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Snowing the way: Colorado city earns ITE Achievement Award

Route optimization, consumer GPS devices increase efficiency, redefine snow plowing

The Institute of Transportation Engineers recently recognized the City of Centennial, Colo., with its 2012 Transportation Achievement Award for Operations for the city’s Optimized Snowplow Routing Project, which reduced the amount of snow-plowing time on city streets by 40 percent.

"To be recognized by the Institute of Transportation Engineers for this project is an honor. This is an innovative, state-of-the-art program improving overall efficiency of service delivery to our communicty while enhancing safety of our residents," says Centennial Public Works Director Dave Zelenok. "I am confident that this program will continue to improve our response to our citizens."
CH2M HILL has provided public works services, including snow removal, for the city of just over 100,000 residents since 2008, in what is considered to be the largest public works public-private partnership of its kind in the country. In 2011, CH2M HILL developed an innovative approach to snow removal that integrates route optimization with the use of consumer-grade Garmin® global positioning system devices into the city’s snowplowing operations. The goal: Improve operational efficiency and guarantee 100-percent plowing coverage during snowstorms.
Most agencies use a grid network to define snow routes, then apply the plow operator’s perceptions to the network to identify routes, explains Craig Faessler, CH2M HILL’s Centennial project manager. Route optimization, on the other hand, uses complex mathematic algorithms to define the most efficient path, from a time-savings perspective, for operators to navigate.
The use of GPS devices further enhances the efficiency of optimized routes by eliminating duplicated efforts. Typical fleet management GPS routing systems, however, only provide “point A to point B” options; they are not able to handle a static route – and they can cost tens of thousands ofdollars, Faessler notes.
Instead the Centennial team purchased Garmin units off the shelf locally for about $150 each and – although Garmin staff said the plan would not work – they were able to program the city’s newly optimized snowplow routes into the GPS devices, manipulating them with waypoints in order to direct drivers along the shortest , most efficient and expedient routes.
“Essentially it was a matter of outthinking the Garmin creators and coming up with a way to ‘trick’ the GPS devices into giving the solution already determined by the snow route optimization program, rather than having the device come up with its own route,” Faessler said. “It took a good deal of initial time to program the devices, test them, then reprogram them repeatedly until we had the desired outcome.”
As a result, even during the dead of night or at the height of a blizzard, plow drivers no longer need to navigate roads by memory or use paper maps to find the correct route. Instead, the devices guide drivers using visual maps as well as voice instructions through turn-by-turn directions – including plowturn-around locations – providing full plowing coverage that is both efficient and cost-effective.
That efficiency is further enhanced with the use of an automatic vehicle location/global positioning system to track and monitor performance of plowing operations.
The increased efficiency enabled Centennial to significantly reduce the amount of time required for a single truck to complete its route, effectively increasing the fleet size by one-third with the same number of vehicles. Comparable communities average 25 miles per snowplow, Faessler says; Centennial averages 67 miles per plow. Officials also expect the optimized routes using GPS devices will result in lower material costs, and streets will be plowed more frequently, keeping them clearer during storms.
“Congratulations to both the city and the Centennial project team for coming up with the creative approach that led to this well-deserved recognition,” says Elisa M. Speranza, president of CH2M HILL’s Operations & Maintenance Business Group. “This demonstrates a critical aspect of CH2M HILL’s approach to innovation. Our quality approach reminds our associates that they are ‘paid to think.’ They are encouraged to look for continuous improvement opportunities, taking a product, activity or process that is already established and improving it to provide greater value to our clients.”
The Transportation Achievement Award is presented annually for excellence in the advancement of transportation to meet human needs by entities concerned with transportation. The Transportation Consultants Councils has endowed the award to recognize an organization for a program concept having significant positive effect on transportation, planning, design or operations.
Headquartered near Denver, Colo., USA, employee-owned CH2M HILL is a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations, and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients. The firm’s work is concentrated in the areas of water, transportation, environmental, energy, facilities and resources. With US$7 billion in revenue and 30,000 employees, CH2M HILL is an industry-leading program management, construction management and design firm, as ranked by Engineering News-Record and named a leader in sustainable engineering by Verdantix. The firm has been named a FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For five times. Visit us at, and
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