MoDOT, Scott County road crews prepare for winter weather

Friday, December 3, 2010
Shirley Jones, regional supervisor, helps Marvin Gillespie, maintenance superintendent (not pictured), move and clean the salt brine tubes for liquid salt Wednesday inside the salt dome at Missouri Department of Transportation's Charleston site. (Leonna Heuring/Standard Democrat)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Road crews have tested their snow plows and equipment and stocked their buildings with salt in preparation for the season's first snow fall. Now they're waiting to see what Mother Nature has in store for them.

"Usually by Nov. 1, our salt bins are stocked up, and by now, most of the trucks have snow plows and spreads put on them, and every thing has been tested and calibrated," said Stan Johnson, area engineer for Missouri Department of Transportation's District 10. "Snow schedules are out for workers."

MoDOT's focus will be getting roads drivable in bad weather by treating the highest-traveled major roads and regionally significant roads first until they are mostly clear. All the remaining less-traveled roads will be plowed to allow for safe travel concentrating on hills, curves and intersections.

This year the department has also developed a new rating system for storms, ranging from Type 1 being the most severe with more than 12 inches of snow or more than three-fourths an inch of ice, down to a Type 5 that includes frost, flurries, freezing fog, blowing snow and refreeze. Crews develop a specific plan based on the approaching storm type.

"It kind of quantifies what we've been doing all along," Johnson said about the rating system. "... We were already shifting resources across the state, and this gives us an objective way to see what kind of storm we're looking at."

Johnson noted the type of storm moving in also affects the approach taken by road crews.

"If a storm comes in with rain first, then turning to snow, it's handled different than one that comes in as snow. It takes a different tactic," Johnson said.

This will also mark the second year the Southeast District is using beet juice -- a by-product of sugar production from beets -- an anti-icing product used to help keep the roads clear.

"It makes salt work better and more environmentally-friendly. We have to mix it with salt and we've seen real good results when trying," Johnson said.

In an effort to reduce costs, the last few years the Southeast District has used computer-controlled salt spreaders, which put out salt by pounds per mile, Johnson said.

"I know it sounds cliche, but every storm is different," Johnson said. "We look at them based on the best weather forecast and use our experience from the past to figure out the proper thing to do."

The Scott County Highway Department is also busy preparing for the season.

Norman Brant, supervisor for Scott County Highway Department, said he and his workers are also in the process of "getting things in order" for the winter season.

"We've got our bunker full of salt and sand and stockpiled a little more out on our lot. We'll use it up first and then go to our bunker," Brant said.

Workers have attached the blade to the tractor and ensured it works, Brant said. Later in the week, workers will attach sand spreaders to trucks and make sure they work properly, he said.

Brant is also looking into acquiring some extra chains -- two sets instead of one -- for a couple of trucks. This will help greatly when clearing roads in the hills, he said. Also, Brant said he wants to get a new set of tires for at least one truck.

"I think we're completely ready to go," Brant said. "We worked out a schedule and have the guys on call, and they know who needs to be called out and when."

Johnson offered advice for motorists once the first snow or ice storm hits the area this season.

"Don't go anywhere if you don't have to, and give us time to get out and get the roads clear, especially during a storm," the MoDOT engineer advised.

And for those who do have to get out in the storms, slow down, Johnson said.

"Give yourself extra time and extra stopping distance and leave early and be patient," he said.

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