Optimization of Winter Maintenance Stations for Safe and Efficient Freight Transportation

In the northern states, winter maintenance of major transportation corridors is an ongoing issue. Apart from the general cost to the traveling public, freight transport has additional economic considerations as well as operational and safety characteristics. The effect of winter maintenance operations and severe weather conditions on freight fluidity has not been adequately investigated. Specifically, efficient planning and operations of stations, where trucks, snowplows and other road machinery as well as deicing materials are maintained in and dispatched from, can significantly improve the cost-effectiveness of the operations. In the state of Minnesota, most of the truck stations are reaching their life expectancy and need to be reconstructed or relocated in a multiperiod plan. An efficient plan starts with optimization of stations’ location, type and size, followed by vehicle routing and scheduling for snow plowing and salt distribution on roads, to facilitate safe and efficient freight transport in winter, with minimum operations cost. This proposal intends to study the freight fluidity challenges in winter, and narrows it down to optimizing winter road maintenance operations for better freight transportation. The study will develop an optimization model for finding the optimal location of stations for new construction or capacity expansion, considering desired service quality for major freight corridors, followed by assignment of stations and trucks to service zones. Two key aspects of the study that distinguishes it from regular station location optimization are 1) determining the freight volume on the state road network and determining critical links or zones for prioritized maintenance, and 2) accounting for stochastic model parameters, e.g. snowfall amount and storm duration, and employing robust optimization to design reliable service for extreme conditions. A decision support system will be developed based on mathematical programming and road network topology in geographic information systems (GIS). The decision support system could benefit agencies from a financial perspective by reducing the winter maintenance operations cost, and the freight industry by safe and efficient freight transport in winter. Any software tool created in this research will be shared with local agencies and research community in open source format.