Now is the time for a focused research effort to be undertaken that will allow the road weather system of the future to be realized. An opportunity exists to leverage the knowledge from analogous programs, the efforts from existing projects (e.g., intelligent transportation systems, the Maintenance Decision Support System), and the expertise of the meteorological and transportation communities in order to improve the safety and efficiency of a transportation system that is used by millions of people every single day and is affected by weather every single day. Decision makers can help achieve the vision of the roadway system of the future portrayed above and in the earlier vignettes (see Chapter 2) by capitalizing on the framework provided in this report and bringing the road weather research program to fruition. Such a program would be the first of its kind; coming just over 100 years since the automobile was invented, it is a program that is long overdue.
The advances in knowledge and operational capabilities that could result from a comprehensive road weather research program such as that proposed in this report have the potential to improve public safety, economic efficiency, security, and environmental quality for the nation. Improved road weather information for the driving public should reduce the number of weather-related accidents, and the associated fatalities, injuries, and property damage. At the same time, individual drivers and commercial trucking operations would be able to find better routes that minimize exposure to weather threats, leading to less time spent on the road and more efficient shipping practices. Benefits also would be gained by developing weather information products and decision support tools that would enable a more cost-effective and optimized operation of the roadway system, from advanced winter maintenance practices to weather-responsive traffic management. Other advantages, such as the ability to better respond to chemical spills on the roadway or reduced environmental impacts from chemicals used to treat snow and ice on the road, are also likely (Ham and Lockwood, 2002). Although these benefits have not been quantified, they could be substantial if the proposed road weather research program were implemented to exploit the potential of current and new tools and technologies.
Beyond these direct benefits of improved road weather information and services, an enhanced understanding of how to address road weather problems will position the nation to better respond to many other large-scale socioeconomic and physical changes relevant to the roadway environment. Indeed, global trends in demographics, the environment, and technology will affect road transportation dramatically during the next decade. Thus,