Winter Driving is Here. Are You Ready?
By Kevin Fox
“First of all, I don’t want to blame any local highway maintenance crews. I think they are doing as good as job as they can with what they are given,” stated 1st District Representative Brian Munzlinger who was commenting on the condition of the roads following what for many was an inch or two of snow that fell on Tuesday, December 9th. Rep. Munzlinger continued, “I know from personal experience what the roads were like as I went to a meeting that evening and had to be out on those roads. I know that MoDot must have a plan of action and a part of that planned maintenance is based on the amount of traffic, but we have roads that our buses travel each day, I think they might need to take another look at that plan. Like those who I received calls from I was certainly disappointed with the road conditions after such a small amount of snowfall. For example I know that in Clark County they had five motorists go off the road within a couple hours of the beginning of the snow. I am to meet with MoDot the coming week and I am anxious to talk with them about the concerns which have been expressed to me.”
Jennifer Hinson, Area Engineer with MoDot out of Palmyra had these comments, “The Department of Transportation has changed how we handle winter weather on our roads. Because MoDOT doesn’t have enough workers or trucks to clear every highway immediately after a snowstorm, the department has set priorities for which roads to clear first.
Priority 1: Roads with the highest traffic volumes are cleared, or treated, first. These include interstates and other major routes, which receive continuous treatment throughout a storm. In Clark County those are Interstate 27, Highways 61 and 136. Our goal is to return the Priority 1 routes to a wet or dry condition as soon as possible after the storm ends; and to plow and treat.
Priority 2: Lower-volume lettered and numbered routes are cleared next. Traffic on these routes may be impeded until higher-volume routes are open and clear. Those are all the other roads not mentioned previously.
The roads are treated with a mixture of elements that begin the processing of breaking down the packed snow or ice, such as the beet juice and sand that has been in the news. There is also calcium flakes, lime stone chips. But none of it is put on completely dry as we want the process of breaking down to begin as soon as possible. For example if we just dumped rock salt on the road it would do nothing if it were cold and all we would be doing would be to plow it out to the shoulders.
In the past we would have trucks out all night working on what are now Priority 2 roads. But that simply wasn’t working as well as we had hoped, so instead of letting the chemical do its thing we were forcing the issue on the lesser road and actually tearing up the pavement requiring more patching come summer. So on a Priority 2 road we work the intersections, bridges and railroad crossings. We will treat the road at least once during the day and come back the next day and begin the process again. Hopefully by the next day the ice and or snow will begin to break loose and we can blade it properly.
Part of the problem is there is also a salt shortage due to some national disasters such as Katrina and the ice storms, which hit Kansas City last year. Now MoDot has already contracted for the salt it will need, but if we can conserve our salt use, aside from saving money it will also allow other entity’s to purchase the salt they may not have otherwise been able to get. But maintenance of roads is very expensive. The prioritizing of roads may mean that if you live on a less traveled black top your road will be open, but you may not be able to travel at the speeds that you may have in the past.”
No doubt winter driving calls for the motorist to put more thought into their travel. When asked about winter driving ideas, Capt. Robert Becker of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office stated, It’s real important that you slow down when conditions call for reduced speed. The minute or two that you may lose may mean a great deal to you when you arrive at your destination safely. If a line of cars or other vehicles begins to form behind you then if possible if you come to a location where you can safely pull off the road do so. Often when a string of cars form there is always a car or two that regardless of weather thinks they have to pass rather than be delayed a little and when changing lanes under bad road conditions they can endanger everyone. I would also encourage you that when you travel during the winter plan for a worse case scenario, such as sliding off the road and being stuck in that vehicle for some time. For example, on Tuesday we had five vehicles off the road almost during the same time. It takes awhile for emergency crews to reach you or the wrecker for that matter. I carry a pair of coveralls in my vehicle as well as a hat and extra gloves. Motorists in the winter should also pack along gear such as a blanket and a flashlight. A heavy winter coat should also be in the back of the car. You have to have that extra gear to survive if your vehicle should be damaged too badly to be able to continue to run. If your vehicle is able to be ran, it’s important that you are not stranded with an empty tank, so it’s important that you do not let your fuel get too low when traveling. In this day of cell phones we assume that we will always be in contact with the outside world. However there are areas in Clark County where your cell phone will not have a signal. So when traveling in the winter let someone know where you’re going, by what route you’re going and when you expect to be home.