Road-clearing award for ITD's Jensen
shows commitment to public safety

Gem State drivers can breathe a bit easier this winter thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Dennis Jensen and the winter performance measures initiative he spearheaded and applied statewide.

Idaho’s system for measuring winter maintenance performance is earning national awards and attracting worldwide attention. The most recent recognition is from AASHTO – the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. AASHTO recently awarded Jensen with the Alfred E. Johnson award for leadership. Fourteen states, two Canadian provinces, Sweden, Belgium, and several universities have contacted the department about the award-winning system. The program also was presented in Tokyo, and at conferences in Ireland and Europe.

“Idaho’s program has been extremely successful and many states and nations are watching this system closely for adaptation, in part or as a whole,” Jensen said. 

The award presentations were made Nov. 23 in Charlotte, N.C., at the annual meeting of AASHTO, which is comprised of the nation's 50 state departments of transportation. It was the fourth major award for the system in the last two years

The winter-maintenance system was pioneered in ITD’s District 5 area (Southeast Idaho), and has since moved statewide. Jensen, formerly the road foreman for the department’s District 4 area (southern Idaho) is now ITD’s Winter Maintenance Coordinator in Boise, but still keeps a residence in Twin Falls and returns each weekend to the Magic Valley.

Jensen was recognized for his work improving safety for the traveling public, which led him to develop a unique system that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of winter maintenance, not only statewide in Idaho, but is also being noticed by other transportation organizations. Idaho was the first to establish a method for measuring the effectiveness of winter highway road-clearing efforts. It has been used statewide since 2011.

“In essence, the system measures how quickly crews restore the grip (friction coefficient) to a good surface condition from an ice or snow floor,” explained Jensen. “The recovery time is compared against the severity of the storm event.”

In 2012, ITD developed a second measure, identified as the Mobility Index. This was the percentage of time during a winter road event that a good grip or good surface condition existed. The goal for the winter season was set at 55 percent for the aggregate of all storm events statewide.

The mobility performance has risen from 28 percent in the 2010-11 winter season to 59 percent last year and 68 percent so far this year.

The two performance yardsticks provide a benchmark for all aspects of a winter event and crews are able to track their performance against previous years.

“In the past four years, ITD crews have adopted the most promising practices across the state to improve their operations, resulting in better scoring and service while improving cost efficiencies,” said Jensen.  

“It is paying dividends back to the department through better service and more cost-effective operations,” Jensen said.

“The technology has allowed ITD to evaluate treatment applications along with timing to better match the product applied to the storm event. Improving winter mobility has led to fewer accidents and delays to our roadway users,” he added.

The innovations don’t stop, Jensen added. He said through the latest upgrade, “ITD operators across the state are learning technology and changing their operations accordingly to their specific geographical locations and tools used to apply their road-clearing products.”

“Historically, the operators did not have much recorded data to evaluate after the storm event, but crews are now able to critique their operations and make adjustments for the next event through automated reports. This results in the reduction of snow floor and ice much quicker and, on occasion, prevents adverse surface conditions altogether.”

As a measure of the accountability and transparency ITD strives for, the department’s winter maintenance response was added to the online “dashboard” about 18 months ago. Through the website at, citizens now can track the percent of time Idaho’s state highways are clear of snow and ice during winter storms. The new dashboard gauge gives the public a snapshot of the effectiveness of the department’s winter-maintenance activities. The data is based on Jensen’s winter maintenance performance measuring system. 

“My role in all of this is to manage a Winter Performance Measures Team including Miranda Forcier (a former BSU intern, in 2012) and Jesse Christensen (a current BSU intern),” said Jensen. “We all play a vital role in the training of crews and distribution of data to those crews. I really consider the success of the program a team effort within multiple layers of the department.”

Ed Bala, district engineer in southeast Idaho (District 5), worked closely with Jensen to modify the program in the early years of development. Now, with the program in use statewide, Bala is in a position to comment on Jensen.

“The winter performance measures program is unique to Idaho, and it gives our snowplow operators real-time feedback to judge the effectiveness of their efforts,” said Bala.  “Due to this system of feedback and information, our state has seen a measurable and dramatic increase in winter mobility, and we post those results in real time on our website for our customers and employees to see.

“Without Dennis, ITD would not have a winter performance measures program; he’s devised ways to expand the sensor network, make the reporting automated, and make the results understandable and useful.

“Dennis is a pioneer in realizing the importance of data for winter operations, and his background as a foreman gives him a unique perspective on what data users need and how they need to use it. The Johnson award is extremely prestigious, and I think there’s no one more deserving than Dennis.”

Published 12-12-14