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South Dakota Department of Transportation
Project Synopsis

Title: Improved Road Condition Reporting
Project Researcher: Brian Hahn,
Project Manager: Dave Huft
Research Period: 10/1/2001 - 3/31/2003
Cost: $60,000.00

Problem Statement: The South Dakota Department of Transportation currently collects, analyzes, and disseminates information on road and weather conditions using a mix of automated and manual processes. Weather condition reports and forecasts are generated for the transportation departments of South Dakota and North Dakota by the Advanced Traveler Weather Information System (ATWIS) at the University of North Dakota's Rural Weather Information Center. Using sophisticated forecasting techniques based on analysis of several national and local data sources, ATWIS generates detailed, location-specific nowcasts and forecasts that are maintained in a relational database and automatically disseminated to various audiences, including state maintenance forces and the general public. The public receives this information through the Department of Transportation's web site or via the #SAFE telephony-based system.

While weather information is computer-based and dynamically maintained, South Dakota's road condition information is largely handled manually. Three times daily, maintenance supervisors verbally report their visual observations to a state radio dispatcher, who manually transcribes them and transmits them via Teletype. A seasonal employee of the Office of Operations Support reads and interprets the transcribed observations, and develops regional summaries of road conditions. After the regional summaries are keyed, they are relayed to media outlets via Teletype, e-mail, and Internet, and are recorded verbally for dissemination via regional phone numbers in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City. The summaries are also provided to the #SAFE system, but their regional resolution is not consistent with the location-specific resolution of #SAFE's weather information.

The manual nature of the road condition collection, analysis, and dissemination process imposes several operational limitations:


  • Due to the time involved in collecting, summarizing, and disseminating the information, it is old by the time it becomes available to the consumer.

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  • Changing road conditions may outpace the temporal and spatial reporting frequency possible with the Department's existing workforce;

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  • Because conditions are reported verbally, reporters' terminology and dispatchers' interpretation can vary;

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  • The lack of a defined data structure and automated database frustrates analysis and dissemination and entirely precludes automated maintenance decision support;

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  • The process of manual summarization causes loss of detail and location specificity, limiting the usefulness of the information;

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  • Use of different source information can contribute to inconsistency among disseminated information products;

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  • No mechanism exists for collecting and maintaining other operational information, such as construction activity, accidents, hazardous materials spills, or other incidents;

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  • During emergency or large-scale events, workload may exceed staff's ability to consistently accomplish all of the manual steps needed to analyze and disseminate information;

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  • Because information is lost when it is updated, analysis and improvement of its quality is difficult.

  • Research is needed to identify and develop better methods for reporting, managing, summarizing, and disseminating road condition information.


    Research Objectives:
    1  To determine whether existing road condition information systems, including HCRS and CARS, satisfy South Dakota’s requirements for a flexible information management system that complies with national ITS standards.
    2  To design, consistent with state information technology standards and methodology and with existing and emerging national Intelligent Transportation System standards, a logical and physical architecture for road and weather information.
    3  To deploy for statewide use an operational road and weather database that can accept multiple manual and automated feeds and support multiple dissemination mechanisms.
    4  To propose, test, and evaluate automated procedures for acquiring timely, location-specific road condition observations using present best communication methods and planned improvements to South Dakota’s state radio system.

    Research Tasks:
    1  Meet with the project’s technical panel to review project scope and work plan.
    2  Through review of available documentation, assess and compare the capabilities of available road condition information systems, including HCRS and CARS.
    3  Using methodology acceptable to South Dakota’s Bureau of Information & Telecommunications and to the Federal Highway Administration, define and document the logical and physical architecture of the road and weather information system that is based on
    4  Upon the project technical panel’s approval of the defined architectures, construct (possibly through adoption or modification of HCRS or CARS) an operational relational database that will support existing and future reporting and dissemination proce
    5  Define and construct output processes that extract, summarize, and disseminate information to various output media (including telephony, web sites, facsimile, and e-mail) in various resolutions (by region, by road segment, and by mileage reference ma
    6  During the winter of 2001-2002, conduct a pilot test of the operational database, using existing methods for acquiring and disseminating road condition and weather information.
    7  Identify, assess, and recommend evaluation plans for new or improved methods such as expanded pools of reliable reporters, automated reporting, and use of standard protocols for reporting road and weather conditions.
    8  Upon approval of the project’s technical panel, conduct operational field trials of recommended methods for reporting road and weather conditions.
    9  On the basis of effectiveness, practicality, and resource demands as demonstrated through the field trials and other analysis, recommend procedures to be deployed for reporting road and weather conditions.
    10  Prepare a final report and executive summary of the research methodology, findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
    11  Prepare and present an executive presentation to the Department’s Research Review Board at the conclusion of the project.

    Documents Available:

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