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New snowplow tracker brings ‘more accurate, better information’ to Howard residents

New snowplow tracker brings ‘more accurate, better information’ to Howard residents
Using the latest tracking system, officials said residents can see four different time frames of snow removal based on color-coded roadways, watching treatment within the last four hours, four to eight hours, eight and 12 hours, and more than 12 hours. (Howard County Government photo)

A new snowplow tracking system was beta launched by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman Wednesday, effectively replacing the county's original tracking software of more than 16 years.

Last month, Kittleman announced that the county was spending $44,000 on a new tracking system, with $32,400 used for a mobile-friendly website and $12,000 budgeted yearly for maintenance and support costs. During the January blizzard, many residents reported receiving limited updates from the previous online snowplow-tracking tool, which was operated by third-party vendor Enterprise Information Solution to provide snowplow locations and road conditions.

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Kittleman said Wednesday that tracking software known as automatic vehicle locator – purchased from AT&T and BSM Technologies – was installed in 152 Bureau of Highway vehicles belonging to the Department of Public Works, including 135 pieces of snow removal equipment. Each vehicle's tracker will take a digital photo every 10 seconds for consistent updates.

"We understand that when it snows, everyone wants to know when his or her street will be cleared," Kittleman said. "This new tracker will give accurate and immediate information so people can follow our progress."

Contractor vehicles will also have access to 25 "plug and play" AVLs, tracking their location with enhanced photos of each snowplow's progress.

Using the latest tracking system, officials said residents can see four different time frames of snow removal based on color-coded roadways, watching treatment within the last four hours, four to eight hours, eight and 12 hours and more than 12 hours. Weather alerts and real-time traffic information will also be available.

James Irvin, director of public works, said the new system provides a much needed update to the county's aging program by adding modern technology into the equation.

"It's going to be much more accurate, provide better information to the public and help us manage our business in a better fashion," Irvin said. "People have come to rely upon it much more. They watch it much more closely to see how we're making progress during storm events. Hopefully, we won't need it this year, but we'll see."

Highway traffic camera views can be accessed by site users when they click green, camera-shaped buttons on the map. Traffic cameras span north to south from Interstate 695 at Old Court Road in Pikesville to Route 295 at Route 32 in Annapolis Junction and west to east from Route 29 at Route 216 in North Laurel to I-695 at Route 295 in Baltimore.

Kittleman said the snowplow tracker is part of a larger project to install locaters in 225 vehicles across the Department of Inspections, Licensing and Permits; Bureau of Facilities; and Department of Recreation and Parks. Total costs are estimated at $301,000.

While the program is in the testing phase, Kittleman said residents can provide feedback after using the software at HowardCountySnowTracker.org.

To see a video tutorial on using the snowplow tracker, go to https://youtu.be/ci3U__fncHA.

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