(Talk of the Town file photo by Jennifer Zartman Romano)
The winter of 2014, above, brings back some bad memories for many. Will this winter be the same? You may want to start preparing now...just in case.
By Laurel McCurdy
The Indiana Department of Transportation has spent the warmer months preparing for winter weather, including that forecast this weekend. It's time to do your part ahead of Winter Weather Preparedness Week, now through November 22.
“INDOT urges drivers to dust off their winter driving habits before snow or ice leads to a crash or slide off,” said INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning. “This means planning extra travel time and allowing a safe distance between cars, especially our plow trucks. Remember, if the roads are blocked, plows cannot get through.”
Salt in stock
Last winter, INDOT deployed 437,000 tons of granular salt and 5.1 million gallons of salt brine on Indiana’s interstates, U.S. highways and state routes. Prior to last winter, the five-year average for salt usage was roughly 291,000 tons and salt brine was 3.4 million gallons.
Ongoing demand from last year’s record winter has resulted in less competition among suppliers than in prior years and average salt price increases of 57 percent across the state. INDOT’s salt contract prices for this winter range from $72.59 to $105.89 per ton.
INDOT continues to receive deliveries of salt and already has more than 220,000 tons on hand statewide – most of what would be needed during a typical winter.
“A recent customer survey found that Hoosiers’ top priorities for INDOT are maintaining our existing roads and bridges and removing snow and ice,” Commissioner Browning said. “INDOT is focusing our resources to ensure that we have the manpower, equipment and materials needed to make state highways as safe as possible.”
New plow equipment
Last winter, INDOT’s yellow plow trucks logged nearly 8.8 million miles – the equivalent of 353 trips around the earth or 18 round trips to the moon.
INDOT is realigning its snow routes to create better efficiencies and adding more plows to some routes. This includes eight new “tow plows” across the state. Already used in northeast Indiana and 22 other states, a tow plow and material spreader are pulled behind and to the side of INDOT’s standard yellow plow truck, allowing two lanes to be cleared at once. The investment intends to optimize usage of fuel, anti-icing materials, equipment and labor during snow and ice removal.
Tow plows will only be used on multi-lane highways and interstates. Tow plows often partner with other plow trucks to clear adjacent lanes more efficiently, providing a more consistent surface for motorists in winter weather.
Drivers should not attempt to pass a tow plow if all lanes are blocked, but stay a safe distance and speed behind the plows. Road conditions are always better behind a plow at work than in front.
Hiring, training drivers
Last winter, INDOT plow drivers worked alternating 12 to 16 hour shifts every day for weeks or months straight, logging 526,000 man hours – the equivalent of nearly 44,000 12-hour shifts.
INDOT has been hiring aggressively over the past few months and is still accepting seasonal and full-time plow driver applications in some locations at www.in.gov/spd/careers/. Annual winter training has been performed for all plow drivers and supervisors, and winter equipment has been inspected.
Repairing winter damage
Extreme temperature shifts last winter did more damage to Indiana’s highways than normal. Statewide, INDOT invested 183,000 man hours and nearly 14,000 tons of asphalt as part of the pothole blitz announced in February by Governor Mike Pence.
INDOT’s efforts to repair winter damage and preserve existing roadways continued during the warmer months after the hot mix asphalt plants reopened. INDOT reprioritized more than $40 million in its state and federal construction program for additional pavement patching and repairs across the state.
INDOT maintenance crews have also been performing chip-seal projects on rural state highways to seal off tiny cracks from water that could freeze and expand, forming potholes. Stone chips also provide improved traction for stopping during winter. National research has shown that every $1 used to preserve our pavements saves $6 to $14 in future, more disruptive repairs.