Archived Story

Wing plows, refining of practices help snow removal

Published 10:51am Friday, January 15, 2010

CASSOPOLIS-Anyone who’s been out on Cass County’s snow covered roads just this winter might recognize something different about the snow removal.

The trucks are making fewer passes on major roadways, which appear wider than they usually do in the dead of winter.

The difference has to do with three new wing plows the road commission has purchased to make snow removal easier, faster and less costly in terms of fuel.

The road commission has 30 pieces of equipment for snow removal.

Seventeen are trucks with sand spreaders that have spread 530 tons of salt in sand this winter out of the 1,200 tons of salt stored for future use.

“We expect to use 1,600 tons of salt this winter,” says Rick Janssen, road superintendent, who manages the road crews who inspect the roads at 3 a.m. each day in stormy weather, according to road commission policy.

“That’s when we determine whether to call in the crews, which ones we might need and whether we need the sand trucks or all of the equipment.”

The road commission has 27 routes it covers in the county.

Management thus has to plan carefully since road crew employees have dwindled over the years to 32 because of the loss of state funding.

The agency has 30 pieces of equipment, including eight cab tractors for subdivision and residential use, and five graders used to apply pressure on asphalt to clear more snow.

“If I have more than three pieces down, I don’t have enough equipment to cover the 27 routes,” Janssen says.

This makes days with snowfall more challenging than not, considering that of the 32 road crew employees, two are mechanics and one is on medical leave.

“If more than three pieces go down or more than two people are on vacation or sick, something doesn’t get plowed. The probability of one of those things happening is pretty good,” says Louis Csokasy, road commission manager.

The challenge, therefore, is to decrease the routes from 27 to 23 or 24 routes, which are calculated in lane miles, “so if our equipment breaks down or people aren’t here, we can still run the routes,” Csokasy said Thursday.

The reduction in lane miles is the direct result of the three new wing plows purchased this winter for $12,000 each.

The county has 1,125 roads and streets over the 1,014 miles.

According to the agency’s snow and ice removal policy, primary roads and selected heavily traveled local roads are plowed first when slippery conditions exist or snow begins to accumulate in excess of two inches.

On the first plowing, special attention is given to intersections, hills and curves.

Other paved local roads are next. Subdivisions, lake and gravel roads are plowed last.
It is the road commission’s goal to open all roads within 48 hours of a snow storm.
However, if additional snowfall impacts higher priority roads, crews are redirected to those even if lower priority roads are not yet completed.

Because the safety of plow operators and the public are important, plowing operations are terminated after 14 continuous hours to allow personnel adequate time to rest.

Operations also may be suspended during periods of limited visibility.

Because of budgetary constraints, the road crews will not plow local roads, including subdivisions and lake plats or gravel roads on overtime pay unless more than four inches of accumulation has occurred or it is determined conditions warrant snow and ice removal.
“People ask us all of the time why our roads aren’t as good as the state roads,” said Csokasy, who makes the comparison in dollars and miles.

“MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) gets as much money for Cass County as we do. They care for about 100 miles of roads in the county. We care for 1,000 miles of roads,” he says.

So far this winter, the road commission has processed 124 service requests from Cass County residents.

Those have included reports of icy roads, roads that needed additional plowing, roads crews missed and requests for additional sanding and salting.

Additionally, there have been 27 reports of mailboxes that have been damaged and/or destroyed from plowing.

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