Motorists recall with dread the Super Bowl
expensive preparations in an era of tight budgets.
The last massive snowstorm in North Texas remains a black eye for local government. When more than 5 inches of snow fell in 2011, many highways went unplowed, and thousands of football fans got stranded before the big game. The toll authority was forced to use construction road graders to clear impassable roads.
“The Super Bowl that everybody talks about really opened our eyes,” Hemphill said. “We had to put another tool in our toolbox.”
The toll authority spent about $84,000 on nine snowplow blades that attach to the front of regular dump trucks. Then it hired a subsidiary of New York-based L-3 Communications to help with training by putting on its snowplow simulation.
The simulator has three video screens, a steering wheel and a switch for the plow blade. Recently, a handful of toll road drivers tried it out, tracing the curves of a virtual road designed to make them slip. Imaginary deer ran out and almost without exception got hit by drivers who weren’t able to avoid them. Each time, the word “COLLISION” popped up in red letters.
On a recent sunny morning with temperatures in the 50s, Santiago Peralta got into the driver’s seat of one of the simulators. He turned the ignition and pressed down on the gas, following a truck down a snowy road. As he pushed the accelerator, the arrow of his on-screen speedometer moved farther to the right.
Then, without warning, a child dashed onto the road. Peralta wasn’t able to swerve in time. Later, he laughed, saying he had driven in snow before and knew not to use the gas nearly that much.
“It’s a little bit different than the real deal,” he said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also uses the simulator in its local district offices, as do some agencies in states with generally mild winters such as Virginia and Kentucky. It’s also used in Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Maine, Utah and Oregon, L-3 Senior Training Manager George Perez said.
“The districts swear by it and say it makes a lot of difference, especially since most of our workers face snow and ice conditions infrequently,” Texas DPS spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said.