Snow and street readiness: Have best practices in place this winter
Though the temperatures may be fair now, we’re betting it won’t be long before a different four-letter word will crop up as a major part of your vocabulary — at least for some members of our readership.
Yep, we’re talking about “snow” and September is often the month for winter preparedness: meaning it’s time to check equipment and supplies and have best practices in place. R. Mark DeVries, APWA Winter Maintenance Committee chair, offers some valuable information and reminders to get started, and later we will have a list of equipment to consider when stocking up.
“In situations where agencies are faced with harsh or extreme winters with numerous call-outs or events, de-icing material supplies may become low and resupply may be difficult due to demand and weather disruptions,” said DeVries who is also lead consultant Transportation Weather Consulting Group at Vaisala Inc.
“The best approach for any public works agency is to always have a full season’s worth of materials (salt and liquids) on hand prior to every winter season if possible. In conjunction with that, instituting all the best practices and taking a pro-active approach to winter will always help minimize the amount of de-icing materials needed,” DeVries said. These practices and materials could include anti-icing, pre-wetting, treated materials; computerized dispensing systems; calibration of equipment; treatment recommendations; weather forecasting services; pavement temperature detection equipment; and training.
“In harsh situations public works agencies need to consider what actions to take in order to give a safe and reliable network and conserve the remaining materials or introduce some alternatives,” DeVries said.
According to him, the first thing agencies can do is evaluate what the most critical roadways are in the system and adapt a new level of service to the non-critical areas.
“This will vary from agency to agency, and it will be important to inform the public of these changes and the reason for them,” he said. “It will also be important for an agency to optimize the use of the remaining de-icing materials by implementing best practices and applying only when the chemicals are most effective during the highest pavement temperatures.”
DeVries noted, “Additionally, agencies can implement the use of abrasives to give temporary traction. This may require purchasing these non-de-icing materials (such as sand, grit, cinders, etc.) and recalibrating the equipment to apply them. It also means a cleanup plan to remove these abrasives so they do not impede the stormwater systems or infiltrate water systems.”
James Dean’s superintendent of Orangetown Highway Department in New York staff has won two out of three National APWA awards, once in 2011 and then again in 2016. With two prestigious awards, the Orangetown staff is definitely doing something right.
“I think we won because we put a great deal of emphasis on protecting the environment as well as protecting the public,” said Dean, whose position is an elected one. “We focus our ice and snow control program on enabling our residents’ safe access and travel to work and school.” It’s always a balance for funds available and how bad the winter is going to be, so determining whether one has ordered enough materials to deal with the circumstances in the area is challenging. Orangetown is just north of New York City, said Dean, “and we can have a winter with 12 feet of snow or 90 feet of snow, with the understanding that if we have a hard winter, we can go back to the board and explain that we need additional funds. If we were to base our budget on a worst-case scenario then we would basically be overcharging our customers. It would make us look good because we would never be over budget. But it wouldn’t be fair to the taxpayers.”
Dean added, “And yes, there have been times when we have not had an adequate supply of salt, and that is a supply issue that we do have sometimes in the northeast, but we have always been able to order more; and if we go over budget, that’s easily explained to the board so when we have a higher demand, we may be going over our materials purchase.”
A partial list of the winter equipment and preparations that many public works departments will need to address before the first snowfall include shovels; brooms; barricades and warning lights for traffic control; snow markers to mark fire hydrants, abutments, etc.; rock salt; sand calcium chloride; chemical ice melts; cinders; brine; ice chippers; snow blowers; pre-winter servicing of all snow/ice removal equipment; hand tools for removing icicles that present a hazard to pedestrians; snow fencing; reflectors; and various other items.
“We manufacture our own salt brine, which works well for us for when most of our storms come between 32 and 20 degrees. We were one of the first in the metropolitan northeast to do that, which we began in 2004,” said Dean, who has been a member of his department for 60 years and the superintendent for 14 years.
“Another thing that worked well is the use of rubber snowplow blades, and they have been a great benefit for us in three ways: reducing equipment damage, reducing injury and fatigue for our motor equipment operators and in helping us preserve our roads by reducing the amount of scraping and stone that gets removed from the road surface by the heavy snowplow blades,” said Dean, adding that Orangetown has a very high standard of bare roads, which was one reason they won the national awards.
“Our standard snowplow is 12 feet wide and weighs over 2,000 pounds so the rubber is able to maintain that weight and clean the road without damaging the road surface.”
As for another component, Dean said, “A key part of the success of our operation is the caliber of employees that we have; most of them live right here in town so there is a lot of community spirit. We have received many expressions of gratitude for the dangerous work we do, including transporting people to the hospital — in fact, once we had to get a pregnant lady to the ER for an unexpected delivery in a raging snowstorm!”
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