January 30, 2012 in City

Getting There: County taps GPS for real-time plow tracking

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Spokane snowplows clear snow from 37th Avenue at Regal Street on Jan. 5. The city has a plow map on its website generated from drivers’ reports as they finish routes.
(Full-size photo)

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A real-time tracking system for Spokane County snowplows got a big test two weeks ago when 10 inches of snow blanketed the area over two days.

The county is testing the digitized system that will tell the public which of its 2,500 miles of roads have been plowed during and after winter storms.

Drivers can call up a county map on the Web to get minute-by-minute updates.

“I think it’s going to be a valuable tool,” County Engineer Bob Brueggeman told county commissioners last week.

The map can be found at snowplowing.spokanecounty.org.

Officials said GPS satellites and telecommunication connections feed plowing data into computers. Each of the county’s 85 plows, sanders and deicers is equipped with GPS technology that is linked to the vehicle’s mechanical systems.

When the plow goes down, the truck’s electronics transmit that information to the computer of a private vendor. That information, in turn, is relayed to the county’s computer, which converts it onto the county’s geographical information system. It then ends up on the website plow map.

The data stream arrives in 5-second intervals.

Currently, the website is tracking truck movements for the past 24 hours. Engineers could customize the page to show two or three days of work in the case of a major, sustained storm.

The map uses color codes to distinguish among types of trucks and graders. The plots show each piece of equipment’s direction of travel.

The data will also give road department managers new tools to improve efficiency and save money on fuel.

“We are going to use this information to improve our service,” said Dave Rideout, an analyst for the county’s geographic information system. “We are kind of being trailblazers here.”

Commissioner Todd Mielke asked engineers to consider adding a feature to show where the plows will be next.

The county system will only serve unincorporated areas.

The city of Spokane has a similar plow map on its website, but that map is generated from reports from plow drivers as they complete routes. The city’s map also shows where plows are headed next.

The city is not considering a GPS system, said Marlene Feist, city spokeswoman. Officials believe the current system that tracks progress by neighborhoods is working well.

Spokane snowplow information can be found at spokanecity.org or by phone at (509) 456-2666.

Spokane Valley has been looking into the GPS system. For now, snow information is available at spokanevalley.org or by phone at (509) 720-5411.

In Coeur d’Alene, plowing is done relatively quickly because of the size of the city, minimizing the need for spending money on the new technology, officials said. Plowing information can be found at cdaid.org or by phone at (208) 769-2233.

WSDOT offering school safety funds

The Washington State Department of Transportation is accepting project proposals for Safe Routes to School funding.

The program seeks to provide children with a safe alternative to being driven to school.

Eligible projects include sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian-safety education, bicycle-safety programs, crossing guards, speed feedback signs and traffic-safety cameras.

For details, go to the WSDOT’s website at wsdot.wa.gov/LocalPrograms/ SafeRoutes/CallForProjects.

Caution urged during parade

The Groovy Shoes Spirit Game Parade will take place from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday beginning at North Central High School and ending at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Drivers are urged to be cautious in that vicinity while students are on the streets.


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