By Beth Christian Broschart
Each morning seems to be a bit chillier than the day before. That fact has not escaped the watchful eye of those in charge at the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
Last week, those at the District 8 Office in Elkins began to make sure they are ready for old man winter.
At the Airport Road location in Elkins, all vehicles and equipment parts were checked to make sure everything was in tip-top working order. Employees gathered for safety trainings and controls on the spreaders were calibrated to assure the proper mixture of salt and cinders was being compiled. Then, drivers were sent out on dry runs, to check the times and routes they will use when the snow begins to fly. When they are completed checking equipment there, they move to the Mill Creek location to check the equipment for the southern part of the county.
Mike Moran, District 8 Engineer for the Department of Transportation said the checks are important.
“We check each piece of the snow fighting equipment to make sure everything is working,” Moran said. “We do a report on each piece, and file a work order on anything that needs repaired, so the work is completed before it snows.”
Moran said there is also a check on the materials.
“We are making sure stockpiles are adequate – we need abrasives and salt – making sure everything is ready when the first snowstorm hits,” Moran said. “We try to do this each year in the middle of October. Typically, from the end of October on, we can get a snowstorm, so we try to be prepared. This makes sure we are at 100 percent capacity for snow fighting.”
Moran said District 8 serves Randolph, Tucker, Pendleton and Pocahontas Counties. He said he was pleased with the newer equipment the district has right now.
“We have 17 single and tandem axil dump trucks with snow plows in Randolph County,” Moran said. “We have five graders in the county and snow blowers if needed. We also have end loaders to load the salt-cinder mixture into the trucks.”
Randolph county crews cover more than 800 miles of roads, and Moran said there is a priority system set up for clearing that large number of roads.
“We have around two operators for each piece of equipment in Randolph County,” Moran said. “But when we have snowstorms back to back, it tends to wear the operators out. The primary routes include U.S. 33, U.S. 219 and Corridor H are the highest priority to clear. We concentrate on clearing them first. Then, basically, school bus routes are our next priority. The lower priority routes come next. Once we get the first priority roads clear, we move to the next, then the next. Sometimes, in some winters, we do not get the first priority cleared, and have to go back where we started.”
Moran said the salt-cinder mix used on roads is based on the length of the snow and its potential duration.
“Typically we use a mixture of three parts cinders to one part salt,” Moran said. “Sometimes if there is just a small amount of snow, we will use mostly salt so it melts off the road surface.”
Salt to fill up the Department of Highways sheds is ordered in spring according to Moran.
“We fill our sheds so we are prepared,” Moran said. “A few years, there was a salt shortage which prompted us to keep our sheds filled early.”
Moran said last week’s dry run helps set up schedules and routes.
“We go over the priorities and set up the routes,” Moran said. “It gives us times so we can assign drivers to trucks and develop work schedules.”
When the forecast is calling for snow, Moran said the trucks head out to pretreat some roads, and some hard-to-access areas in the mountains have trucks pre-positioned in anticipation of the snowy weather.
Moran said predictions for this winter have been all over the board.
“We have heard we are going to have a light winter, we have heard we are going to have a terrible winter,” Moran said. “We are prepared for the worse and hoping for the best.”
When the snow starts to cover the roads, Moran said motorists should use caution.
“Everyone needs to take precautions when it is snowing,” Moran said. “Seems like people need to slow down, have good equipment and good tires. The first couple of snowstorms each year, it seems like people are relearning how to drive in the wintry conditions.
“When our crews are out working on the roads, please stay back and be patient,” Moran said. “Don’t follow the trucks too closely and if you have to pass our equipment, pass with caution. Our drivers will try to accommodate other traffic when it is possible.”
Moran said there is a road condition website to help aid travelers.
“The website is WV511.org,” Moran said. “You can also get an application for your mobile phone that will give you road conditions in your area.
“The website was just introduced last year. It provides good resources for road conditions, accidents and road construction.”