The picturesque Town of Framingham is halfway between Boston and central Massachusetts’ commercial center. Like many New England communities, it dates to the 1700s. That makes it a quaint place to live and visit, but also means infrastructure is very old. Almost half of its 250 miles of mostly asphalt streets and one-quarter of 200 miles of water, sewer, and stormwater pipes were installed before World War II.
How the 110-employee Public Works Department cares for these assets, particularly roads, is one reason Framingham often makes best-places-to-live lists.
Response time in any weather, whether it’s rain, snow, or ice, is critical to extending pavement life. The longer snow stays on asphalt and concrete, the more likely it is to bond and the harder to remove. When it melts and refreezes, it expands cracks and creates new fractures. These freeze/thaw cycles are the No. 1 cause of potholes in eastern states like Massachusetts.
“Responding before the snow gets hard-packed goes a long way toward preventing more damage,” says Dan Nau, who oversees highways and solid waste management.
Before GIS Manager Geoff Kovar arrived in 2002, Nau’s team used magic markers to draw plowing routes on a piece of Plexiglass bolted over a paper wall map. Today, they’re coordinating response efforts in real time, quickly reallocating limited resources when and where needed. The tool, which shows real-time vehicle location on a map of the town, is also being used to develop and monitor solid waste collection routes.
In 2006, officials approved a 25-year, $150 million capital improvement project that included installing pavement temperature sensors and modernizing fleet management.
Hundreds of sensors were installed so public works can apply salt, brine, anti-icer, and de-icer when they’re most effective instead of indiscriminately. That cuts down on waste and how much fuel plows consume.
Then, almost 90 garbage trucks fitted with plows, dump trucks, heavy equipment, sidewalk tractors, and snowblowers were equipped with the GovOutlook automatic vehicle location (AVL) platform from CalAmp Corp. of Irvine, Calif. It’s based on ArcGIS, mapping software developed by Esri of Redlands, Calif. The result is a map of the that shows where trucks are located.
The $30,000 investment in telematics paid for itself when the town got 9 feet of snow in 21 days.
Zones and sensors: setting priorities
ArcGIS gave employees an easy-to-digest view that doesn’t require complicated database queries; all they do to see asset data is click on the feature. That worked well for most operations, but not during a storm when decisions needed to be made quickly.
“I don’t know much about GIS, but I knew routing was a locational and logistical problem,” says Nau. “Optimizing routing was obviously a job for GIS and would go a long way toward meeting our winter response goals of doing more with less.”
Fortunately, he could call on Kovar.
Using Snow Common Operating Picture (SnowCOP), an Esri ArcGIS application for monitoring winter operations, Kovar divided the city into 12, 25-square-mile service areas called snow management zones. Sixty plowing routes within the zones were then created based on proximity to snow farms (sites along the road where snow is dumped) and other resources, such as equipment location.
GovOutlook overlays historical data and real-time location on a map of zones and routes. Historical data consists of things like particularly difficult-to-clear roads. The vehicle’s location is indicated by a symbol that indicates truck type, speed, and heading. Employees at the winter operations center see on their computer screen what’s going on as it’s happening and, by combining the two pieces of information, reallocate resources as necessary.