Is It Spring Yet? The ABC’s of Municipal Snow Fighting and Winter Roadway Maintenance

February 19, 2014, marked the eleventh day of some sort of snow/ice event this month. Over the course of the previous week alone, it was the fifth day that municipal plow crews were either treating or plowing the roads, with 20+ inches of snow accumulation over the previous ten days. Let’s face it; everyone is getting tired of this winter! Residents are frustrated with shoveling, mailboxes getting hit, slippery sidewalks, limited parking due to snow, and no school days. Municipal plow drivers are tired too, after working 16-24 hour shifts, coming home to tend to their own shoveling, ice, mailboxes, and of course their spouses, who are also exhausted from doing everything solo, such as dealing with children who are acting out, because they are missing their dads or moms who work for local communities or the state keeping roadways safe.

There are tremendous consistencies in the way local communities handle winter roadway maintenance. The Town of Durham has six main road plow drivers and two employees that deal with sidewalks, parking lots, and municipal facilities. In Durham we accomplish all of our snow plowing in house, whereas some other local communities contract out additional personnel and trucks to plow during the winter. Durham’s primary “snow fighters” are comprised of the public works mechanic, the water foreman, the buildings and grounds foreman and one buildings and grounds maintenance worker, the highway foreman and three highway maintenance workers, one being the traffic control and signs technician. All of these staff members still have to maintain their regular duties during the week. For example, the water department is comprised of one person: the water foremen. That person has daily tasks that are necessary such as completing well charts and reports pertinent to our state permit. The mechanic has to maintain police vehicles and the entire public works fleet. The buildings and grounds foreman still has to take care of building maintenance of all town facilities.

Local public works crews plow all municipal roads and sidewalks. The NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT) maintains its roads such as Route 4, Route 11, Route 108, the Spaulding Turnpike, I-95, and I-93. Private roads/driveways are maintained by private property owners.

While every community will have a slightly different mix of personnel and equipment based on particular town or city’s individual needs, Durham’s six large plow trucks are driven by the same drivers each year with consistent route assignments. Each route takes approximately 3 hours to complete from start to finish. If it is snowing at a rate of about 1.5 inches per hour for example, then it is possible that the earlier part of a driver’s route has 4.5″ inches of snow on it by the time the driver gets back to that portion of the route to start again.
Each storm is different and the roadway treatment is customized based on the type of snow or ice the region is experiencing. Durham utilizes only salt and sand to treat its roads. Some communities also utilize calcium chloride to assist with winter highway maintenance. The composition of a given roadway treatment is entirely dependent on the temperature and type of precipitation. Only sand and pea stone are used on dirt roads.

There is a significant difference between the winter treatment of municipal road versus a state road. The NHDOT has a “bare roads policy” which realistically is not always possible but the state does an excellent job working to achieve it. The reason for this NHDOT goal versus what we undertake at the local level is the high speed and volume of travel on state roads. To achieve the “bare roads policy,” the NHDOT routing is much shorter and the state must use significantly more salt than that used by local communities. It is for this reason that state roads are typically clearer than most municipal roads, statewide.

Public works crews will be out plowing for the duration of a storm. Sometimes storms in New Hampshire last for 20+ hours. After going home for some rest, many times municipal crews will have to be in to remove snow the following evening. In Durham, our public works staff comes in late the night following a storm to clear snow piles and windrows from downtown parking spaces, sidewalks, and roadway edges in support of local businesses and the community as a whole.

In closing, snow removal is top priority for public works departments across New Hampshire, and we provide the best services and safest conditions possible with the resources at hand. At this point in the winter it is understandable that patience is wearing thin, especially when we have had this much snow! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Spring will soon be here. In the meantime, public works personnel will do their best to continue to keep up with the storms Mother Nature throws our way, and we appreciate the patience and cooperation from residents and roadway travelers everywhere.

Author: Todd Selig and Janice Richard

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