Where does the snow go?
By the time most folks roust themselves out of bed to shovel their walk after a snowstorm, the men and women in charge of clearing the roads have already been up for hours.
Rick Turner, superintendent of Glenwood’s Streets Department, is usually running the grader by around 3 a.m. on a snow day, while most of department workers are still making the commute from downvalley.
Smiley Wise, streets foreman for Carbondale, often spends the night at work rather than make the commute from Grand Junction in time to meet his crew — who come from as far away as Somerset and Parachute — around 4 a.m.
None of them would get through with Don Poole, senior maintenance foreman for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s King Region, who has his crews out 24/7 during a storm, keeping the highways clear along 600 lane miles from Rifle to Carbondale. With traffic volume up across the state, they also participate in a statewide effort to keep the Interstate 70 corridor clear over Vail Pass and through the Eisenhower Tunnel.
To accomplish that, they plan relentlessly, marking hazards in the fall, keeping a constant eye on weather forecasts, and designing shifts to overlap during the morning and evening commute.
Ultimately, their main challenges are the conditions themselves and the other drivers on the road. Plows sometimes come back with their wipers torn away by the sheer ferocity of the storm, and people tend to crowd plows or speed past them.
“We’re out there in the worst of it,” Poole said. “We have to watch our speed. They’re large trucks. They’re heavy. If we get going too fast, we’re going to go out of control like any other vehicle.”
Besides having patience and giving plows enough space, Poole encouraged drivers to slow down and make sure they have adequate snow tires. Better yet, wait out the storm if you can and make your trip once the salting products have had a chance to work. You can keep up to date on road conditions and closures at online at cotrip.org, through CDOT’s social media — @coloradoDOT on Twitter — or by dialing 511.
PRIDE IN THE WORK
In the end, Poole said, CDOT’s top concern is the safety of the traveling public.
“These guys all live here. Their customers are their friends, neighbors, and families,” he observed. “They take a lot of pride in what they do and try to make sure everyone stays safe.”
Safety is also Turner’s mantra. He aims to have all of Glenwood plowed by noon on snow days. Emergency access, school bus routes, and main arteries are first, followed by downtown and some of the steeper streets, and finally the rest of town. West Glenwood and the areas north of the bridge are plowed to the side, while snow downtown between 7th and 13th is plowed to the center for later removal, weather permitting.
“We get a few complaints once in a while in areas where we plow to the side and folks have to shovel their driveway, but maybe that comes with living here in the mountains,” Turner observed. “I know I get up and shovel mine.”
Carbondale has opted to plow everything to the center since shortly after Wise started working there nearly two decades ago.
That doesn’t spare the department from complaints, but Wise, who grew up in Carbondale and, at 66, has no plans to retire, isn’t fazed.
“There’s times I get cussed at, but all I can say is ‘have a good day’,” he said.
A lot of people don’t seem to realize they can go around the block to avoid plowing through the berms, Wise observed. Instead, they end up packing the snow down before crews can pick it up, making extra work and further delaying cleanup.
Equally frustrating, many homeowners shovel their sidewalks and driveways into the gutter instead of onto their lawns, clogging the drainage systems with ice and sometimes requiring another pass with a plow. In the end, everything ends up piled just off West Main Street on the Crystal River Marketplace parcel.
The process is simpler if the streets were already clear before a storm arrives. Carbondale policy triggers the plows when a storm drops at least 4 inches of snow. The accumulation from smaller storms gets packed down and must be plowed up when a major snowfall comes in. Often, the town calls in extra help from local construction companies, who furnish dump trucks and men.
In Glenwood, the police call Turner out of bed for anything beyond a dusting.
“It’s safer if you can keep the streets bare as much as possible,” Turner said.
Extra crews are still sometimes necessary to haul away what CDOT leaves on Grand Avenue or make sure the big piles are gone before kids can turn them into unstable snow forts. The comparatively mild winters have allowed him to keep drivers from working more than 12 hours at a stretch.
“It’s not like back in the ‘80s when we used to get really big snowstorms and worked 24 hours a day,” he said.
Turner estimates the town has hauled at least 75 dump truck loads of snow out to the old rodeo grounds each day since the most recent storm.
“If next week is as nice is this week, we’ll be completely caught up and ready,” he said. “And if it snows, we’ll still be ready.”
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