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In several other states, like Vermont and Michigan, transportation departments have cleared the way for members of the public to pick names for the state snow plow fleet. These naming competitions have demonstrated great creativity and humor, particularly from students, and the lists of winning names are bright spots in a dreary winter.
Similar contests in Scotland (they call plows “gritters” over there) seem to be part of the inspiration for this fun trend. Bar Harbor had its own plow naming contest for the public last year.
We dare you to try to read through the names in other states without laughing out loud. Sleetwood Mac. Fast and Flurryous. Jennifer Snowpez. Snow Day Dream Crusher. Edgar Allan Snow. The Big Leplowski. Rupert Slushington IV. Plowy McPlowFace. Crtl Salt Delete. Those are just a few examples.
Sure, some of the names seem out of left field. But a lot of them are pure gold.
Vermont turned to schools for name ideas from the students.
“There’s some random stuff that comes out of first graders sometimes, and I really don’t know what was going through the student’s mind who came up with that name, but it was a winner,” Vermont elementary school principal Edorah Frazer told NPR a winning name from her school (“Snowy Chicken”).
In Michigan, Department of Transportation spokesperson Nick Schirripa told MLive that the snow plow naming effort isn’t just about fun, it’s also about highlighting the work done by road crews.
“The bottom line of this whole effort really has been about our maintenance workers and our plow operators, and really highlighting the fact that they are superheroes,” he said. “When they’re in a plow they’re just nameless, faceless machines. That doesn’t capture the essence of what they’re doing. Our plow operators are amazing people who do incredible work, and they do not get enough credit.”
Seeing all the fun other states have been having with these competitions made us think that Maine should join the party. But after asking the Maine Department of Transportation about it, we’re pumping the brakes, at least for now.
Highway maintenance engineer Brian Burne explained that naming and tracking the state’s 400 plow trucks, as other states have done, would require automatic vehicle location technology. This technology uses GPS and other sensors to continuously send information from a vehicle to a central database. According to Burne, maintaining this technology for a plow fleet the size of Maine’s costs about $100,000 per year with an additional likely start-up cost of a few hundred dollars per truck for “black boxes” and modems.
Maine isn’t looking to make this kind of investment in order to have some fun with snow plow names. Nor would we ask them to. That would be a fiscally irresponsible road to snowhere. Maine has enough transportation funding needs.
However, it sounds like the state has already been exploring the technology for functional reasons. It’s not hard to imagine how this technology could make snow removal operations more efficient and adaptable.
“We are in the process of getting AVL in our trucks for other reasons. Full implementation will take a couple of years, assuming there is available funding,” Burne said. “We’re aware that other agencies offer public features involving naming trucks and tracking their routes. We may consider doing the same once all the necessary technology is in place.”
If and once the Department of Transportation has added the tracking technology to plow trucks for functional reasons, adding some fun via a snow plow naming contest should follow. Until then, we can all turn to the lists from Vermont, Michigan, Minnesota and others for a good laugh.