AMES, Iowa – Feb. 27, 2014 – “What are the roads like?” and “Where are all the snowplows?” When the snow is falling, those are two of the most commonly asked questions at the Iowa Department of Transportation.
This winter, the Iowa DOT has been testing plow cams in about 100 winter maintenance vehicles across central Iowa. The cams take pictures from the dash of the vehicles to visually show conditions drivers would experience on the roadway.
Initially the camera images were only available to Iowa DOT employees. “During the initial phase of the project we found that having the images available helped our supervisors evaluate road conditions without having to drive every route themselves,” said John Hart from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Maintenance. “Driving each route to evaluate the conditions takes a significant amount of time and resources. In extreme conditions, like white out situations, having our staff on the road is putting their safety at risk.”
Plow cams images are now available to the public via the Iowa DOT’s snowplow location map. “The images increase the amount of information available to travelers to assist them in making safer and more informed travel decisions during winter weather,” states Hart. The snowplow location map can be found on the Iowa DOT’s winter driving” page, www.iowadot.gov/winterdriving. Other resources on the page include 511 travel conditions, traffic cameras, Weatherview and winter driving safety tips.
Hart said, “Its one thing to see a 511 map with pink or blue roads indicating completely or partially covered roads. But these terms can mean different things to different people. Being able to see the road condition out the windshield of a snowplow gives a better indication of the actual travel conditions on the road right now.”
Photos on the map disappear after 30 minutes to assure travelers have the most current images available.
The Iowa DOT is using iPhone 4s for the plow cams. The phones were provided at no cost by the data carrier with the purchase of a data plan. Data plans were negotiated at a reduced rate. The map and application to feed images to the map were created in-house by Iowa DOT staff allowing flexibility to quickly make adjustments to the way images are presented to the public.
“We believe the benefits far outweigh the costs for this project,” said Hart. “We want to make the best possible use of our resources. We have already proven that having these images available saves time and money for our winter operations, and we’re hopeful that the increased information for travelers will help save lives, too.”
While the project has been piloted in central Iowa, plow cams will gradually be added throughout the state. The goal is to have coverage over most of Iowa by next winter season.