PennDOT and its drivers are preparing for white weather season

| 29 Sep 2011 | 10:11

MILFORD - The Courier rode along recently when Pike County PennDOT drivers went out on dry runs over the roads they will be clearing when the landscape turns white. The day started off with a tour of the Milford Maintenance Yard on U.S. Route 6 just south of Interstate Highway 84. Before we left for the pre-season ride, the truck driver Lee Brown checked to make sure it was operating up to standards. Brown, a PennDOT driver and trainer for over nine years, started the truck, and off we went. Brown has a regular 39 mile route he covers from Matamoras almost to Wallenpaupack, which takes two hours to plow in the winter. The truck had a massive ten-foot-wide plow blade which seemed ready to knock down fences, curbside mailboxes, and small trees on some of the narrower roads we traveled, but Brown pulled the big truck in and out of tight spots as if it were a small foreign car. An experienced driver, Brown was clearing roadside obstructions by just inches, which was an impressive accomplishment at 30 to 35 miles per hour. “Over just my 39 miles of road that I have to plow there are three distinct climate differences. Down in Matamoras it’s a lot warmer than it is as you travel up Route 6. By the time I get to the point I have to head back, the colder temperatures of the higher elevations make the job a little harder,” commented Brown. “Once the roads begin to be traveled by the cars and trucks, they start to pack down the snow and it makes a thick layer of dangerous ice. Sometimes the drivers with four wheel drive vehicles think they can go faster than everybody else and that’s not true. When it is snowing and icy everyone has to drive slower and more carefully. “We used to have 150 people on staff and now we are down to just over 50 due to cost cutting and we still have to do the same number of roads and the same number of miles. The bosses think because we have computers in the trucks we can do the job with less people and do it faster. You still can only drive at a speed that is safe and the heavier the snow, the slower we have to go,” said Brown. PennDOT does more than plowing. Before the snow even begins the trucks are out spraying a salt brine liquid on the roads, a pre-conditioner. This brine spray helps the salt anti-skid mixture that is dispensed from the trucks as they plow do a better job of melting the snow. Magnesium chloride is sprayed on the mixture of salt anti-skid before it is dispensed. The liquid allows the salt to melt the ice and snow at lower temperatures. “We only used 10,000 tons of salt and anti-skid last year of our allocated 12,000 tons,” said Robert Collins, Pike County maintenance manager. There are 54 year-round people on the staff, and during the winter season this number is increased to 23 people. The addition is necessary from October through the beginning of April, their busy season. “We’ve hired 12 new drivers and need another six for the 18 temporary seasonal drivers we need. I’m in charge of all the roads in Pike County and we do our best to keep them clear. New York and New Jersey have a ‘bare road policy’ but they have a lot more money than we have to accomplish this,” Collins said. “We’ve gotten some bad press over the last few years during the snow season but this year there should be an improvement,” he added.