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Iowa DOT evaluates TowPlow: Equipment promises a powerful punch
Expected to double performance use less fuel reduce capital investment

There will soon be a new plow on Iowa's roadways that will likely be turning heads while removing snow. The name says it all TowPlow is a plow towed by a snowplow truck that can clear a huge swath through fallen and drifted snow. One truck does the work of two. When fully configured, a TowPlow can clear two and a half highway lanes or two lanes and part of the shoulder.

Test locations

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) is deploying three TowPlows at pilot project locations in the Des Moines, Waterloo and Sioux City areas to test the equipment and use of the towed-plow concept during the 2010-2011 season.

TowPlows have been used extensively in Missouri for four years and in Minnesota since 2008, and are currently ready to be used in 10 other states this winter.

TowPlow in action. (Video courtesy of Missouri DOT)

Towed-plow concept

The towed-plow concept is simple. The trailer-mounted TowPlow is designed to tow behind and work alongside a truck with a standard plow mounted on the front. This combination increases the single unit's clearing path allowing one truck to effectively do the work of two.

TowPlow features

  • The two 18,000-pound steering axles are capable of turning 30 degrees.
  • When connected to a truck with a 14-foot front plow, a total of 25 feet of clearing is accomplished with a single pass.
  • The unit is capable of plowing at normal winter driving speeds (tested at 55-60 mph), which reduces the potential for rear-end accidents.
  • The TowPlow is equipped with an anti-lock air brake system that keeps the wheels from locking up during hard brake applications.
  • Further expanding the versatility of the unit, the TowPlow can be equipped with a hopper for salt or two 1,025-gallon poly tanks for brine application; or the unit can be used strictly for spreading materials when plowing is not necessary. The three units Iowa has purchased include the poly tanks.
  • When not in use, the TowPlow pulls directly behind the plow truck similar to a normal trailer.
  • During the nonwinter months, the TowPlow can be used as a water tank.
  • Operators are required to complete an overview and familiarization training, which is provided by the vendor.
  • For the operator, the TowPlow has fewer controls than the traditional side wing two compared to three (one lever steers the trailer in and out; another lowers the blade).

TowPlow benefits

  • Eliminating the need for a second truck means a significant capital equipment savings. A standard Iowa DOT snowplow truck costs approximately $150,000. Each TowPlow costs approximately $70,000. Required truck modifications costing approximately $3,000 include a rear hitch module, lights, hydraulic upgrade, and two in-cab controls. The capital savings resulting from elimination of the second vehicle is approximately $77,000.
  • Fuel savings. While the added weight of the TowPlow increases fuel consumption by about 10 to 15 percent; compared to using two trucks to do the same job, the actual fuel savings is 85 to 90 percent.
  • Less maintenance. The TowPlow requires standard plow and trailer maintenance, a savings compared to maintenance that a second truck and plow requires.
  • Increased level of service. The TowPlow can be used in a plow train, in place of a truck that could be deployed on a different route, thus increasing overall level of service.

Origin of the TowPlow

The technique of plowing multiple-lane roadways with several snowplow trucks is the accepted practice on urban multilane expressways, interstates and rural, high-speed divided highways. The use of a towed plow is still relatively new in the United States and Canada.

The invention of the TowPlow was the brainchild of retired Missouri DOT employee Bob Lannert who applied his knowledge of farm equipment to snowplows. Missouri DOT worked with snowplow manufacturer Viking-Cives to fine-tune the design and build the towable plowing units.

The patented TowPlow is manufactured by Viking-Cives Ltd, the Mount Forest, Ontario-based Canadian division of the international company. The company operates it Midwest Division in Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Transportation began using the TowPlow during the winter of 2004-2005, first used in Kansas City, Mo. Jan. 5, 2005. Today, MoDOT uses more than 60 TowPlows. MoDOT reports a savings of about 28 to 50 percent in labor and fuel by using the TowPlow Concept.

Other tow plow users

In addition to MoDOT, various contractors in Canada, the DOTs in Minnesota, Utah, Maine, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and the Kansas and Ohio turnpike authorities are set to utilize the towed-plow equipment this winter.

Photos and video