The State of Utah expanded the number of weather station installations as a result of hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics. During the Olympics, a report on hazardous weather potential was issued twice each day for the primary transportation corridors. After the Winter Olympics concluded, these efforts developed into a Utah Department of Transportation (DOT) effort called the Weather Operations/Road Weather Information System (RWIS) program. This program assists the agency's operations, maintenance, and construction functions by providing detailed, area specific weather forecasts. The case study describes a benefit-cost model that used winter maintenance cost data from Utah DOT maintenance sheds for 2004 to 2005 winter to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the Utah DOT Weather Operations/RWIS program.
The purpose of the study was to determine the benefits and costs associated with the program's impact on the winter maintenance program. For simplicity, the benefits were limited to reduction in winter maintenance costs associated with materials and labor.
An artificial neural network model of winter maintenance costs was developed. It calculated the labor and materials cost for a given shed as a function of the following key factors:
- The shed's overall winter usage of Utah DOT weather operations service.
- The shed's overall evaluation of Utah DOT weather operations service.
- Level of anti-icing practice used by the shed.
- Level of maintenance of winter roadways managed by the shed.
- Vehicle miles traveled on winter roadways managed by the shed.
- Winter severity index for the area managed by the shed.
It was estimated that the weather operations program saved Utah DOT more than $2.2 million in 2004 to 2005 from reduced winter maintenance costs. Given that the program costs approximately $200,000 to operate, the result translates into a benefit-cost ratio of over 11:1.
The model estimated the value and additional savings potential of the Utah DOT weather service to be 11 percent to 25 percent and 4 percent to 10 percent of the Utah DOT labor and materials costs for winter maintenance, respectively.
Anecdotal evidence indicated that the program has supported improved anti-icing operations, which have likely helped to reduce crash frequency and severity, thereby saving lives and reducing crash-related delay. However, these benefits were not quantified in the analysis.
The results highlights the potential benefits that may be realized by an agency using improved weather information to direct its winter maintenance activities.