Road Management Journal
December 1, 1997
Fax: (360) 335-6402
Good Ideas from Winter Maintenance Workshops
(This information is reproduced with permission from "Crossroads," the newsletter of the Transportation
Information Center at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. The article appeared in the Winter 1996
. . . Here are some winter maintenance ideas.
Planning plow routes, setting priorities, and putting plans on paper makes you more
efficient. It helps elected officials answer those inevitable constituent complaints.
Elkhorn's [Wisconsin] street maintenance folks developed their plan seven years ago.
They started with a simple plan from UW [University of Wisconsin]-Extension
Engineering's Snow and Ice Control course. It took about a week and a half of work
to modify it for Elkhorn. The plan categorizes all streets as 1) priority (plowed first and
maintained throughout the storm), 2) secondary and 3) neighborhood. To address
citizen complaints about waiting to get plowed out, the plan has trucks start plowing
from different points, rotating from storm to storm.
Each plowing route (with drawings) is in the office computer and in the truck. This
makes it easy for a substitute driver to take over a route. While some routes look
bigger than others, says Michael Early, Elkhorn's Streets Foreman, they all take about
the same plowing time. Road width and drifting make the difference.
The plan classifies snowstorms by type and tells what to do for each. It lists all the
equipment and tells how to plow cul de sacs and remove windrows downtown. It lists
dos and don'ts (like don't help push out stuck cars) and what equipment a truck must
carry as required by their insurance--fire extinguishers and safety kits, for example.
The plan gives everybody guidance--bosses and drivers. And the insurance company
loves it, Early says.
Each year streets administrators update the plan based on their experience and
present it to elected officials. In fall they hold a half-day snow school and go over the
plan with everybody--including backup drivers from other departments. All regular plow
drivers drive the route before the first snow.
- Right turns clear streets faster Howie Krieski, Stevens Point's superintendent
of services, has developed a plowing plan in which his wingplow-equipped
trucks make mostly right turns. The driver plows all the way around each block
instead of straight across a section. "It saves time and clears the intersection
with one pass by dumping the snow at the curb as it goes around the corner,"
says Krieski. Since the method requires backing across streets, it is best used
at night when there is little traffic or on lightly traveled streets.
- Training makes a difference Two-man plow teams and driving apprenticeships
are history, thanks to tight budgets. And there's only so much you can learn on
a parking lot obstacle course. So how do you train new plow drivers? In
Portage County all new drivers are accompanied by an experienced person for
their first 40 hours behind the wheel. "Legally, if they have a CDL [commercial
driver's license] you can turn them loose," says Dale Peterson, the county's state
patrol superintendent. "But there are a lot of little things that they need to learn
through experience." Things like: how fast to plow a shoulder, slowing down for
bridges, how fast to drive while salting, and how to take the wind into account
The two talk about the route and its problems. The experienced driver charts the
trips and judges when the new driver is fit for duty. Peterson estimates that 40
hours equals 10 snowstorms. When staff levels and snow conditions permit,
they assign the training crews to work straight time rather than overtime.
Recent Winter Maintenance Workshop participants shared many good ideas about how
to plow efficiently.
- Plowing cul de sacs Cul de sacs, with their many driveways and limited terrace
space, are a plowing nuisance. In West Bend the city doesn't plow them at all;
private contractors do. They come in with loaders, which are more
maneuverable than trucks, and mound the snow in the cul de sac's center.
When the piles get too high they truck the snow away. Contractors charge
$75/hour and it takes them about 15 minutes to plow each of West Bend's 65 cul
de sacs, according to Streets Superintendent Richard Heisler.
Plowing cul de sacs is easier in the Town of Vernon near Waukesha because
mail and newspaper boxes are grouped at the entrance. "It gives us more room
to move and store the snow and we don't blow the boxes over with snow or the
plow anymore," says Lee Titze, town director of public works. Box placement is
in the town's subdivision code.
Town of Vernon no longer plows private driveways except in extreme
emergencies, Titze says. When there were more requests for the service than
they could fulfill, the town quit doing it. The town newsletter let everybody know.
- Parked cars To deal with parked cars in the plow path, Titze has another trick.
The town has no police department, but Titze can legally write citations. The
town board approved ordinances against parking in snow routes, private plows
leaving snow windrows in streets, garbage removal, and other nuisances, then
deputized officials to enforce them.
Ticket are $25. If they aren't paid, the town asks WisDOT to restrict drivers
license renewals or car registration. "I put 12 to 15 warning tickets on illegally
parked vehicles at the beginning of every snow season," says Titze. "And then
usually I only have to give about one actual ticket." Titze also has the authority
to have the vehicle towed.
- Wing plows clear urban streets Although some people are still reluctant to
use them, wing plows are working well on the urban streets of Stevens Point,
West Bend and Portage County.
"We bought our first one in 1987 and the operator reluctantly began to use it,"
says Richard Heisler of West Bend. "He quickly began to see its benefits. Now
all 17 patrol trucks are equipped with wings." Drivers realized that the wings cut
plowing time and made the job easier, especially in clearing intersections. West
Bend's efforts to level manholes also helped.
In Stevens Point wings clear most city streets in two passes instead of three,
says Howie Krieski. A fiberglass rod mounted on the wing end helps the drivers
to judge its distance from the curb or parked cars. Point's plow drivers also were
reluctant at first. "Now you can't get the wings away from them!" says Krieski.
They don't use the wings on the gravel streets till they are frozen, he says, to
preserve the surface.
- Plowing shoes Portage County saves wear on wing blades and conserves
gravel shoulders by fitting wings with commercially available plowing shoes.
The $50 metal piece is bolted on the plow's bottom to reduce pressure on the
blade. "They are reasonably priced compared to the volume of shoulder gravel
you would lose otherwise," says Dale Peterson of Portage County. In West
Bend they put protective shoes on the outside edge of the wing and both edges
of the front blade. "The wear goes on the inexpensive shoe rather than on the
moldboard plow," says Richard Heisler.
- Underbody blades, pro and con Using underbody blades cuts salt use and
gets slow-moving graders off the road, says Dale Peterson, state patrol
superintendent for Portage County's Highway Department. The extra downward
pressure, compared to the front mount plows, helps them bite through the ice, he
says. That pressure also wears the blades out so they have to be replaced after
each storm, he admits. The county has underbody blades on five trucks used to
maintain state highways and plans to put them to use on all major salt routes
"They're real 'knee jammers,'" says Jim Harer, St. Croix County patrol
superintendent. "They're really only useful on one or two storms a year, and the
rest of the time they add weight and bulk to the truck." In his relatively rural
county they prefer using graders with serrated blades to remove compacted
snow and ice since salt sits in the grooves made by the blades and quickly cuts
through to the pavement.
Spreading and wetting sand and salt
When people see sand on the roads, they can tell that maintenance is being done,
says Jim Harer of St. Croix County. He uses sand mixed with 5% to 10% salt most of
the time on county roads. The spreader located at the inside corner of the truck is set
to turn very slowly. Traffic action quickly kicks the sand into the travel lanes. They
spread the sand more widely on hills and curves and at intersections.
Automatic controls help Stevens Point drivers spread salt and sand more economically.
"We've really noticed savings in our use of salt and sand," says Howie Krieski. This is
the fourth year they've used the controls on their trucks. While it took the drivers a
while to get used to the new way of spreading, the better control is worth it.
Using pre-wetted salt along with the automatic spreaders makes salt use even more
efficient, according to Portage County's Dale Peterson. Wet salt sticks to the ice
instead of bouncing into the ditch so trucks can drive faster while applying it. Wetted
salt starts to work faster, and wetting it with calcium chloride helps it work better in
They wet the salt in the loader bucket while loading the truck. On the newest
equipment, truck-mounted brine tanks wet the salt as it leaves the chute. Peterson
likes the new brine tanks because they are easy to clean after the storm.
Keeping storm records
So, how did yesterday's plowing operation go? How many trucks were on the road?
How long did it take to clear the roads? You're so busy getting the job done, it can be
hard to track the details. Yet, the public is interested and reporters often ask these
questions. If serious accidents occur, this information will be helpful if a lawsuit
develops. The data also can help with later snow plan reviews.
In Stevens Point they fill out a simple form after each storm event. It includes
beginning and ending times for the storm and for plowing salt routes and regular
routes, along with current and forecast temperatures, and whether salt or sand was
used. There is also room to note any special occurrences.
Winter Maintenance Ideas from Workshop Participants
|(This information is reproduced with permission from "Crossroads," the newsletter of the Transportation
Information Center at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. The article appeared in the Winter 1997
Maintaining highways and streets in winter is hard work. It takes planning, innovation,
training, and good management to meet the challenges of citizen expectations and tight
Fortunately, a lot of good ideas for better policies and better methods have been
developed and used around Wisconsin. . . . Here's a summary of ideas gathered this
year . For even more good ideas, see [the article before this one taken from the
Winter 1996 "Crossroads."]
Policies and publicity
- Combining local newsletter articles with an ordinance prohibiting removal
operators from pushing snow onto the roadway has helped curb the problem in
Town of Washington [Wisconsin], says Administrator Michael Peterson.
- Appearing live on a local radio show, Richard County Commissioner John Huth
informs citizens about safety around snow plows, timing of plowing operations,
and how to make good winter driving decisions. The county's patrol
superintendent and one of the patrol truck drivers join Huth on the radio.
- Having a clear written policy has saved time for office staff who now receive
fewer calls and complaints, says Charles Smrcka, streets foreman for the City of
Rice Lake. Staff can also answer questions better and elected officials
understand what's happening.
- Policies needn't be elaborate. Richard County's is just two pages. In it are
hours of operation (4 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and the statement, for liability purposes,
that crews will cover all the roads in the county.
- Leave the shoulders white (with a small residue of snow) is in Adams County's
policy. Highway Superintendent Donald York says this helps protect gravel
shoulders, especially in the fall and spring before the ground freezes.
- Owners of unsafe mailboxes routinely get notifications from Adams County, and
City of West Bend refuses to replace mailboxes that were not installed according
to the guidelines in the local ordinance.
- Prohibiting county equipment from towing private vehicles, and having a copy of
the policy in the truck, lets the drivers blame "the bosses" for not helping friends
or acquaintances in stranded vehicles. Towing is unsafe, says Portage County
Patrol Superintendent Dale Peterson. Patrol trucks are not equipped to tow
vehicles. Besides, their primary mission is to open the roads.
Equipment and methods
- Don't skimp when you order patrol trucks, says Michael Peterson, Town of
Washington administrator. A plow driver himself, he knows firsthand the safety
benefits of such items as right-side power windows, and heated mirrors and
wipers that clear fog quickly and prevent snow and ice buildup. On tri-axels he
also specs engine "Jake" brakes and a steerable pusher axel.
Interiors with fabric headliners cut down on noise and keep the cab warmer, and
air ride seats provide comfort and support to the driver during those 16 to 20
hour plowing days. Air conditioning and stereo radios with tape decks are also
standard equipment on patrol trucks. "These items added about $4000 to
$94,000 cost of the newly ordered Ford L9000 Tri-Axel, 13-speed trucks," says
Peterson. "The additions also bring greater trade-in value."
- Contracting out for graders and operators saves on capital costs and fringe
benefits, says Jack La Plant, Green Bay's streets superintendent. Some graders
stay in the city equipment yard all winter while others stand by at the contractors.
Payment is for actual hours worked, plus $150 a month for equipment parked on
site. All contract operators have a CDL. They are paid to attend an evening
safety and how-to session and to drive the route once in daylight before the first
Rental trucks haul snow from downtown areas in West Bend, says Street
Superintendent Richard Heisler. Cul-de-sac plowing is also under contract, and
drivers from other city departments help extend operations during continuing
Naming each plow route after its regular driver promotes pride and ownership,
says Stevens Point Street Superintendent Howard Kriewski.
A written form for each plowing event records the equipment, driver and route
when a backup driver plows a Stevens Point route. If someone complains,
Kriewski checks the form and sends the responsible driver back to fix the
Snow plow "roadeos" help train drivers in Adams and Portage Counties, and
they promote good public relations.
Carbide tips on grader moldboards really cut into the ice, say Patrick Bonney,
Ashland County's patrol Superintendent and James Harer of St. Croix County.
The "stingers" are individual tips costing about $11 each which fit into holders on
a steel strip bolted on the moldboard in place of the blade. "We space them four
inches apart for compacted snow and ice," says Harer. "They also work to
recycle old blacktop in summer." The initial system costs about $3000 for a 14
foot moldboard. "It ends up being cheaper than blades," Harer says.
Prewetting salt with regular salt brine (23% solution) saves money and makes it
easy to ensure a constant supply, according to Columbia County Assistant
Commissioner Wayne Cornford. It doesn't work as well as calcium chloride in
colder temperatures, however.
Dumping snow from downtown areas at approved sites keeps debris and
contaminants out of waterways, says Rice Lake Streets Foreman Charles
Smrcka. West Bend's Richard Heisler reports they will be building a new snow
dump site next year that was designed with the help of non-point source
pollution specialists from DNR [Department of Natural Resources].
Don't make these common mistakes when plowing:
- Plow too fast
- Throw snow over bridges onto traffic below
- Leave snow along center line, in intersections, on railroad tracks, or in places
where it can melt back onto pavement
- Assume traffic knows what you are going to do
- Plow a false shoulder
- Plow off gravel
- Plow off salt before it works
- Plow against flow of traffic if it can be avoided
Watch What You Eat on Snow-Plowing Nights
Road crews often battle snow and sleet throughout the night, but usually for only a
night or two. That means they are also battling sleepiness since their bodies are
adjusted to the usual daytime shift. Sleepiness can be dangerous. At least 10,000
accidental deaths a year are sleep-related and 200,000 traffic accidents annually are
due to driver fatigue.
Recent research on sleep deprivation shows that what you eat before and during
nighttime work can affect sleepiness. Since the body slows down at night, it does not
want to digest a donut, a "Big Mac," or most other fast foods. Greasy, heavy, protein
foods bring on sleep according to information in The Shiftworker's Handbook.
Drivers can still enjoy eating, though. Take light, well-balanced meals and eat snacks
that are compatible with slower, nighttime digestion.
- Main meal before night work (5:00-7:00 pm) Eat light protein foods like
chicken, turkey, fish, or cooked beans and peas. Vegetables, fruit, breads,
pasta and potatoes are good, as are low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt. If you're
planning to sleep before work, make this a lighter and smaller meal.
Meals during breaks Eat soup and salad, soup and a light sandwich, or light
protein foods and vegetables.
Snacks before and during work Good snacks include low-fat dairy products,
fresh and dried fruit, popcorn, cereal, plain cookies, pretzels, and baked
Avoid caffeine and nicotine Coffee and tea contain caffeine; smoking and
chewing tobacco contain nicotine. These are stimulants at first but soon become
depressants. They make the heart beat slower.
Do not consume alcohol before or during snow plowing operations
([Food information] [a]dapted from Road Business, Fall 1994, University of new Hampshire T2 Center.
The Shiftworker's Handbook is by Marty Klein, Ph.D., SynchroTech, Lincoln, Nebraska.)
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