Snow-fighters keep roads clear and save lives
Snow and ice affect more than 70 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Each winter the average driver in these areas will see more than five inches of snow on the roads. And when the snow is falling there are few things more comforting than the sight of snow plows and salt trucks making highways safe for commuters, shoppers and travelers.
Snowfighters first began using salt in the 1930s for snow and ice control, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that salt became widely adapted. Salt works by lowering the freezing point of water, and when applied on already-frozen roadways (de-icing) it helps to melt the ice.
When salt is applied before a freeze sets in (anti-icing) it helps prevent liquid water from becoming ice. This is why drivers will often see salt trucks out and about before the roads start to freeze.
Both methods give tires more traction with the pavement, keeping roads open and safe while protecting lives and commerce. How quickly salt melts frozen water depends upon a number of variables, including temperature, time and the rate of application.
Fortunately, it is usually not necessary to melt all the snow and ice on a road. Merely destroying or preventing the bond between pavement and frozen water is a more efficient, economical and environmentally sensitive approach. In fact, salt is the single most effective and economical method for treating roadways.
According to the FHA, snowy, slushy or icy pavement accounts for more than 116,000 Americans injured and more than 1,300 killed on each year. In fact, 24 percent of all weather-related vehicle crashes occur under such wintry conditions. A study by Marquette University found that effective use of road salt reduced vehicle crashes by 88 percent, injuries by 85 percent and the cost of accidents by 85 percent.
Snow-fighters have several safety tips for winter drivers. The most important is if you can avoid driving, it is best to stay off the roads – at least until the snow plows and salt trucks have had a chance to do their job.
It is also best not to pass road-clearing trucks. Drivers will also want to make sure they have tires with good traction, cleared windows and headlights with properly working windshield wipers and anti-icing fluid in order to see and be seen, and to leave a good amount of space between their vehicle and the one in front.
Finally, remember that taking your time and driving safely is more likely to get you to your destination. For more information please visit www.safewinterroads.org.
The Kansas Department of Transportation collaborates with state and local law enforcement when a road needs to be closed. KDOT may close a highway for one or more reasons, including:
• Lodging and truck parking spaces are becoming scarce as travelers seek shelter.
• Road crews can’t maintain a passable roadway due to overwhelming snow/ice conditions or vehicle crashes that block the roadway.
• Conditions in a neighboring state force officials to close the road in that state.
Nearly 390 miles of asphalt roads crisscross Barton County’s 900 square miles, a fact not lost on Dale Phillips and his Road and Bridge Department when winter weather hits.
“Typically, the goal is to get major roads leading from cities and small towns open to the state highway system,” department Director Phillips said as the snow fell Monday morning. “This goal is usually met within a 12-hour period.”
Completing snow removal on the roads may take several days. However, “like in Iowa, we are subject to heavy snow and motorists must heed the warning ‘do not go out if you do not need to,’ and let the plows do the work so the snow plow operators can be safe as well.”
Phillips said his crews use an estimated 3,000 tons of salt during a normal winter. That salt is mixed with sand for added traction.
Barton County policy is that Road and Bridge treat bridges, intersections and curves with ice melt material after the initial snow is removed. Major roadways with high traffic counts get additional sand and salt treatments after the roads are open.
“On a typical snow storm we have 11 truck plows with spreaders and five motor graders out on the storm cleanup as personnel is available,” he said. Many of these vehicles were out Monday.
Fuel and support staff for the over $3 million in equipment are also needed.
“We set out at 5 a.m. with the above mentioned equipment and will usually work 12 to 14 hours before shutting down and getting a short rest in preparation for the next day’s operation,” Phillips said. Repair of equipment is also made a high priority to keep operations going as planned.
But, must preparation is done long before forecasts call for snow.
“We must order our salt a year in advance and typically reserve around 4,500 tons for a normal winter,” Phillips said. The county has storage for 1,500 tons on site and the remainder is trucked in as needed. “It does require a contract to be sure we get our salt quota delivered as we need it.”
Phillips said the department conducts snow training in October, due to turnover in personnel. “Snow and ice control is not a fun job and requires long hours and nerve-racking patience.”
Snow plans are developed and reviewed annually, he said. Priority routes for Barton County are based on getting all roads open to at least one lane in a heavy storm and two lanes on a normal storm. Blizzard conditions often make snow removal almost impossible.
In addition to the county trucks, City of Great Bend crews were also at work spreading a salt-sand mixture on major streets and intersections. “Typically, we don’t go out unless there are at least two inches of snow,” said Street Superintendent Mike Crawford.
However, they will head out regardless of the snowfall if requested by the Great Bend Police Department or Communications Department. “If they are saying it is slick, we will go.”
Crawford said his two trucks would probably stay out into the evening Monday because, with sub-freezing temperatures expected to remain and with motorists packing the snow, hazardous conditions could linger. And, with Monday night being New Year’s Eve, he said there would be a lot of traffic.
If there is more than two inches of snow, Crawford said his crews will begin plowing and blading the streets.
Each year, he said, the City Council reviews the snow plan. It remains pretty much the same, with priority given to main arterial streets.
Joining the snow-fighting are over 200 trucks and crews with the Kansas Department of Transportation, some of which are stationed at Great Bend. According to the KDOT, there are more than 9,500 miles of Kansas highways that include more than 25,000 lane miles.
KDOT has used an average of 84,754 tons of salt per year for the past five years. This effort costs nearly $16 million annually, but it a important task. Every year, 30 million vehicle miles and $900 billion in freight utilize the Kansas transportation network.
KDOT bases the roads it treats on vehicle counts – categories I, II and III. The traffic varies from 3,000 vehicles daily down to 1,000.