Winter Highway Maintenance: Equipment, Materials and Technology

Information about the equipment, materials and state-of-the-art technology used by MTO and its area maintenance contractors for winter highway maintenance in Ontario

Graphic image of 4 winter maintenance vehicles on a road with descriptions for each. The patroller truck lets us know about changing road/weather conditions. The Direct Liquid Application Truck uses anti-icing liquids to help prevent slippery roads. Combo trucks start salting within 30 minutes after a storm starts, and start plowing once 2cm of snow is on the road. Graphic image of two thermometers showing that road salt becomes less effective below -12 degrees, and that sand is used below -18 degrees to improve traction.

Spreading of salt begins within 30 minutes after the start of a winter storm, helping to melt snow and ice, preventing it from sticking to the highway. It also makes plowing more effective.

Sand is used to provide traction on slippery surfaces, especially when it is too cold for salt to be effective. It may be used at higher temperatures if traction is needed immediately, particularly on hills, curves, bridges and intersections, and on snow-packed highways.

Both are spread on the highway using a truck that carries the material in a hopper. On two-lane highways salt is directed through a chute and generally placed in a narrow strip along the centre of the highway. On multi-lane highways, spinners are used to spread salt across one or more lanes at a time.

Salt is less effective at temperatures below -12° C, especially if there is no sunlight, which means bare pavement can be difficult to achieve in extremely low temperatures.

Equipment and Materials

There's no "one size fits all" response to winter storms. The winter maintenance equipment and materials used depends on weather conditions (temperature, precipitation type, duration and intensity, cloudiness, humidity, wind), highway conditions and amount of traffic.

That's why maintenance crews continually monitor weather and highway conditions. They patrol the highways and use advanced systems for predicting and monitoring weather and highway conditions so they can prepare the right equipment and materials before a storm, adjust their activities as conditions change.

Anti-icing

Anti-icing liquid applied to the highway

Anti-icing liquid can be sprayed on a highway before a storm to prevent snow and ice from forming and sticking to the highway. It can be placed along a section of highway or at specific locations prone to icing, such as bridge decks. Anti-icing liquid is only applied at specific temperatures and weather conditions.

Equipment

Conbination truck with front and side blades and spreader

Once the storm hits, snow plows, combination trucks and tow-plows are used to clear the snow and restore the highway to bare pavement conditions.

A standard snow plow truck has a blade mounted on the front and may also have a side blade or "wing". A combination truck has a spreader mounted on a standard snow plow truck and is capable of both plowing and spreading. A tow-plow is a regular plow blade mounted on a trailer and pulled by a combination truck. The trailer is moved over to the right to clear the next lane.

Plowing

Combination truck pulling a tow-plow

Plowing begins once two centimetres of snow accumulates. A snow plow scrapes snow from the highway and pushes it to the shoulders and beyond.

Salt and sand

Salt or sand is spread on the highway using a combination truck. Salting begins within 30 minutes after the start of a winter storm. Salt is generally placed in a narrow strip along the centre of a two-lane highway. On multi-lane highways, the material may be spread across one or more lanes at a time. It helps melt snow and ice and prevents it from sticking to the highway. Salt works poorly at temperatures below -12°C, which means bare pavement can be difficult to achieve in extremely low temperatures.

Sand provides traction on slippery surfaces, especially when it's too cold for salt to be effective. It's also used at higher temperatures if traction is needed immediately, particularly on hills, curves, bridges and intersections, and on snow-packed highways.

State-of-the-art Technology

Ontario uses state-of-the-art technology to keep highways safe for winter driving, to make sure snow and ice are removed quickly and efficiently and to use salt in an environmentally responsible way.

Road-weather station

Advanced road-weather information system predicts winter weather and highway conditions. There are 141 stations across Ontario that monitor current conditions and provide site-specific forecasts. This helps maintenance crews prepare the right equipment and materials before a storm, act quickly once the storm arrives and adjust their activities as conditions change.

Direct Liquid Application (DLA) involves spraying an anti-icing liquid before a storm to prevent ice and frost from forming and sticking to the pavement. When temperature and other weather conditions permit, anti-icing liquids may be sprayed along a section of highway or at isolated locations that are prone to icing.

Some bridge decks have a system that sprays liquid automatically once specific conditions are met.

Pre-wetted salt is regular road salt with anti-icing liquid applied before it is spread on the highway.

This helps the salt stick to the highway surface and helps melt ice and snow more quickly to reduce the total amount of salt needed.


Permanent variable message sign

Permanent variable message signs provide timely, accurate and useful information to drivers so they can make appropriate choices while travelling. The signs display information related to emergencies, unusual traffic conditions and severe localized highway and weather information.

During the winter, they are frequently used for traffic, road and weather conditions.

Electronic spreader controls in trucks allow contractors to set a rate of salt or sand to suit the conditions and keep environmental impacts and material costs down. The control system automatically adjusts the amount of material a s the truck speeds up or slows down, which ensures a consistent and efficient application of material on the highway.

Global positioning and remote data collection tools are installed in all winter maintenance equipment to provide detailed information to help manage winter maintenance operations.

This includes the vehicle's location and speed, as well as other winter maintenance operations underway. The Ministry of Transportation uses this tool to monitor winter operations in real time to make sure that all contract requirements are being met.

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