It’s probably the second most-asked question during the winter months after, “When’s it going to snow?”
“When are the plows going to get here?”
While the area weather forecasters do their darnedest to try to come up with a satisfactory answer to that first one, there’s still – sadly – no good way to respond to the second query.
Still, Spokane County’s Engineering and Roads Department has, at least, made some progress.
By no means perfect – it’s still in its “beta test” stage – the county is providing information on where plows (shown in green) and graders (in blue) have been in the past 24 hours. Those with Internet access simply need to go to http://snowplowing.spokanecounty.org to the latest overview whether or not roads have been cleared for commuters.
Sure, it looks like someone may have went crazy with the Silly String on a county map at first. But Bob Brueggeman, county engineer, said the information may become more useful during heavy snow events.
“Just this past week we’ve been testing it on our Web site,” Brueggeman told commissioners at Tuesday’s CEO briefing. “It’s a work in progress.”
GPS devices have been outfitted on 85 county vehicles which send out data every five seconds. That information is then relayed online, and the Web page then refreshes every five seconds or so.
Users are able to zoom in on particular neighborhoods – anyone who is familiar with Google maps will find the feature familiar – and close inspections will show even the direction the equipment has travelled.
Sorry, there’s no satellite view, however.
Commissioner Al French was the one who asked the question about predictability of snowplows in neighborhoods.
“At this point, that’s not the direction we’re headed,” Brueggeman answered.
He also said it would be tough to show ‘Net users exactly when the plows had been by their homes.
“A time-stop option would be just too much information,” Brueggeman said. “It would crash our server.”
Board Chairman Todd Mielke said the county receives “a lot of calls” asking if plows will be by in the next 12 hours of so.
“I realize that conditions can change,” he said.
Brueggeman said that would be a “hefty goal” as it would be tough to keep track of where 50 vehicles are headed at any one time.
“That’s a pretty monumental task,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Richard commended the engineering department for doing what it has accomplished so far with the GPS technology.
“This is a great step,” he said.
Brueggeman added that the equipment will also be used in the summertime to show where street-sweeping work has been done.
“We see it as a valuable tool year-round,” he said.
Spokane Valley city officials, however, learned last week that it could be a while before similar snowplow information reached its Web site.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the council tweaked the city’s snow-removal plan in order to more clearly define when the Valley floor (about 75 percent of all the city’s residential streets) would be plowed. While there are different scenarios when snowplows get called into service, it’s been determined that snow-clearing is necessary when traffic flow is generally impeded.
“When cars are getting stuck,” said Neil Kersten, city public works director.
Kersten added the city is continuing to work on getting GPS information on where plows are located onto the city’s Web site. The problem, he said, that the information has been somewhat unreliable and could cause confusion among users.
Still, Kersten said, staff members are working on providing the service.
“It would be kind of a nice thing,” said Council Member Ben Wick.