Getting West Virginia’s roads ready for the winter season

Weather

Brace yourselves, winter is coming.

The ice and snow is on its way here in the Mountain State, and that means winter is around the corner.

But with sleet and winter weather in the forecast, Earl Gaskins and his team at The West Virginia Division of Highways are getting ready for the wintry mess. First thing’s first: pre-treating the roadways.

“Basically, what the pre-treating does is creates an extra level of protection on the roadways. It prevents the snow from bonding on the surface, and it lowers the temperature for the salt to be effective. We try to do that before the storm, and once the storm comes, we have the salt and all of our machines calibrated based on the amount of salt we put out. We already have several thousands of tons of salt on standby in our salt shed prepared,” says Gaskins, the District 4 Maintenance Assistant for the West Virginia Division of Highways.

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That’s 5,000 tons of salt to be exact. The salt has a freezing temperature of 15 degrees. However, an expanding development with the salt is helping the DOH reach more roads even more quickly before and during the storms – and that’s brine.

The Division of Highways has been brining the roads for two years now with a 22.3 percent salt brine mixture – similar to pickle or beet juice.

After the DOH makes anywhere from 5,000-18,000 gallons of brine mixture per day, each truck can hold up to 2600 gallons of brine from a tank that holds 33,000 gallons.

With all of this salt and brine ready to go, the DOH and its drivers are ready to go and keep their fellow West Virginians safe on the roadways.

“We have a pre-determined route for each one of our trucks and each one of our drivers. The minute we get word that the snow is beginning to accumulate, we can be out within the hour on the roadways treating,” explains Gaskins.

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That word is very important, as communication is key to any winter weather plan of action. Local meteorologists, government officials, highway officials and emergency managers communicate to make sure that the roads are treated and that Mountaineers across the region can get out when things get safe.

“We have constant communication, as well. Especially since the DOH is responsible for a good portion of roads here in Harrison County, so it is important that we communicate with them and note their game plan of what roads they’re going to respond to first, second and third,” states Harrison County Director of Emergency Management Laura Pysz.

“Every road that the state maintains, we will treat. We do it in a priority route order. First, we do our interstates and our primary roads that feed to the interstate. Then, we go and do our secondary roads, and then go back and do our thirds – which is our back roads and gravel roads. Every road that the state maintains will be treated and taken care of as the storm progresses,” says Gaskins.

Road maintenance after a storm could last up to a week, depending on the temperature and moisture levels on the roads and surrounding areas.

However, if Jack Frost keeps piling on the winter weather, Gaskins and his team said that heavier snowfalls are easier for the DOH to maintain the roadways.

Smaller snowfalls, he said, are more work because the snow is slicker and wetter, as those snows occur at a higher temperature and melt faster.

If you need to report that you are snowed in during a winter weather event, Gaskins says to call your local DOH district office and identify your road number and name, and they will get dispatched as needed. That contact information is available here.

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