PennDOT ready for Mother Nature’s worst

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Just as the weather is beginning to turn frightful comes the news that PennDOT District 10 Jefferson County Maintenance is ready for Mother Nature’s worst, with salt and anti-skid and snow plows.

The annual PennDOT plow inspection in last month went very well, said Paul Koza Jr., P.E., county maintenance manager.

Everything is ready to go, except for a few trucks that are receiving routine maintenance, Koza said.

All trucks are stationed at the county stockpile locations in Punxsutawney, Brookville, Emerickville, Brockway and Ringgold.

“We shut down most of our operations three weeks prior to our inspection in order to get our trucks ready and painted up,” he said.

Koza said there are 26 truck routes, or about 46 snow lane miles per truck, which works out to 556 highway miles, or a total of 1,214 snow lanes.

The trucks used on Interstate 80 are the same trucks operated throughout the county, except for the salt spreaders, Koza said. PennDOT uses zero-velocity spreaders, which allow the salt and anti-skid to rest on the road where it is deposited, instead of bouncing all over.

Zero-velocity spreaders are for a more flat, straight type of road, Koza said. Those types of spreaders sit close to the ground and wouldn’t work very well navigating curves and hills.

Koza said Jefferson County has 11,250 tons of salt, 15,600 tons of anti-skid and 1,700 tons of 50/50 mix on hand at the five stockpiles.
There are 5,000 gallons of salt brine at each of the five stockpiles for use in the tailgate tanks, and three anti-icing trucks used to pre-treat roads before winter storms, he said.

The roads must be dry, and the temperature must be within a certain range for materials to be used, Koza said. There are brine tanks on the back of all trucks, mixed with salt as it is being spread.

“That helps to activate the salt quicker, plus it keeps more of that material on the road,” he said. “When it’s dry, it tends to bounce off the road more.”

Koza said so far, there has been only one plowing event until this week, compared to eight last year at this time.

In 2010 at this time, Jefferson County PennDOT had spread 1,752 tons of salt, compared to only 48 tons this year, Koza said. That’s a savings of $102,785 to start the snow removal season. That savings will be applied toward summer maintenance.

Koza said there is a radio operator on shift 24/7 at the Jefferson County office to answer the phone for snow and other emergencies until April.

Dual shifts began the week of Thanksgiving, with the first running from 4 a.m. to noon, the second running from noon to 8 p.m.

Billy Roy, who is starting his first year as a full-time snow plow driver for PennDOT after serving as a temporary driver over the last two years, said there’s a lot to learn before taking a big truck out on the road.

PennDOT provides a two-week training course for new drivers, who must have a CDL licenses before taking the training course.

Roy said for the most part, he plows Route 310 to Desire, which becomes challenging when he can’t see the lane markings on the road.

“You have to go by feel for the most part,” he said. “We do a dry run every year to make sure there aren’t any low wires or tree branches or new construction close to the road.”

Roy said plowing snow at night is a little bit easier, because the drivers can see the headlights of oncoming vehicles that can’t be seen during the daytime.

Koza said in addition to Interstate 80, priority routes include 119, 36, 536, 28, 322, 219 and 310. PennDOT’s third priority is secondary routes, the four-digit state routes and low-volume roads.

Koza said even when it’s not snowing, there are snow patrols that work 24/7 and travel throughout the county during winter to monitor road conditions and when it might be necessary to call the trucks out sooner than scheduled.