Preparing for snow-covered roads, how agencies deal with snow removal

Snowplow Cedar City News
This February 2015 photo shows a snowplow on 500 S. Main Street, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 23, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News and Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY As winter settles in and snowplows take to the streets doing their best to keep the roads clear, drivers are reminded that slowing down and paying close attention to their surroundings is paramount in stormy conditions.

If it isn’t absolutely necessary to go out when the weather is stormy, Cedar City Public Works Street Superintendent Jeff Hunter said, people should stay at home rather than risk an accident on the roads.

“I mean, obviously when people have to go to work, they have to go to work,” he said. “But if the public would slow down, it would help us immensely.”

Other tips Hunter shared about how to stay safe in icy and snowy conditions included planning more travel time than usual to reach destinations and avoiding the use of cellphones and other gadgets while driving.

“It’s getting more and more dangerous for us to be out there (working), because people are not paying attention,” Hunter said. “I put up the message signs for the parades, and I was doing that the other day, and I almost got hit twice  both times I looked up just as they about run me over and they were on their phones.”

Patience also comes in handy when considering the amount of space road crews are working to cover. Crews work some storms around the clock, he said, but can’t be everywhere at once, so sometimes areas don’t get plowed as quickly as he would like in a big storm.

“Everybody’s out,” he said. “But when you’ve got a big city and it’s snowing everywhere, it’s pretty hard to be everywhere all at once.”

It is important to note that not all of the roads within the city limits are city roads, Hunter said.

Some are stateowned roads that are the responsibility of the Utah Department of Transportation, he said, and others are county roads.

The entirety of Cedar City’s Main Street, a large portion of Center Street from Cedar Canyon to Eccles Coliseum — and 200 North are all state snow-removal areas.

It takes a lot for each entity to prepare for the winter season, Hunter said. Cedar City’s road crews start as early as October.

They make sure they have a full stock of road salt and cinder, a mixture that is spread on the roads to help melt icy snow and create a layer of grip for the vehicles to use for traction. Additionally, all of the plows are maintenanced to ensure they are ready to take on the storms, he said.

“The snowplows all have a blade on the front and a sander on the back that spreads the material,” he said. “We have eight large trucks and four small trucks, three of which of the small trucks have sanders in them as well.”

Southern Utah interstate

The state has 44 plows stationed on Interstate 15 from Scipio to St. George to meet the needs of interstate travelers, UDOT Region 4 Communications Manager Kevin Kitchen said.

“If resources are shifted from other routes to the interstate from outlying stations, that number could double,” Kitchen said.

The state is responsible for clearing snow on more than 17,600 “lane miles” of roadway, Kitchen said, adding that on- and off-ramps add an additional 360 miles of road to the already long list of terrain they cover.

A brine preparation system was recently installed in Cedar City by the state, Kitchen said. The brine is a salty solution that the state uses on the roads before a storm sets in, as a preventative measure to battling ice.

Thanks to the new system, Kitchen said, UDOT can produce 5,000 gallons of brine in only one hour, when it used to take seven hours or more in the past to produce the same amount.

The brine is only one method employed by UDOT to keep the roads safe and clear. In addition to plowing, UDOT goes through around 236,000 tons of “three types of high-performance salt” each year, according to their website. They also use about 24,000 tons of cinder across the state, with the exception of only a few counties.

Iron County is no stranger to covering a vast terrain, Iron County Road Department Director Neil Forsyth said.

Responsible for 224 miles of paved roads, 453 miles of gravel roads and 291 miles of dirt roads, he said snow removal at times can be quite a task.

“We have a lot of your subdivisions in the valley just outside of the Cedar boundaries,” Forsyth said. “But we also go places like, sometimes Hamblin Valley, all of Beryl, we go to Crestlinewhich is the other side of Enterprise — we have a lot of roads.”

The county manages all of this terrain with only 10 plows that have sanders on them to distribute a similar blend of salt and cinder as used by Cedar City, Forsyth said, and six graters that are used on dirt roads.

There are times we work all day until two or three in the morning and then come back at five or six in the morning,” he said, explaining how small crews coupled with lots of terrain can take lots of man hours to clear.

Forsyth agreed with Hunter that it is difficult to be everywhere they are needed at once when a storm has hit, and simple safety precautions by drivers can help eliminate much of the danger when driving in the snow and ice.

In a recent article by St. George News, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ryan Bauer gave tips on what a driver should do if they manage to find themselves in a precarious situation on the ice that they cannot get out of.

Tips like these, combined with the precautions listed at the top of the story, should offer winter drivers some handson knowledge on how to handle snowy and icy winter conditions.   

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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