City snowplows soon will be able to be tracked online

Saturday, December 6, 2008 | 4:44 p.m. CST; updated 5:05 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 6, 2008

COLUMBIA — The sidewalk still takes elbow grease, but global positioning technology is the way of the future for snow cleanup on city and county roads.

GPS makes snow removal more efficient by conveying real-time information about where snowplows are, where they’ve been and where they need to go. Columbia first used GPS in snow removal vehicles last winter. This year, Columbia residents soon will be able to track city snowplows on the city’s Web site.


Snow Removal and the 2009 Boone County Budget

In addition to GPS, the 2009 county budget will include other money relating snow removal upgrades. Boone County Public Works plans to spend $95,000 to upgrade catwalk platforms and lighting to its truck facility of safety reasons, and $45,000 for an additional service truck that can be used for plowing and spreading rock salt. The county’s fleet is currently made up of 15 trucks and eight motor grader tractors.

The county will cut back on money in its 2009 budget for contract snow removal. In 2009, money available for contractors will be cut in half, down to $75,000 from $150,000.

The county typically sets aside money for private snow plows who are on call for use five or six times in a given winter. But,  modifications to trucks in recent years allow for more of the snow removal work load to be handled by the county without contractors, said Chip Estabrooks, maintenance operations manager for the county public works department.

Boone County’s snow-removal fleet might be equipped with GPS units by late winter. County commissioners agreed to budget $42,750 for the system in the 2009 budget, which is scheduled for approval Dec. 16.

Robert Simms, Columbia’s director of information technology, said his department is very close to developing an interactive map that will allow residents to monitor the city’s snow removal progress online. Simms emphasized that developing the map is a two-stage process and that the first map would show progress in approximately 30-minute increments, followed shortly by one able to track trucks in close to real time. Simms declined to speculate on an exact date for the project’s completion.

The city of Columbia began integrating GPS systems into snow removal trucks last year. Eighteen trucks are set up with the GPS system, said Dave Daly, manager of streets and stormwater management. The city has purchased five more for use this winter, paying $423 apiece. It would also pay $33 per unit for monthly mapping services.  

Greater coordination between the public works department and its snow removal teams on 500 miles of streets could save the city money in the long run, Daly said.

“It’s a money-savings thing,” Daly said. “It’s going to save us fuel not running around burning gas chasing our tail. It helps make sure trucks are where they're supposed to be.”

Boone County’s GPS model is based on the Columbia system, said Chip Estabrooks, maintenance operations manager for the county public works department.

“I look at it as a management tool,” Estabrooks said. “(GPS) lets us monitor our progress, especially if the snow event lasts more than a day. We can look at where the trucks have been, for what period of time, so we can get to all the road and reallocate trucks to catch up,” Estabrooks said.

Equipping vehicles with GPS also helps the county monitor its trucks in the event of accidents or claims of damage while the trucks are on the road. The system can recreate accidents by providing the speed and location of the vehicles at the time of an accident.

“Our trucks will inadvertently damage a mailbox or vehicle,” Estabrooks said. “(GPS) lets us verify that it was our fault. … From a liability standpoint, it’s important to know where they are.”

Click here to view a downloadable version of the city's snow removal policy and a map.

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