Road crews: first responders to ice, snow

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Matthew Resnick/Tribune photo Snow was recently plowed from this portion of West Second Street following Tuesday's snowstorm. Temperatures Wednesday hovered in the mid-to-low teens throughout the day but the sun helped melt snow from treated roadways.

While most people are hunkered down when a large snowstorm approaches, county and state crews are out to make roads passable.

Working in shifts, they stay the course in sometimes dangerous conditions to spread roads with mixtures concocted to make the roadways safer in snow/ice build up conditions.

While the Bourbon County Public Works Department is responsible for the asphalt and gravel roads in Bourbon County, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is responsible for all the state highways.

These road conditions can be treacherous.

On Saturday, five county dump trucks slid into ditches and two of those required wrecker services to get them out, said Jim Harris, Bourbon County's roads and bridges director.

"When you go 25 miles an hour around a curve, on a grade, it can be dangerous," Harris said.

Generally, when storms happen on the weekend, it is less hectic for the crews.

"When it's the weekend, there is no school and the general public may not have to go to work," Harris said. "This gives us more time to get roads cleaned up."

He commended his crews for the work that they do on public roads, and asked for the public's patience.

"Be patient, we'll do our best to get roads safe," Harris said

Winter preparation

Bourbon County begins preparing in the summer for winter weather.

"We start checking out the salt boxes and blades in mid-to-late summer... (and) we buy salt and chips, which are little bitty rocks," Harris said.

Before a winter storm arrives, county workers consider what type of winter storm they will be facing, the traffic expected and other details to implement a plan of action.

KDOT crews spray a salt brine solution on bridge decks, hills and curves the day before a storm is forecast, Priscilla Petersen, KDOT's public affairs manager for District 4 said.

"When it first begins to snow, we spread salt and sand on the surface of the highways," she said. "When the snow freezes on the surface, the salt and sand starts the melting process from underneath the layer of snow."

The state uses a salt brine, salt and sand mixture.

"Right now we're in good shape with our supplies -- in fact the KDOT sub-area shop at Fort Scott is expecting another shipment of salt to arrive in the near future," Petersen said.

Extra work

For the most recent snow event, KDOT truck drivers began their routes in Bourbon County at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Petersen said.

"We expect to have the routes cleared and back to normal seasonal conditions around 4 to 4:30 p.m. today," Petersen said Wednesday afternoon.

State equipment operators work 12-hour shifts during storms.

"The first day the crews designated for the night shift are sent home at noon. They return to work from 8 p.m. that night until 8 a.m. the next day," Petersen said. "Since the first night is split into two different days, there is no overtime eligibility. If the storm requires the crew to work a second night shift, the individual members of the crew can choose to be compensated with overtime pay or comp time."

The county crews also were out while most people were sleeping.

"Our workers were out at 3 to 4 a.m. today looking for snow drifts," Harris said.

The crews get overtime for the extra work, he said.

County roads employees are divided into two crews -- one for the asphalt roads and motor grader operators for gravel roads.

"We have seven trucks in the county for snow removal, divided up into areas with two shifts," Harris said. "The shifts are from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. There are 150 miles of asphalt roads that fall under our jurisdiction."

On gravel roads in the county there are seven motor grader operators, with specific districts they are responsible for.

"Our main problem is ice. For ice, we put more salt in the mixture," Harris said.

He said he is proud of the Bourbon County Roads and Bridges.

"They work hard. It's amazing what these guys do," Harris said.

Harris said that the amount of snow for Tuesday's storm was less than predicted, which was a surprise, but still recommended the public stay home unless travel is required.

Petersen gave this piece of advice, "Slow down and use common sense."

KDOT's District 4 is composed of 17 counties, of which Bourbon County is a part. KDOT's responsibilities include providing snow and ice removal on the 3,958 miles of state highways that are in the district, using 88 trucks and 176 employees, Petersen said.

KDOT additionally provides up-to-date road conditions on their website 511.ksdot.org.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the site showed US Hwy. 54, which dissects Bourbon County east and west, was snow packed with ice.

The Tribune will feature the city road crews work in an upcoming story.