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Tech Gives Kansas City an Edge in Its Annual Battle With Winter

In Kansas City, Mo., leaders have implemented new technology to track snowplow locations, progress and other issues. It's an effort that has made snow removal in the city more time- and cost-efficient for constituents.

Photograph of a red snow plow truck in action plowing a snowy street.
Last year, Kansas City, Mo., implemented technology to make snow removal processes more efficient — and the city is expanding its use this winter.

The recently deployed technology solution allows the city to track exact locations of plows, manage plow route digitally and progress along routes.

“We get a lot of ice here,” said Public Works Director Michael Shaw of the city’s winter conditions. "... It can be very cold and very hot here. That creates a very unique challenge when we talk about snow removal."

The city turned to Rubicon’s technology solution, RUBICONSmartCity, for snow removal for the winter of 2021-2022, but the city had been using this solution in the solid waste space since 2019. Officials decided to adopt it for snow removal because of the increased efficiencies the city had seen in solid waste, Shaw explained.

The city has a fleet of nearly 300 snow removal vehicles covering 6,400 lane miles. City policy previously entailed only plowing arterial and connector roads 24 hours a day, and plowing residential streets only 12 hours a day, which created challenges for mobility as residential streets make up over 50 percent of the city’s road network. This year, the city made the decision to take a more aggressive approach to plowing, expanding to 24 hour service on all streets and curb-to-curb plowing rather than single-path service.

After using the solution for snow removal last winter season when it was first implemented in 2021, the city found it led to an improvement in service delivery and it was deployed fleetwide. This season, the city will add new updates.

Shaw explained that the technology helps with deploying resources more efficiently throughout the city. Sometimes more snow falls north or south of the river, so being able to access that information helps the snowplow team address challenges more efficiently.

“What we saw was a marked increase in citizen satisfaction in snowplow in both residential and arterial streets,” Shaw stated. “Citizens were more satisfied with the quality of service we're providing, which obviously is what we always want to do. So that tells us we’re headed in the right direction.”

One area in which this technology has proven especially impactful is in the challenge the city faces regarding slick calls, or calls reporting ice patches that pose risks for citizens. The technology allows the city to input data about these spots from previous snow events to address them through pre-treatment and potentially prevent or reduce ice reforming in those spots.

Shaw stated that the city saw a reduction in slick calls because of the ability to anticipate problematic areas and deliver preventative services in advance.

This year, Shaw said the city will continue to make updates and adjustments for even more efficient snow plowing this snow season.

One update coming this season is the ability to check specific data about plow trucks. For example, if a resident calls to inquire about services to their street, the city can see if and when a truck was deployed there.

Another thing the city is working on is to use the technology to track salt usage on truck routes, potentially identifying problem areas and solutions through environmental design.
Screenshot of Kansas City, Mo.'s snow plow map. Green and red lines display plow routes in the city.
While some of the data collected is for internal use, there is also a front-facing portal where citizens can track snowplow progress throughout the city with a color-coded map.

“Mother Nature is undefeated, so the technology helps us keep our roadways safe, and we want to have as very little disruption as possible to city services related to snow,” Shaw said.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.