Snowstorms such as the one that dropped several inches of snow across southern Minnesota Wednesday can turn roads treacherous. Now drivers can see how bad the roads are by viewing conditions as seen from the cab of snow plow.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation unveiled its now "Plow Cam" tool on its 511mn.org traveler information site. Some of the agency's 838 plows have been equipped with cameras that show road conditions and location of plows in real time.
"“The plow cams are another way for travelers to make good decisions about their travel plans during the snow and ice season,” said Kelly Braunig, 511 program manager. “If they go on the 511 site and see that travel is not advised, they can actually see an image of the road the cameras take as the plow is traveling. Seeing is believing.”
To see the images, travelers can go to the 511mn.org site and click on the "Plow Cameras" tab on the left side of the screen. That will bring up a map that shows the location of plows along with photos replete with captions that give the plow number, date and time.
MnDOT is piloting the program this winter and has placed cameras in about a quarter of its fleet. The agency will evaluate how effective it is and decide if cameras will be installed in additional plows.
Travelers can also see what the roads look like by clicking on images supplied through the Road Weather Information System. Cameras at 97 locations along major highways give a snapshots of road conditions.
The addition of plow cam images comes after a few other enhancements made to the online traveler information service. Over the past few months, MnDOT has added features that allow motorists to personalize up to 20 routes that they drive and get instant information about problems or hazards they may encounter along the way. The service also sends that information directly to a driver's phone.
MnDOT also upgraded the 511mn.org maps to display orange glows surrounding crash symbols to indicate significant delays and red triangles that appear over a weather icon when conditions such as fog, high winds, rain, ice or snow are present.
“All the new features we’re putting on 511 come down to intelligent transportation,” said Braunig. “We want to be on the cutting edge of that. If motorists can just pick one or two features to use, they can make better travel decisions.”