of salt and use of finer salt particles.

Mike TerHorst from the Ottawa County Road Commission explained how his organization reduced salt usage by 20 to 30 percent simply by adjusting plow routes, refining levels of service and training drivers. Jerry Peterson from the Manistee County Road Commission reported that pre-wetting his salt with an agricultural by-product of sugar beet production resulted in a savings of over $140,000 in 2008.

MTTI Director Lawrence Sutter discussed his recently completed federally funded research into the effects of de-icing chemicals on structural Portland cement concrete.

Rick Poecker, environmental program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Transportation participated in the webinar from his office in Salem, Ore. "I thought the broadcast was excellent," Poecker said. "There are so many variables to consider when making de-icing decisions that it can get overwhelming. It was great to hear first-hand experiences from people who are doing innovative things. And I didn't have to travel 2,000 miles to participate."

Bryan Pickworth, road maintenance supervisor for the City of Farmington Hills, Mich., appreciated the exchange of information as well. "Everyone who works in winter maintenance is struggling with rising costs and shrinking budgets,” Pickworth said. “And we’re so busy that it's tough to keep up with the latest developments. This webinar was a great way to see what others are doing and learn about new techniques and possibilities in winter maintenance."

LTAP Director Terry McNinch observed: "Michigan's motorists need to recognize that our county road commissions, cities and villages are constantly evaluating and refining their winter maintenance practices. They're always looking for a better, more efficient way to provide the best level of service possible. This leads to innovations that--when adopted widely--have a big impact on winter maintenance services and expenditures."

Michigan's LTAP, UTC-MiSTI and MTTI are currently planning additional web conferences of interest to the transportation community. If you would like more information, call the Michigan LTAP office at 906-487-2102.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.