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Taking the Path to Weather Savvy Roads in New Jersey



  • How a Road Weather Management program can identify challenges and deficiencies using CMM
  • How NJDOT’s strategic goals for weather management developed after the CMM process


Despite being a small state, New Jersey has five distinct climate regions, with daily weather affected by their geology, distance from the Atlantic coast, and atmospheric flow patterns. Average annual snowfall ranges from 40-50 inches in the northern region to about 10-15 inches in the coastal south. The snow season may range from mid-October until the end of April, with the average number of snow days ranging from eight inches the coastal south to 15 inches in the north. Additionally, 25-30 annual thunderstorms occur in the state; some are severe and accompanied by severe precipitation and flooding, such as Superstorm Sandy. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) is responsible for road weather management (RWM) on 2,334 highway miles and has the challenge of efficiently assigning and managing resources across the state to readily and effectively respond to weather conditions and keep the roads clear and safe for the motorists. NJDOT has an established and well-organized RWM program managed across three operations regions. While the RWM program generally works well and is well coordinated across the state, there were challenges and deficiencies in the current practices, including organizational, budgetary, communication, and technological. At the same time, NJDOT recognized that each of these challenges presented an opportunity to further improve its RWM practices. NJDOT decided to apply the FHWA’s Capability Maturity Model (CMM) as a proven and effective tool for identifying the key strategic improvements in RWM practices and develop an action plan for their implementation. Some senior RWM managers had already participated in other successful NJDOT CMM implementations. This institutional experience provided a head-start and an internal understanding on different elements of the CMM process, making it more time- and cost-effective.

TSMO Planning, Strategies and Deployment

NJDOT RWM units completed the CMM self-assessment in early Spring 2019, followed by a CMF workshop in April 2019. The workshop's main purpose was to assess RWM capabilities and develop an action plan for targeted improvements.

The table's highlighted cells indicate the consensus maturity levels agreed during the workshop discussions, and numbers indicate the average score from the self-assessment. The CMM stakeholders included multiple NJDOT units, including Operations, Equipment, Traffic Operations, Statewide Incident/Emergency Management, and Emergency Operations Centers.

The self-identified improvement areas include:

  • 70% of the winter response fleet is contracted. The resources sometimes are hard to manage in concert when contractors have different contract terms.
  • Contractors aren't agile enough in mobilizing fleets, especially in winter events that occur sooner than forecasted or have more severe impact on road conditions than anticipated based on the forecasts.
  • Existing traffic cameras are often obscured during winter storms. Data from road weather sensors is not as reliable as desired. This presents a challenge to using the real-time condition data in the RWM practice.
  • Frequent calibration of equipment to optimize performance, including NJDOT-owned and contracted equipment.
  • Improve communication/coordination with the media, utilities, and the trucking community, for a more effective response and awareness of incidents during weather events.
  • Public increasingly asks for information about RWM practices, including the materials used and their environmental impacts, as well as equipment utilization.

NJDOT doesn't have a readily available monitoring and reporting process for this purpose.  NJDOT collects a substantial amount of RWM data. Coordinated processing and analytics of data to support decision-making in RWM operations and planning are not streamlined or are lacking. In response to these challenges, the stakeholders identified opportunities for improving RWM practices, which were translated into the following top-priority actions list:

  • Develop an operational level approach to coordinate with utility companies regarding the clearance of downed poles/wires.
  • Develop a plan for establishing shared communication channels among the key stakeholders in RWM, including utility contractors and truck operators, to improve the response to/awareness of incidents during weather events.
  • Develop a strategic plan that includes identifying funding for roadway and vehicle fleet instrumentation to support RWM, expansion/upgrade of RWIS, implementation of Integrated Mobile Observations (IMO) on NJDOT vehicles, and additional CCTV at key locations, causing increase in data reliability.
  • Define methods for using road weather data in decision-making processes and define quality- check processes for data coming from various sensors.
  • Improve training for contractors. Conduct training by weather service providers for NJDOT staff.
  • Develop winter operations information to increase awareness of RWM methods and techniques employed by NJDOT.
  • Conduct multi-agency tabletop exercises to set operational postures.
  • Engage with Design/Construction for road weather operations in work zones.

Communications Planning and Execution

Successful RWM practices identify effective communication as a critical element. This includes internal communication among different NJDOT units, outreach and communication with the RWM stakeholders at the operational level, and communication with the media partners and the traveling public. Each of these three components is prominently identified in the top-priority action items for the RWM CMM implementation. Since the workshop, NJDOT has developed a Statewide Highway Operations Communications Plan, and is working with the State Police and the State Office of Information Technology on its implementation. The plan establishes dedicated radio "talkgroups" for each major highway corridor in the state, as well as talkgroups to be used during large incidents or events with regional impact. The talkgroups will be open to any agency participating in traffic incident management or RWM operations. It is envisioned that the same talkgroups can be utilized by utility companies, towing and maintenance contractors, and truck operators during weather events to facilitate the sharing of information about road weather conditions and incidents in real-time. The NJDOT lead unit is in the process of organizing a multi-agency RWM tabletop exercise and has initiated a process of establishing external RWM communication and outreach processes with NJDOT Communications. These two initiatives will fulfill two priority action items identified in the CMM improvement process.

Outcome, Learnings and Public Benefit

Besides getting the head-start on the RWM-related internal and external communications, NJDOT has also initiated activities directly corresponding to the identified priority actions.  These actions include implementation of IMO as part of the RWM data system that already includes RWIS observations. NJDOT has received a FHWA AID grant to install cameras and sensors in a dozen vehicles and collect streaming video and road weather condition data. Also included is the development of “Incline Packages,” which work to keep steep roads clear during plowing operations. State Police and towing assets partner with plow teams during snow events to efficiently clear the corridors so that plows can effectively clear the roadways. NJDOT has also conducted joint training and orientation events with contractors in each region ahead of the winter season to set the expectations, review the SOP, and establish direct communication and rapport with individual contractors. After a busy “off season” filled with strategic planning, tactical improvements, and capacity building, the NJDOT RWM staff is expecting much of it to show in the field over the winter season. It has been recognized, by management and field operations personnel, that the CMF process helped identify and articulate what works well and what needs improvement in the RWM practice at the agency level, considering multiple aspects, experiences, and priorities across the department. It also helped identify the priorities and critical improvements that can bring a significant improvement in performance, both for individual units, as well as the overall NJDOT RWM program.

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