A Case Study of the Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS) in Maine
The U.S. DOT Joint Program Office (JPO) sponsored an evaluation to assess the benefits of using a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). An MDSS is a computer-based maintenance application that provides corridor-specific, weather-related information and road treatment recommendations. The MDSS integrates weather and pavement condition forecasts to determine the type and amount of treatment needed for maintaining a satisfactory level of service in winter while minimizing damage to road surfaces. In 2006, the DOT in Maine (MaineDOT) began to use an MDSS tailored for the Portland area. The MDSS was a product of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Road Weather Management Program (RWMP), which had made available a prototype MDSS to private vendors to develop into corridor-specific applications. This evaluation was conducted to understand the uses and benefits of an MDSS, as well as to examine institutional issues faced by MaineDOT’s Scarborough crew.
The methodology involved a careful tracking of each of 12 winter storm events, coupled with a reconstruction of the crew’s decision processes and treatment actions throughout each event. The documentation of the event reconstruction included the maintenance of logs by the Scarborough crew as well as post-event telephone interviews with the crew and their supervisor.
The evaluation focused on MaineDOT’s experience with the MDSS during the first year of use, in the winter season of 2006-2007. Although the evaluation did not identify quantitative benefits, it did find evidence that the MDSS provided qualitative benefits that are likely to become stronger as the maintenance crew gains more experience using the MDSS and the application is improved.
Among the benefits are the following:
- The MDSS provides enhanced notification capability of storm events with its Geographical Information System (GIS) radar and National Weather Service (NWS) platform, which enabled the system to track storm events across the state. The GIS platform generated visual representations of observational data obtained from Road Weather Information Systems/Environmental Sensor Stations (RWIS/ESS) and Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS) on road maps. The maintenance crews using the MDSS indicated the visual aids were useful to them in the essential task of using forecasts to determine treatment options.
- The MDSS consolidated a set of treatment recommendations that crews used in their decision-making for pavement treatment operations. The MDSS tailored road treatment recommendations on corridor-specific conditions that incorporate traffic levels, air and pavement temperatures, and the effects of prior treatments. The crews found that the recommendations from the MDSS added value to the existing mix of forecasts and observations. For example, the MDSS included new data on bridge frost potential, pavement-temperature trend forecasts, and wind and blowing snow potential.
- Although MaineDOT relied primarily on the crews to obtain information about conditions on the road, such as observations of pavement temperature, the MDSS extended crew observations with trend forecasts.
- By installing and using the MDSS for winter operations, MaineDOT created an opportunity to provide training for maintenance crews throughout the state, which had the effect of raising the skill level of all of MaineDOT maintenance crews.