Iowa DOT provides traveler info from plow cams

By Eric Sundquist
As part of a 2-year-old project to modernize its approach to operations, Iowa DOT this winter has brought travelers new 511 information via dashboard-mounted iPhones on its snowplows.
The DOT’s “Track a Plow” service is believed to be the first to offer such real-time photos from a state DOT’s plows. The photos (Figure 1) are provided in addition to previously available highway views from stationary cameras.

Figure 1. Dashcam view from an Iowa DOT plow.
Figure 1. Dashcam view from an Iowa DOT plow.

The Track a Plow site (Figure 2) provides other information as well, including location of the plow fleet, general road conditions, and temperatures.
“Our snowplow trucks are now equipped to collect a wealth of information. Some of it is more useful to managers and supervisors at the DOT, and some of it helps everyone,” said Eric Abrams, the Iowa DOT’s geographic information systems coordinator. “We’ve made the data available in a variety of layers on the track a plow site so people can pick and choose what they want to see. So far, the camera layer has been the most popular with the public.”
The plow fleet is equipped with 430 iPhones, which upload pictures every 10 minutes. The system clears out pictures and other data older than 30 minutes, so traveler information is current.
The information system will continue to be improved, the DOT says.
“Next year we’re working on a system that will help you plan a safer drive. If it works like we think it will, you will be able to put your start and end point into the system and get a map of your best route based on data from weather and road conditions and traffic speed information,” Abrams said.
“You’ll also be able to see all the photos from your route in the order you would see it as you travel. Another element we hope to have is a predictive tool that will let you know if going now or waiting would be a better option based on weather conditions.”
Figure 2. Iowa DOT's Track a Plow site.
Figure 2. Iowa DOT’s Track a Plow site.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.