How crews keep roads safe during winter weather

StormTracker 12 Winter Weather Special

DOH snowplow treating the roads in past storm (WBOY Image)

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) started preparation for the Snow Removal and Ice Control (SRIC) season.  

West Virginia Department of Highways District 4 office in Clarksburg (WBOY Image)

District 4 of the West Virginia Department of Highways is responsible for keeping the roads clear in six counties: Monongalia, Preston, Taylor, Harrison, Doddridge and Marion. 

In those six counties, there are more than 4,700 miles of road to maintain. Preparation all starts with dry runs in early fall. The drivers take their trucks out and run their routes to get familiar with the roads.  

“We don’t know when the snow’s going to hit or how bad it’s going to hit, so we want to be prepared for everything,” said Aaron Stevens, Deputy District Engineer WVDOH. 

Then, once it’s confirmed that a storm is coming, workers start pretreatment of the roads. Pretreatment can start up to 48 hours in advance of snowfall. There are two different types of pretreatment that DOH workers use, one of which is Brine.   

Brine helps melt the snow faster to make it safer for the public to drive. It comes in a premixed solution and is dispersed out of tanks in the back of the trucks. Stevens said District 4 has 28 storage containers that each hold more than 6,000 gallons of brine. 

“Some districts are using beet juice mixed in with their brine, it’s going to give it a red color so if the public sees that on the road not to be alarmed,” Stevens said.  

The second method of pretreatment is pre-wet salt.   

“Normally when the trucks throw the salt on the ground, the salt will bounce off or the car will throw the salt off, so pre-wetting it helps it stick to the road and also helps activate it,” Stevens said.  

Brine can only go out in temperatures above 20°F, and pre-wet salt can only go out in temperatures above 15°F. Any temperatures lower than that will cause the pretreatment to freeze and make the roads worse.   

DOH Snow Plow (WBOY Image)

After the snow hits the ground, then workers then start plowing. Every road is plowed in order based on a priority list. There are four levels of priorities:

  • 1 – high traffic roads like interstates, major routes, and high traffic roadways connecting urban areas
  • 2 – roads that are school bus routes
  • 3 – tar and chip roads  
  • 4 – and state park enforced roads

“We try to maintain the priority ones first then try and go into the priority two’s and three’s and four’s after that, but sometimes the snow is bad enough that we have to stay on the priority one routes.”

While the plows are out on the road, they go through a lot of wear and tear, which is why maintenance is key.   

District 4 has mechanics stationed all over every county to keep all 129 plows in operation.   

“At any given time, we’ll have mechanics out in the daytime, nighttime, weekends, holidays, doesn’t matter. When it starts snowing, we’ll take off,” Charles Crouse Jr, District Highway Equipment Manager said. “We have to keep the running so we maintain our roads in a safe manner so our public can travel on them.”  

Mechanics and drivers are always on call, ready for a storm.  

“They try their best,” Stevens said. “They’re out there all the time when there’s a storm. Even on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, we have employees out. They’re away from their families, so it’s pretty hard I hope the public realizes that.” 

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