Watch Out for Those Plows
As you read this, it is very likely that we’ve experienced
some level of ice or snow on area roads this fall. When inclement weather makes
our roads treacherous, an army of plow truck drivers, and those that support
and maintain the trucks, move into action. Keeping the area roads clear and
safe is a critical job during our winters, and one that keeps the road workers
busy throughout the year.
Chris Turgeon is the assistant district engineer for New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation, District 2, which includes Lebanon, and the surrounding towns. The District 2 headquarters are in Enfield. Turgeon says that dealing with winter road conditions is something his department deals with year-round. “Everything we do is to prepare for winter,” says Turgeon.
Diverting water from the roadways is a critical task for the road crews throughout the year. Ditch digging, and keeping culverts clear and in good condition are just two of the necessary jobs required for water conveyance. Keeping water off roadways is key in deterring ice formation.
When ice and snow arrives and covers area roads, Turgeon says his department has access to an impressive number of trucks, and drivers to clear the roads. Along with the trucks and drivers that are a part of the Department of Transportation, they also contract with an additional 50 independent drivers, whose trucks work alongside the state vehicles. The district in which Turgeon works covers a large area, and along with Lebanon, includes towns as distant as Franklin, Warren, and Alexandria.
Fred Fielder is the highway patrol foreman for the DOT shed in the Lebanon area. He’s been involved with keeping area roads clean for over 30 years, first as an independent driver under contract, and for the last nine years as a state employee.
Fielder’s crew is responsible for about 120 miles of area roads, including the heavily used stretches of Routes 120 and 4. Getting these roads clear for the rush hour is a top priority, Fielder says. Fielder has two state trucks to handle the roads, along with four independent, hired trucks and drivers. The independents are critical in the operation, and do a great job; “I’m lucky to have these guys,” says Fielder.
Commuters can help the snowplow drivers by following a few basic rules. Give the plow some space, don’t try to pass on the right when the plow is working in the left lane on 120, “and don’t assume the plow driver can see you,” Fielder says. When interacting with the plow drivers on area roads, “Most drivers are decent about it.”
Differing weather conditions in the various towns in the district call for different tactics, says Turgeon. Lebanon, being in a valley, can see colder air than towns at a higher elevation, for instance. Bridges, such as the I-89 bridge over the Connecticut River, require particular tactics as well, as bridges do freeze before other roadways, since the cold air impacts the roadway from above and below on bridges.
State trucks coordinate road-clearing operations with the towns. In Lebanon, state trucks handle certain sections of Routes 4, 10, and 12A in Lebanon, while city trucks clear the sections of those roads located closer to the center of town.
When asked how automobile operators can help winter road clearing operations, Turgeon was quick to respond; “Patience, and space.” Plow drivers operate at a lower rate of speed than some drivers may like, and the cars may try pass the trucks, resulting in spin-outs and accidents. Following a plow truck too closely can result in a rear-end collision. On the expressway, when plow drivers are clearing one lane, drivers will often try passing in the untreated lane, resulting in problems. In recent years, impatient car drivers have caused “a rash of accidents,” says Turgeon.
Safety is an important consideration for the plow and salt truck drivers. Drivers are monitored to make sure they have adequate rest, and don’t get overly tired. As winter weather occurs anytime, plow drivers are on call, not on a set schedule.
The experience of the plow drivers is critical in snow removal operations. Not only are drivers well versed in operating the vehicles, “We rely on the individual (driver) to know where the bad spots are,” says Turgeon.
Plowing snow, and applying salt to the roads, are the two main tasks in keeping the roads clear. “Salt is our number one expense,” according to Turgeon. Though his department does its best to determine the amount of salt needed for each winter season, in a bad winter, the state can access additional salt supplies during the winter. “We constantly monitor supplies.” In recent years, the state has broken down the transportation budget into two parts, one just for winter expenses. This has helped in providing adequate funds for road clearing operations.