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INDOT has been guessing how much road salt it has. Purdue researchers want to change that

By Ben Thorp, IPB News | Published on in Education, Science, Transportation
Purdue researchers have created a sensor they say will make it easier to measure salt stockpiles (Credit: Prof. Darcy Bullock)

Researchers at Purdue University say they may have a way to allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to know exactly how much salt it has in warehouses across the state.

INDOT, like many other highway departments across the country, currently approximates how much salt it has in some 120 warehouses across the state by eyeballing it.

Jeremy Mcguffey, INDOT’s statewide winter operations manager, said the agency needs a clear picture of how much salt it has – especially as it tries to reduce how much it uses.

“We can’t reduce the amount of salt that we use without knowing how much salt we have in the first place,” he said.

Mcguffey said more accurate measurements will also help them understand where salt resources are better distributed and how much to use during winter storms.

“If we’re in the middle of a snowstorm and we’re relying heavily on our salt for that storm, it affects our burn rates,” he said. “We may get to the end of a storm and have much less salt than we anticipated at any of our facilities because we guessed a much lower or higher number than what we actually had.”

Mcguffey said if the Purdue research project pans out, he expects other state transportation departments will be interested.

Purdue researcher Ayman Habib said existing technologies are expensive and take a lot of work. He said his team uses consumer-grade laser sensors and can collect the data they need within 10 minutes, allowing the department to monitor salt levels on a daily basis.

“It’s very, very important to know how much you have in each of these facilities so you can plan for future winter operations,” he said.

This winter, Habib said, the goal is to survey each of INDOT’s 120 facilities to see how the technology does.