Modern day societies are reliant on a well-functioning and maintained road network. Roads provide tremendous value in ways we often don’t even think about. Not only do they enable us to move goods and people, ensure emergency services like ambulances, fire departments and police can reach us in times of need, but they also allow modern day conveniences we have become accustomed to such as local food deliveries and Amazon’s same or next day deliveries. None of these would function without well maintained roads. Despite our reliance on roads and the immense value they provide, roads are very much a neglected part of our infrastructure when it comes to maintenance.
Poorly maintained roads a significant cause of accidents and delays
Road maintenance comes in two forms. First by keeping roads in good condition by renewing the road surface, taking care of potholes, patching ruts, and corrugations. These maintenance activities are normally conducted in the spring to autumn period in regions that experience snow. Winter road maintenance is the second form, here the goal is to reduce accidents and delays caused by dangerous weather-related conditions by clearing snow and conducting preventive salting on the roads.
Despite efforts to keep roads safe, accidents still occur regularly. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that 24% of weather-related accidents happen on snowy or icy roads resulting in over 1,300 fatalities and over 110,000 injuries each year. The delays caused by clearing the roads of these accidents means commuters and goods take significantly longer to reach their destination. On average Americans lose 54 hours per year sitting in traffic due to delays according to a Texas A&M Transportation Institute 2019 report.
Why does bad weather increase the likelihood of accidents? As we see from the picture below, road friction is decreased when contact between the vehicles tires and the road is impeded. The decrease in friction has a drastic effect on braking distances. As people cannot detect black ice on the road by sight alone, accidents can easily occur on poorly maintained roads.
To combat this issue a great deal of money is spent on winter road maintenance, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of state department of transport maintenance budgets. In the U.S. the cost of winter road maintenance amounts to over 2.3 billion dollars per year at the state level.
Road use is increasing – Maintenance is lagging!
For most of the world road usage is expected to grow in the future. Vehicle traffic on U.S. roads rose 8% between 2013 – 2018 and is expected to continue rising. The UK Department of Transport estimates that by 2030 not only will the population grow by 11-14%, but each person will also travel more leading to an extra 1,100km driven per person each year. The increase in road usage leads to increased maintenance needs at the same time.
These new costs compound the current problem which is that in most of the world road maintenance has been neglected in the past 10-20 years leading to significant maintenance deficits. A 2021 U.S. Department of Transportation report found that the U.S. faces a $435 billion dollar backlog in required road repairs and The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance 2020 report from the UK indicated £11.14 billion was needed to bring UK roads up to safe standards.
While throwing more money at the problem would be one way to solve this issue, as a solution it is unlikely to be available to decision makers. What is needed is a way to do more with less, utilizing new technologies allow us to do just that!
Technology of road maintenance
Road maintenance methods have changed surprisingly little in the past 100 years. The picture above shows horse drawn snowploughs being employed in Sweden in 1909. Motorised ploughs were employed some years later. The use of salt on roads became common in the 1920s in many American cities as the number of motorized vehicles grew leading to a increase in road accidents. These same methods of clearing snow and gritting the roads are still the main winter maintenance methods used today.
As the cost of sending out maintenance crews to clear snow and grit roads is very expensive, ensuring the right time to perform these activities is crucial. A single road maintenance callout for a small city can cost €50,000 while large highway areas can cost several hundred thousand.
Current road maintenance methods are expensive
While some technological progress has been made to help in determining when and where winter road maintenance activities are needed, older methods such as manual inspections are still employed today. Static road weather information stations (RWIS) provide a snapshot of the weather conditions in a small area around the station. By combining these data points with weather forecasts a decision is then made on whether to send out maintenance crews. Budget constraints will also come into play and at times even in bad weather maintenance will be intentionally delayed.
The problem with these methods comes down to cost and reliability. Static stations are expensive with a single station priced around €50,000 with additional yearly costs for maintenance. Additionally, they only provide information over a small segment of the road. As such multiple stations are needed to cover even small areas. The second issue comes with the maintenance of the weather stations themselves. Static stations require regular calibration to ensure they provide useful information. These calibrations need to be conducted on site at significant cost.
These same issues of cost and reliability plague manual inspections as well. Finally, as black ice is undetectable to the human eye manual inspections don’t cover the full range of dangers faced by drivers in the winter.
RoadCloud offers the next generation solution to road condition monitoring.
RoadClouds mission is to provide information services to make roads safe to drive on in all weather conditions. Our solution makes static road monitoring mobile. By attaching our proprietary road monitoring sensors to commercial vehicles such as taxis, buses, and delivery vehicles, we can provide hyper local road condition monitoring at a fraction of the cost of tradition methods.
The fact is that road conditions can vary greatly within short distances. The picture below shows the Helsinki region in winter of 2020. The large green circles represent the readings from static weather stations which all show dry road conditions, while the smaller circles show data from our mobile fleet. Having to make a call on whether to grit roads with only static weather stations would lead to a “no go” decision. Our solution not only provides more accurate data at a fraction of the cost, but it does so at a hyper local level.
RoadCloud provides decision makers an excellent tool to prioritize road sections for both summer and winter maintenance and a way to measure the effectiveness of their activities.
If you know someone who is working in winter road maintenance, share this blog, share our contacts, and help us reach others working with the same goal of eliminating road accidents!
If you would like to learn more about mobile vs static road condition monitoring follow the link below.