Living Snow Fencing Applications for Departments of Transportation Right of Way Areas
Living snow fence utilization is one of the most sustainable engineering and
maintenance actions departments of transportation (DOTs) can implement along
highway corridors. Living snow fences are designed plantings of trees and/or
shrubs and native grasses along highways, roads and ditches that create a
vegetative buffer that traps and controls blowing and drifting snow. These
strategically placed fences have been shown to be cost effective in reducing
highway maintenance associated with blowing and drifting snow conditions.
There is an increased awareness and concern about the application of anti-icing and
de-icing chemicals and abrasives (traction sand) onto the roadway surfaces as
part of winter time operations. The addition of salt and abrasive materials are
known to create water quality impacts and are expensive to purchase and apply. Some
DOTs have used living snow fences in lieu of traditional snow fencing and
chemical application to address these environmental impacts. It has been shown
that use of natural living snow fencing reduces maintenance costs associated
with drift development, plowing, traditional slat fencing maintenance and
chemical application. In addition, improved roadway aesthetics, community
acceptance and carbon sequestration can be achieved. The challenges to living snow fences are that they require more space than the wooden slat fencing, plantings need to be protected from livestock and wildlife
and it takes 5-7 years to provide effective snow control and up to 20 years for
trees to reach full maturity. There may be site conditions such as shallow
soils, arid climate and soil pH issues that may challenge plant establishment.
The main research objective is to provide DOT
maintenance, design engineers and environmental representatives a compendium of
best practices for the design, installation, propagation and maintenance of
living snow fence systems. This research will provide DOTs the guidance
information necessary to reduce maintenance costs associated with snow plowing,
anti-icing/de-icing agent application and conventional snow fencing repair. It
is expected that improved water quality will result by reducing the amount of
chemical agent and abrasives that are applied and runoff from the roadway
The living snow fence concept incorporates all
the components associated with sustainable actions such as environmental
condition improvements, consideration of financial resources and cooperation
with the local landowners/community. The following summarizes the main
advantages of living snow fencing and why DOTs should consider increasing their
use along highway right of way areas:
- The service
life of living snow fences is 50-75 years in comparison to the 20-25 year
life of a conventional slat fence.
- Living mature
trees can capture up to 12 times more snow than slat fences.
- Living snow
fences can be installed to address tree mitigation from highway
- Trees and
shrubs sequester carbon that can reduce a DOTs overall carbon footprint.
habitat is enhanced by vegetation that provides food and cover.
plowing activities and the potential of road closures are reduced.
- Reduced soil
erosion along the right of way from established vegetation.
- Reduced amount
of snow plowing thus minimizing fuel consumption and costs, and greenhouse
gas emissions.* Increased
vegetation provides enhanced aesthetic features along the highway
- Maintenance is free when trees are established.
- Reduced salt chemicals and abrasives introduced
into the environment.
a mechanism for carbon sequestration in a DOT climate change or carbon
Overall, living snow fences is a win/win for both the DOT, the public and the adjacent landowner by increasing the number of planted trees to sequester carbon while improving soil stability, aesthetics, and wildlife habitat. Living snow fences have been shown to be cost effective in the long term by reduced maintenance actions and chemical addition to the roadway surface. Living snow fencing is one of several approaches that can be used by state DOTs to reduce salt and abrasives onto roadway surfaces thus reducing pollutant discharges into surface water systems and reducing environmental risk and liability.
DOTs such as Minnesota, New York and Colorado have achieved excellent results
in designing and installing sustainable living snow fences. Overall the main
objective is to reduce the amount of salt introduced into surface water systems
and to reduce long term maintenance costs. Many DOTs use wooden
slat fencing in areas with large open areas and fetches that are expensive to
purchase, install and maintain. The maintenance of snow fences was estimated to
be $3 per mile per year, compared to $185 per mile per year for a conventional 4
foot slat fence (USDA, 1994). In Minnesota, benefit/cost ratios range from 9:1
to 46:1 in favor of living snow fences (University of Minnesota, 2002).
The Minnesota Department of Transportation
initiated a Living Snow Fence Partnership Program with the US Department of
Agriculture, Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and
the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The intent of the Program is to
efficiently manage blowing and drifting snow on Minnesota roadways to reduce
accidents and save lives. The Living Snow Fence Partnership Program is very
proactive in establishing work groups, raising public awareness, cost-sharing
among stakeholders and defining specific program roles and responsibilities for
all stakeholders. The Minnesota model is one of several snow fence models in
the United States that will be showcased in this study.
research would require at a minimum the review and assessment of the following
information that would be valuable to develop a guidance document to create living
snow fences in right of way areas:
- understand the basic elements of snow science
and deposition to strategically place living snow fencing
- compile public outreach and education
approaches to place living snow fences on private property
- identify the design criteria in terms of
selecting landscape plants that are fast growing and sustainable
- obtain maintenance cost information and assess
life cycle cost effectiveness* provide case studies on successful and
unsuccessful living snow fence projects
- evaluate the amount of chemicals or abrasives reduced
change can have a large impact upon the type of vegetation species that can be
selected for snow fencing. In light of high extreme storm events and potential
droughts, plant species must be selected that require low maintenance, achieve
height and width in a reasonable amount of time and achieve optimum root growth
and depth for stability. Carbon sequestration from living snow fencing will be
important to quantify for climate change management.
term life cycle costs for snow fencing are lacking in many state DOTs. This
type of cost analysis is expected to be important in evaluating maintenance cost
reductions and less chemicals added to the roadway surface.
|Sponsoring Committee:||ADC60, Waste Management and Resource Efficiency in Transportation
|Research Period:||6 - 12 months|
|RNS Developer:||Andrew Graettinger and Art Hirsch|
|Source Info:||Art Hirsch |
5766 Flagstaff Road
Boulder,Colorado,United States 80302
|Index Terms:||Snow fences, State departments of transportation, Cost effectiveness, Highway maintenance, Anti-icing, Environmental impacts, Wildlife, Abrasives, Water quality, |
Maintenance and Preservation