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updated: 7/7/2011 4:35 PM

Lake County wants to fine-tune snow routes

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Battling snow-clogged roads may not be a commuter concern at this time of year but Lake County officials are thinking ahead.

County transportation officials are considering an agreement with the University of Illinois department of civil and environmental engineering to design a software tool to analyze its 25 snowplow routes.

Using an array of information, the model could provide suggestions on how better to plow 800 lane miles of road.

"This is pretty cool. It's an analysis and design tool," Marty Buehler, chief of the division of transportation, said during a presentation to the county board's public works and transportation committee Wednesday.

The impact of traffic congestion, for example, would be among the data used in the sophisticated tool to create plow routes for various scenarios, such as icing conditions or big snow storms.

"That may be a different set of routes. We're trying to optimize the service level for the public with the resources we have," he added.

Plow routes have been created each year, in part, by using summaries of so called "dead head" miles -- getting to and from the routes and the number of miles salted.

"How do we come up with those? They're not analytical. This would make it analytical," Buehler said.

The new method would blend details on: intersections, bridges or special features; traffic volume and speed; the type and operating characteristics of the vehicles used to plow; and, depot locations, for example.

The tool also would analyze several factors, such as the number of trucks on the road, how much salt they can carry and the application rate, as well as the maximum plowing/salting speed.

The goal is to balance the routes in terms of the time it takes to complete a plowing or salting cycle while making them more efficient.

"The software should help county engineers and experts evaluate snowplow options (such as salt usage, vehicle capacities, fleet size, and plowing time during the day) and provide snow route recommendations such that experts can still fine tune the results by applying judgment," according information provided to the county by U of I.

The county has made improvements to save salt, and last year equipped trucks with global positioning systems to provide data that can save money on materials, wear and tear on equipment and labor costs.

But with a transportation system update now in progress, the county also will have an "electronic map" with information such as travel times along all roads that can be used with the software, Buehler said.

"We're pretty excited about putting this technology to work," he said.

The work would be done by two graduate students in concert with Associate Professor Yanfeng Ouyang, and would take about a year to complete.

The committee recommended approval of the agreement for $95,000. The full county board will consider the matter at its regular meeting Tuesday.