This article was published on page 2, in the June 12th edition of the National Post.



Ontario experiment eliminates black ice  

Other provinces keen

Tom Blackwell

National Post

Ontario Ministry of Transportation


There were no collisions last winter on an accident-prone highway ramp where a computerized system sprayed de-icing fluid on to the roadway.


It may be the closest thing yet to a highway that thinks, and could put an end to life-threatening black ice.

The Ontario government says it has all but eliminated weather-related crashes on a major highway ramp after installing the first system in Canada that automatically senses weather conditions, decides if a freeze-up is coming and triggers jets of de-icing fluid when needed.

Neither humans nor rust-inducing salt trucks need get involved.

The province has tested the $300,000, space-age gizmo at one bridge and is looking at using it elsewhere. Other provinces have talked to Ontario about the technology.

"When a driver is driving down the road and they hit black ice, the cars start fishtailing and they lose control. They can be quite significant incidents," said Brad Clark, Ontario's Minister of Transportation.

"If we can have a system where the black ice doesn't develop, that would be the goal across the province and we would have far safer highways during the winter time."

A lawsuit judgment delivered last month highlighted the danger to drivers and the onus on governments to keep the structures safe.

The Ontario Court of Appeal found the province liable for a 1988 accident in which a woman lost control of her car on black ice as she crossed a bridge on Highway 401, skidded into oncoming traffic and suffered severe brain damage.

The court ordered the government to pay $4-million in damages after finding that road crews ignored weather reports that called for frost.

The new FAST (Fixed Anti-icing Spray Technology) system, based on ones pioneered in Europe, was installed last fall on a trial basis at the interchange between Highways 416 and 401 in eastern Ontario.

Sensors imbedded in the pavement gather information on weather conditions and relay it to a computer on site. The computer analyzes the information and makes a decision based on the current and expected conditions. If freezing is anticipated, the computer triggers nozzles to spray a de-icing substance on to the surface.

The 416-401 ramp was the site of 14 accidents during the winter of 1999-2000. With the system in place, there were no collisions this past winter.

Jurisdictions outside of Canada have reported reductions in weather-related accidents of at least 50% as a result of the systems.

Pennsylvania installed two in 1998 and has found the technology very effective in making roads safer and freeing up crews for other duties, said Steve Chizmar, a spokesman for the state's Department of Transportation.

The system could also lessen the amount of salt that is dumped on the roads, meaning less corrosion of concrete and steel, Mr. Clark said.