High-Tech Weather Response Helps New Jersey This Winter

State equips thousands of vehicles with GPS devices to track and coordinate snow removal.

New Jersey is ready for winter thanks to newly implemented GPS technology for state snow removal equipment. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) invested $22 million to install the technology in thousands of snowplows, trucks and salt spreaders. The new equipment lets the department locate and direct vehicles in real time on computer screens.

According to New Jersey officials, the state began investigating methods to improve weather response after heavy snowfall during the winter of 2010-2011. The state decided to equip some 1,500 snowplows with GPS-enabled cellphones, and another 3,000 DOT vehicles received GPS monitoring systems.

"It's made a big positive impact on the way DOT operations operates," said Andrew Tunnard, executive director of operations for the department, in an interview with NJ.com. "We were operating in the blind sometimes."

Previous to the state’s GPS system, thousands of radio transmissions were needed in order to keep the fleet of responders up to date and connected. Now managers can watch the progress of snow-removal efforts in real time on computer screens. The trucks’ paths also are monitored, down to whether their salt containers are full or empty.

The system is color-coded for road conditions. Red marks an impassable road; yellow means flakes of snow are present and green is passable. Road colors will change from red to green when a plow has cleared the area.

Alaska helped pioneer high-tech snow removal in the early 2000s. The state implemented a GPS and radar system with a heads-up display similar those used in fighter planes to allow weather response vehicles to remain on roadways even in zero visibility.

Since its initial deployment, the technology has seen improvements in display and satellite enablers. Alaska also expanded the number of GPS-equipped plows in 2011.

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter. Follow @GovTechNoelle