Data sensors and weather cameras to help Public Works better monitor road conditions

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Public Works Department  • Richard H. Hansen Transportation & Public Works Complex
4787 Midway Road, Duluth, MN 55811 • Phone: (218) 625-3830

James T. Foldesi, P.E.
Public Works Director/Highway Engineer



July 27, 2017

MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Boder, Deputy Director, Public Works


County installs data sensors, cameras to help monitor road conditions

It's hard to think about winter road conditions in the middle of summer, but St. Louis County Public Works engineers are doing just that. Public Works staff are installing remote data sensors at five locations around the County, four of which will include weather cameras providing a live look at the current road conditions. The Roadway Weather Information Systems (RWIS) will help monitor weather and road conditions so that crews can make better informed decisions more quickly about when and how to treat and maintain the roads during snow and ice events.


The RWIS data sensors have been installed at the following intersections: 

  • Maple Grove Road (CSAH 6) and Stebner Road in Hermantown
  • Hwy 7 (CSAH 7) and Swan Lake Road (CSAH 47) – west intersection in Alborn
  • Town Line Road (CSAH 16) and Vermilion Trail (CSAH 4) in Makinen 
  • Hwy 25 (CSAH 25) and Osborn Road, north of Buhl
  • Hwy 21 (CSAH 21) and Hwy 70 (CSAH 70) in Babbitt

The RWIS sensors will detect the presence of moisture and ice on the pavement, and measure the temperature of both the air and the pavement, pavement friction and roadway surface snow depth.The system will be able to send automatic alerts to public works staff based upon winter weather conditions that need immediate response. Additionally, weather cameras are mounted at four of the locations to provide a real time look at road conditions. The weather cameras have no recording or law enforcement capabilities, but are used for real time road condition feedback.

The locations were intentionally chosen because of their distance from the County's various maintenance garages to provide a better overall look at road conditions.

"In a County the size of ours, road conditions can vary significantly from one area to another in any given storm," said Brian Boder, Deputy Director of Public Works. "Having this real time information from the remote sensors will help us be more efficient and effective in maintaining roads. Additionally, the sensors will be able to send us automatic notifications when certain conditions, like ice accumulation, are happening, so we'll know to get out there sooner."

The systems are not yet operational, but will be in time for winter. County staff currently are working to finalize the RWIS "dashboard" for maintenance supervisors to access the data. The eventual plan will be to also make this data available to cities and MnDOT, as well as to the public. 

Several years ago, the County conducted a pilot program at the Hermantown location to test a comparable RWIS system. Based on the success of that test, and the extra information it provided to road maintenance crews, the County expanded the program to these additional sites.

One other interesting note, as a way to reduce the cost of this project, the RWIS sensors have been mounted on re-purposed light poles that once stood on Fourth Street in Duluth. As part of the rebuilding of that street, new decorative lighting was installed, so the old light poles were no longer needed.

St. Louis County Public Works is responsible for maintaining 3,000 miles of roads and 600 bridges. To learn more, visit

camera data sensor
This data sensor and camera are at the intersection of Highway 25 and Osborn Road in Great Scott Township. It's one of five remote sensors the County will use to better monitor and respond to winter road conditions.

camera sample
This sample image shows what Public Works maintenance crews will be able to see through new remote cameras being installed to help monitor winter road conditions. The cameras will provide real time imagery, though will not be recorded.