Invest in high accuracy road weather information to ensure greater usage and reduce winter maintenance costs.

Case studies of Iowa, Nevada, and Michigan experience

Date Posted

Cost Benefits of Weather Information for Winter Road Maintenance

Summary Information

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Aurora Program funded this research project to provide a benefit-cost assessment for weather information in winter maintenance. Case studies in Iowa, Nevada, and Michigan were analyzed to determine the benefits and costs associated with the use of weather information. The research results should help transportation agencies to guide and direct future investment in weather services and technologies.

Lessons Learned

The case studies collectively showed that winter maintenance costs decreased with increased use of weather information and with improved accuracy. Therefore, agencies should consider expanding the use of current resources and investing in improving the accuracy of their weather information to realize costs savings, to achieve the U.S. Department of Transportation goal of productivity.

The research team provided the following recommendations concerning the use of weather information in winter maintenance:

  • Use the most accurate weather sources for winter maintenance within budget limits and other constraints. The research team found that accuracy of weather information had a greater effect on maintenance costs than frequency of its use. Hence, the improvement of weather information accuracy is critical to achieving more savings in winter maintenance. If accuracy problems exist with fee-based service, provide feedback to service providers to solve problems or find better alternatives.
  • Invest in technology enabling high accuracy road weather information and ensure high usage of existing road weather services. Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) and customized weather services were found to provide more accurate information. Agencies should leverage existing infrastructure (such as existing ITS sites with available power and communications) when choosing RWIS installation sites to help reduce costs. Agencies should compare weather information sources by criteria such as accuracy, ease of access, and cost to rank the sources and provide recommendations.
  • Focus the weather information toward the road environment. Pavement temperature, pavement condition, and bridge temperatures are important information for developing better maintenance strategies.

Costs considerations and easy access contribute to the wide use of free weather information sources. However, these sources may have problems with timeliness and a lack of detail, which results in use of inaccurate weather information. Since weather accuracy had a strong effect on lowering maintenance costs, this lesson demonstrates that customized weather information services and RWIS can provide high benefits, while the post-installation costs of obtaining weather information from these sources is relatively low (between one and five percent of winter maintenance budget).