Michigan Intelligent Snow Plow System featured in the November, 2014 edition of the APWA Reporter
Posted on 01.22.15

Automated Vehicle Location and Maintenance Decisions Support System Project

Tim Croze, P.E.
Region Support Engineer
Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, Michigan
Member, APWA Winter Maintenance Subcommittee

AWPW Reporter feature on Delcan Technologies Intelligent Snow Plow system for Michigan DOT Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) is a means of managing a fleet of vehicles using a global positioning system (GPS). Already in widespread use in the transit, trucking, and emergency response communities, AVL has recently been applied to winter maintenance operations. The goals encompass improving agency efficiency, reducing material usage and decreasing the time spent reporting labor, material and equipment usage.

AVL systems allow a manager to monitor the location of fleet vehicles at any given time and can be a resource management system for managing labor, equipment and materials used for various roadway maintenance functions. In addition to knowing a vehicle’s location, a robust AVL system is capable of capturing and reporting operational data from a snowplow’s on-board systems such as a DICKY-john material controller, as well as other data, including material application rates, air and pavement temperature, and the position of blades and plows. The AVL/GPS and other operational data is displayed in near-real time on a website and also stored for future reporting and data analysis. Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) recently began integrating AVL into its winter maintenance fleet.


The operational data collected by MDOT’s AVL system is processed and automatically fed into a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). The goal of MDSS is to provide a decision support tool for MDOT staff involved in winter maintenance operations. MDSS is used by at least 15 states across the nation. It is a tool that provides location-specific weather forecasts along snowplow routes and predicts how road conditions will change due to forecasted weather. The system recommends the most effective maintenance treatments and application rates and suggested times to apply material to maximize its effectiveness for the snowplow operators. These route-specific treatment recommendations are provided to maintenance garage supervisors on a website as well as transmitted directly to a screen for plow operators to view in near-real time.

The snowplow route treatment recommendations are based on the following information:

  • Material type and application rate based on current and predicted weather conditions
  • Desired level of service
  • Operational limitations
  • Type and thickness of pavement materials

The main impetus behind MDOT’s AVL/GPS/MDSS implementation is to provide a tool that will allow maintenance garage supervisors to make more informed decisions on how best to attack an incoming storm using real-time operational data, current and forecasted weather information and scientific models that predict how the forecasted weather will affect road conditions.

Project Implementation

MDOT is not the first agency to utilize AVL technology and MDSS services to manage its fleet and winter operations. However, MDOT’s contracting approach, scale of implementation, and accelerated timeframe for initial rollout offers a unique model, which can aid other state or local agencies what wish to leverage the benefits that AVL and MDSS services can provide.

MDOT management determined that the best contracting approach for these types of integrated services is to write the Request for Proposal (RFP) language to be all-encompassing. This means one contract is executed to meet all of the project needs. The RFP that was written and advertised included:

  • AVL equipment and services necessary for MDOT’s Winter Maintenance Trucks
  • AVL equipment for MDOT’s light fleet
  • All necessary communication services
  • Management and storage of all data collected
  • Statewide MDSS services
  • Training for MDOT staff

Under this all-encompassing contact, MDOT works directly with one vendor who is responsible for providing all equipment, securing cellular communications services, and coordinating resources to meet the needs for both AVL and MDSS mapping and reporting. The installation of AVL equipment is performed by MDOT mechanics that have been trained by the vendor.

The schedule for this project has been aggressive, but successful so far. In May 2013, MDOT’s executive leadership authorized funds and gave approval to issue and RFP for the procurement of a comprehensive AVL and MDSS solution for MDOT. The RFP was advertised in June 2013, and a signed contact was executed by mid-September, 2013. As of March 2014 AVL units and auxiliary sensors had been installed on MDOT’s fleet of 2070 snowplows. The AVL and MDSS were commissioned on November 15, 2013 and utilized all winter long by MDOT staff. Even though the systems are new to the department and not all snowplows were instrumented with AVL before winter started there are many anecdotal examples where the MDSS has saved MDOT manpower and money.

A comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of the AVL/MDSS deployment project will be completed after MDOT as had a full winter season with these new technologies.