Weather presents a serious challenge to safety and mobility on our national system of roads and highways. Weather events, including winter storms, and even light rain or fog, can dramatically impact traffic flow and safety. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) seeks to address these weather-related transportation challenges through the provision of better information on the timing, location and extent of weather impacts, advanced warning of weather events, better integration of weather information into traffic operations, and the application of advanced tools to support decision making. One such tool is a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS), which offers guidance for maintenance managers and engineers by providing forecasts of weather and pavement conditions and generating recommendations on efficient maintenance treatment strategies. An MDSS offers unique capabilities in support of operational decision-making, pavement treatment, and resource deployment.
This report presents the results of a case study evaluation of the deployment of an MDSS in Maine. The MDSS was deployed by Maine Department of Transportation's (DOT) Scarborough crew on a segment of interstate in the vicinity of Portland, in support of winter maintenance operations during the winter of 2006-2007. 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 and to identify a set of lessons learned. 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 Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS) deployed by MaineDOT in the winter of 2006-2007 offered the DOT and the Scarborough crew a useful winter storm planning tool that supplemented other resources in some important ways. First, the MDSS added capabilities that they previously didn’t have from their other tools, including pavement temperature forecast trends, bridge and pavement frost forecasts, and a tool that could provide pavement treatment recommendations based on an analysis of multiple weather parameters. Second, the MDSS offered an integrated platform for the display and analysis of National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts in a user friendly GIS format. MaineDOT found their experience overall with the MDSS to be a beneficial one. However, an evaluation found that institutional issues hampered effective utilization of the tool. These institutional issues are presented below as a set of lessons learned.
- Be aware that it will take time for management and maintenance crews to adopt and accept an MDSS into their standard operations. The deployment of an MDSS necessitates organizational change, as managers and maintenance crews have to incorporate a new decision-making tool into their operations. Organizational change, however, tends to be slow and requires the support of strong leadership willing to champion the MDSS. At every level of the DOT in Maine, there was strong support for an MDSS; however, the Scarborough crew had no advance preparation or training, and the MDSS tool was deployed just as the winter season was getting underway. This meant that all the stakeholders in the process were learning together as the storms were upon them.
- Provide training to maintenance crews before MDSS introduction, in addition to ongoing support once the tool is being used. In order to achieve the full benefits of an MDSS, the users need to fully understand how it works, how to interpret the information it offers, and how best to apply it in support of decision making. This type of training needs to occur before the tool is even introduced. As described above, there was no initial training of the Scarborough crew since the project was initiated just as the winter season began.
Once an MDSS is adopted, the MDSS vendor can offer active support to the maintenance crew that is using the tool to explain its capabilities, answer questions that arise, and suggest effective ways to take best advantage of its capabilities. The more active this relationship between the vendor and the state DOT users, the more effective the MDSS will be in supporting the DOT’s maintenance operations. In Maine, the MDSS vendor worked closely with the DOT, offering MaineDOT the services of their meteorological staff and encouraging the Scarborough crew to call before every storm event to obtain further guidance and interpretation of the forecasts being provided.
- Offer the MDSS tool initially to one or more of the state's more progressive crews. An MDSS is a very different and more complex technology compared with many of the systems used throughout Maine and other states. Maintenance personnel who are uncomfortable with computers and related technologies may be resistant to work with an MDSS initially. MaineDOT selected the Scarborough crew for an evaluation project based in part on their enthusiasm and willingness to work with the MDSS throughout the winter season. If more progressive crews adopt MDSS initially, they can serve as an example to other crews, and can also provide training to other crews.
The MDSS deployed by MaineDOT raised awareness throughout the state of the value and potential of a tool that could supplement their existing weather forecasting and management tools. However, to derive full benefits from the tool, agencies need to address key institutional issues. DOTs need to build support for the tool by exerting strong leadership in support of the tool and by providing training to maintenance crews prior to the introduction to MDSS (as well as ongoing support while the MDSS is being used). DOTs should expect that it will take time for their management and crews to adopt and accept an MDSS into their standard operations. By addressing potential institutional barriers at the outset, DOTs will enable their maintenance crews to more effectively use an MDSS, and through improved maintenance decision-making, DOTs can realize the benefits of increased safety, mobility and productivity.
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