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Winter Road Work

Preparing for winter road work

It’s that time of year again, to prepare for winter road work. Winter is here for most states or is fast approaching for others, the weather is getting colder and the possibility of snow is rising every day in many parts of the country. So, what does your state government do to prepare for the winter, especially in those places where mountains of snow need to be cleared every week?

They obviously need to collect the equipment and materials needed in central compounds, ready to be deployed, which means snowplows, trucks, and other heavy equipment of course, along with the materials they use. It can vary from state to state, depending on how severe the winter is expected to be, but in general, there are two treatments for roads to protect from ice and snow.

The first is for anti-icing, which is to stop ice buildup on the roads, to begin with. Here, they use a liquid solution to lower the temperature at that water freezes and stops snow and ice from sticking to the road and pavement surfaces. You may be used to salt being the anti-ice solution, but high winds can blow salt off the road before the snow turns up, or the way salt is applied leads to it bouncing everywhere, often way from the road surface, losing its effectiveness. Instead, the liquid solution, usually liquid brine, stays where it is sprayed, so less waste and it works better. In the very cold temperatures of some states, they use liquid magnesium chloride instead, which is more expensive but remains effective at much lower temperatures.

During a snowstorm, and afterward, the process used is de-icing, and here is where snowplows are used to clear the surface snow and ice, while further de-icing materials are used to loosen the grip of the snow and ice on the road surface, for this rock salt is an economical and effective material to use. This combination of de-icing material and the snowplows and dump trucks can usually clear roads fairly quickly and get people on the move again.

So, to prepare, states and counties assemble their liquid brine, rock salt, spray trucks, and snowplows in strategic locations around the road network, ready to be deployed as needed but to be effective, they really need to apply the anti-icing measures before the storm arrives. To do that, they use the highly accurate national weather service forecasts, helping them to see storms coming and then, as they move closer, to track in real time via satellite. This ensures the heavy machinery operators know when and where treatments need to be applied for the best results.

Next time the snow starts to fall, think about the work, machinery, and manpower that is behind the efforts to keep your roads clear. For machinery operators, whether that is a snowplow, or spray truck putting the de-icing or anti-icing treatment down, this is one contract where a job well done can make a difference to thousands of people the very next day.

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