As much as we don’t want to admit it, winter is just around the corner. With it comes cold, gray days, brutal north winds and blowing snow and ice. These extreme conditions not only cause problems for the traveling motorist, but also for the street department. For the street department, preparing for winter began in the first part of October, as concrete and dirt projects started wrapping up and winter maintenance began.
Crack sealing streets is one of the most important steps that can be completed to preserve the surface of the roadways. In order to seal cracks in the surface, a crew must use an air compressor to blow out the cracks and make sure that any debris is removed. Then hot tar is applied to the crack, filling it to the surface.
Many circumstances can prevent us from filling cracks adequately and all will ensure a poor final outcome of the job. Moisture, debris, or winter chemical (salt) residue in the cracks will prevent adequate bonding of the tar to the edges of the cracks and therefore allow the tar to pull up from the surface. By sealing the cracks we are attempting to prevent moisture from entering the roadway and creating potholes.
When moisture enters the roadway and freezes, the moisture expands, causing the surface to break open. This repeated action is what causes potholes.
We have also been trimming low hanging tree branches that are hanging over the streets. Crews have been going down every street with our bucket truck trimming and removing branches that we feel have the potential to fall under the stress of a wet snow or ice. We have also been trimming tree branches that are blocking stop signs at intersections.
One complaint I get a lot is when someone calls in wanting a tree in their front yard removed. Their first comment is always how it is on the city right of way and therefore it must be the city’s tree to remove. Right of way is a very funny thing -- it gives the city an easement along the front of your property to work on city utilities.
The city has restrictions to items that can be placed in this right of way, such as fences and large rocks, to name a couple. My policy on removing trees in the city right of way is that unless it is dead and creating a hazard to traffic by leaning over the street, we do not remove trees.
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Recently we took a day to install the salt sander boxes onto the trucks and go over them to ensure they worked properly after sitting for the summer months. There is a lot of work that goes into this other than just putting on the sander box and turning them on.
Each sander box has two augers, four bearings on the end of the auger shafts, one chain, two sprockets, one hydraulic motor and two hydraulic hoses with fittings that have to be checked to make sure they are in good working shape. The last thing an operator wants is to have his snow plow break down in a storm.
Each year road salt is ordered in August. By ordering at this “off peak time” we are able to save a great deal of money per ton.
Last year was the first year we started using a deicing liquid to apply to the streets as a pretreatment before the storms. When a storm is predicted, one person will travel our snow routes through town and apply a liquid to the driving surface, allowing it to dry. When the storm begins, the dried liquid on the roadway starts to work. When the surface of the roadway is covered, the liquid underneath is not only preventing the snow from bonding to the surface, it is melting from the bottom up just as the salt we apply is melting from the top down. By using this liquid the street department was able to reduce the amount of time and road salt it normally takes to clean the snow routes by almost half, thus saving money.
One thing that I see every year is the public scooping snow from their sidewalks or driveways during a storm. I would encourage everyone to wait for scooping until after the storm is over. City ordinance does state that property owners have 24 hours from the end of the storm to clean their sidewalks of snow. When sidewalks are scooped during storms and snowplows come around to clear the streets, the snow gets put back on the sidewalks, because this is the only place it can go. And just because a snowplow came by once doesn’t mean that’s the last time it will be by, as we may plow by again.
Early preparation and maintenance of snow removal equipment is not a guarantee that we will not have problems through the winter. Breakdowns happen and always seem to happen on the coldest and darkest of nights, but with routine maintenance and preparation breakdowns can be greatly reduced.