West Michigan road commissions deploy frost sensors to keep drivers safe

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The utility pole-mounted sensors monitor air temperature, road temperature, dewpoint and humidity, and send out data packages every 20 minutes. Courtesy County Road Association of Michigan

With dropping temperatures and drivers’ safety on their minds, Muskegon, Kent and Ottawa County road workers would like to keep these conditions to a minimum, and frost sensors can help do that.

The utility pole-mounted sensors monitor air temperature, road temperature, dewpoint and humidity, and send out data packages every 20 minutes. From there, cloud-based software organizes the data and sends alerts and display charts to road agencies. With the information provided, county road agencies can send their plow and salt truck drivers to where they are needed the most.

The Muskegon County Road Commission (MCRC) is using its mapping program, WEBMDSS, to pull other mapping data from cameras set up by MDOT to get the best and most accurate data for snowfall. MCRC is using its experience to help neighboring Ottawa and Kent counties, as well.

“All of us road commissions are a big family,” said Drew Nichols, maintenance superintendent at MCRC. “Everyone does something different, and we’re always sharing thoughts and comparing notes to see who’s coming up with the next idea.”

The Ottawa County Road Commission (OCRC) has 24 sensors total and is working on improving those it has. With the improvements, it will be able to take photos of the road every 20 minutes once the road temperature is below 45 degrees.

“With the sensors, we have the ability to see what’s going on across the county,” said Ryan Kemppainen, OCRC operations superintendent. “A couple degrees in the winter when the temperature is hovering around freezing can make a big difference in winter maintenance.”

Using the new sensors, MCRC and OCRC can save on operational and material costs while still prioritizing the safety of county residents.

“Expectations increase year to year,” Kemppainen said. “This system helps us react to winter maintenance at a faster pace for the motoring public. Monitoring these elements is a great tool, and as time goes on, the technology will only improve and help us more.”

Collectively, Michigan’s county road agencies manage 75% of all roads in the state, including 90,000 miles of roads and 5,700 bridges. County road agencies also maintain the state’s highway system in 64 counties. Michigan has the nation’s fourth-largest local road system.

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