State DOTs ‘Plow Ahead’ With Plow Naming Contests

For those transportation professionals who believe engaging with the public is tantamount to poking a stick at sleeping dogs and hornets’ nests, “Snowprah Winfrey,” “Alice Scooper,” and “Hans Snowlo” insist it really is “Snow Big Deal.”

[Pictured above: South Dakota DOT’s Bruce Thiewes at the wheel of “Control/Salt/Delete,” a truck/tow/plow unit based in the Watertown, SD, area. Photo by the South Dakota DOT.]

Those are just some of the winning entries from citizens in “Name the Snowplow” contests that state departments of transportation have staged this winter. So far, at least seven states – Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont – are holding contests that have produced gems such as “The Scrape Gatsby,” “The Big Leplowski,” and “Snowbegone Kenobi.”

While the contests may seem frivolous, there is a serious purpose behind them, according to Jake Loesch of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Minnesota Department of Transportation

“We’ve been able to have fun with a lighthearted contest but deliver an important message along the way about safety and driving tips when snowplow drivers are out working,” said Loesch, Minnesota DOT’s director of communications and public engagement.

The agency recently wrapped up its second-ever “Name a Snowplow” contest. After plowing through nearly 60,000 votes, the Minnesota DOT noted in a statement that it selected eight winners based on vote totals: Betty Whiteout; Ctrl Salt Delete; The Big Leplowski; Plowasaurus Rex; Scoop Dogg; Blizzard of Oz; No More Mr. Ice Guy; and Edward Blizzardhands.

The snowplow-naming contest trend appears to have begun in Scotland, where every year since 2006, annual public contests come up with names for what the Scots call “gritters,” which explains why “Gritney Spears” is a past winner.

Inspired by the Scots, the Michigan Department of Transportation held its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021, and Jeff Cranson – the agency’s communications director – said the public reaction proved tremendous.

“Levels of community engagement are always difficult to gauge, even if you have the resources to commit to truly scientific surveys,” he noted. “But I would say any [state] DOT initiative that prompts more than 15,000 responses, and counting demonstrates a connection with some part of the audience.”

Sometimes, the connection is an unexpected one. When a South Dakota Department of Transportation crew took a snowplow to an elementary school as part of the contest, they did not know that the teacher was the daughter of a recently deceased South Dakota DOT snowplow driver. The connection resulted in warm memories for the teacher and a favorable article in the local newspaper.

“That’s why we do the contest,” said Julie Stevenson, South Dakota DOT’s strategic communications coordinator. “We use the contest as a way to share vital information. The ultimate goal is to humanize the snowplow operators.”

The New York State Department of Transportation aimed for a similar goal with its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021. The winning name, “Howe’s Plow,” honors Dennis “Matt” Howe, a highway worker killed in a work zone in 2019. Now, one plow truck in each NYSDOT region will bear the name “Howe’s Plow” in his memory.

New York State Department of Transportation

“It’s a fitting tribute to Matt’s memory that more than two-thirds of the votes cast in this contest went to Howe’s Plow,” said NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez in a statement. “I hope it serves as a reminder to drivers to slow down and move over for the safety of the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters driving plows and doing other essential road work year-round to keep travelers safe.”

Other state DOTs are using snowplow-naming efforts in roadway safety campaigns. For example, amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes statewide in 2021, the Idaho Transportation Department launched a safety campaign centered on a caricature dubbed “Mr. Snowplow.”

“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” explained Justin Smith, the agency’s public information officer for districts 5 and 6 in East Idaho, in a statement.

The campaign included multiple social media posts, press releases, interviews with local media, and a poem written by the spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers entitled “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved.” The poem went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada, and helped the agency’s safety campaign not only raise motorist awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them but reduced snowplow strikes dramatically as well.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is conducting a similar campaign, issuing a “top 10 list” of things its snowplow operators want motorists to know in regards to driving around snow removal equipment, along with video highlighting how the agency gears up to “fight” snow and ice on the roads every winter.

Michigan DOT’s Cranson said snowplow-naming contests demonstrate that “the majority of people appreciate important work, like clearing roads of ice and snow to assure safe passage.”

Minnesota is just starting its contest this year. Minnesota DOT’s Loesch – who said his agency’s snowplow naming contest received more than 13,000 entries on its first day – would “strongly recommend” that other agencies hold such contests of their own.

“It’s a fun, simple way to engage the public that doesn’t present much risk to the agency,” he noted.

Video Highlights Michigan DOT Diversity Recruitment Program

The Michigan Department of Transportation recently put together a video reviewing the benefits of its Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program or TDRP, which the agency is using to “educate and inspire” the next generation of transportation professionals.

[Above photo by the Michigan DOT]

“This program, its structure, the fact that it’s been around for eight years and it’s only getting bigger and better, is really incredible,” noted Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II (D) (seen above) in a statement. “As someone who’s benefited from having just thoughtful and conscientious mentors who helped to make me successful, that’s what we want for every young person who’s looking to pursue careers in whatever field.”
The Michigan DOT said it has been working with students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and colleges throughout Michigan to offer valuable on-the-job training and job shadowing to undergraduate students pursuing degrees in engineering or other transportation-related careers.
The TDRP began with four students eight years ago and has grown to include 59 students this season. The Michigan DOT said this 10-week program allows students to work alongside other on-the-job training program participants, internal staff and external professionals who provide engineering, technical, inspection, and project management services for state road and bridge projects.

The agency also recently created a new executive-level position to help the agency incorporate equity and inclusion in all aspects of its business.

The Michigan DOT’s new position of chief culture, equity, and inclusion officer or CCEIO oversees areas within the Bureau of Transportation Planning, the Office of Organizational Development, the Office of Business Development, the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and the Office of Economic Development.

The agency noted that it designed this new CCEIO position to help it make “meaningful progress” optimizing its organizational culture, aligning equity and inclusion goals with business outcomes while responding to changes or policies that affect employee and customer populations.

Nevada DOT Offering “Water-Smart” Advice to State Residents

The Environmental Division of the Nevada Department of Transportation is offering state residents landscaping advice on pesticide and herbicide use as well as “water-smart practices” when conducting residential landscaping activities.

[Above photo by the Southern Nevada Water Authority]

“Most people are surprised to learn that homes can be a source of pollution,” explained James Murphy, the Environmental Division’s program manager within Nevada DOT, in a statement – noting that his division oversees disciplines such as stormwater, air quality, noise, wildlife biology, environmental engineering, and cultural resources.

“We encourage Nevada residents to take steps to avoid polluting our waterways, such as avoiding overwatering and applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers sparingly, with caution, and per product labeling,” he said.

Murphy explained that, in Nevada, sewer systems and stormwater drains are separate systems. Water that goes down the drain inside a home via toilet or sink goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it is treated and filtered. Conversely, water that flows down driveways and streets into gutters goes directly into a storm drain that flows untreated into lakes, rivers and streams.

Thus runoff from landscaped areas may contain fertilizers, pesticides or other materials that are harmful to lakes and streams, stressed Charles Schembre, an environmental scientist with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

He explained that the most important thing residents could do to prevent stormwater contamination from landscaping activities is to avoid watering the sidewalk. Installing a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk – such as rocks, woody mulch or plants – will prevent runoff onto the sidewalk. This is a critical component in reducing runoff of pollutants into storm drains, he said.

Other tips include:

  • Use “healthy soil” practices and use organic fertilizers and pesticides sparingly; make sure to follow product label instructions.
  • Consider planting trees, seeds and plants that are native to Nevada, which require less water.
  • Use “selective” herbicide applications to target just weeds and avoid affecting desirable plant species. Avoid spraying during conditions where herbicides may drift to non-target plant species – specifically when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph.
  • Use organic mulch or other pest control methods whenever possible.
  • Install a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk to prevent irrigation runoff onto the sidewalk.
  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly.
  • Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on the grass so the water infiltrates into the ground instead of spilling into storm drains.