Pa. snow warriors ready to go

December 09, 2000

Pa. snow warriors ready to go

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Plows are hooked up to the big yellow trucks, 8,000 tons of salt and 9,000 tons of anti-skid material are stockpiled, tanks are filled with 50,000 gallons of liquid calcium and the drivers are psyched up and ready to do battle with the coming winter snows.

The scene at PennDot's maintenance shed on Franklin Street is being repeated around Pennsylvania as highway department crews prepare for the winter snow plowing season.

"We've been ready since Nov. 15," said Doug Tosten, a PennDot truck driver and spokesman for the Franklin County maintenance shed.

Thirty-four PennDot crews and nine private contractors will plow all four lanes of the 25 miles of Interstate 81 that pass through the county plus both lanes of nearly 600 miles of state roads that criss-cross it.


Four Franklin County townships are paid by PennDot to plow another 69 miles of roadway.

"It makes sense for them to do it," said Larry J. McGee, manager of the Franklin County maintenance shed. "They go over our roads to plow theirs anyway, so they might as well drop their plows and get paid."

In addition to the salt and anti-skid material stored at the maintenance shed, crews work from eight other stockpiles located around the county, Tosten said. Anti-skid material substitutes for sand.

"Poorer counties use sand," Tosten said.

Two years ago, PennDot in Franklin County added liquid calcium to its snow-fighting arsenal. The substance, carried in tanker trucks, is spread on the roads hours before an expected snowstorm. The chemical keeps snow from bonding to the road because it melts it at lower temperatures than salt, Tosten said.

Salt won't melt snow below 20 degrees, Tosten said. Spreading liquid calcium helps it melt faster.

Another weapon in PennDot's arsenal comes from nature - the sun. Its rays can bring the road surface's temperature to above freezing even if the outside temperature is below freezing, Tosten said.

To help the sun do its work, highway crews cut brush off the sides of roads every fall, he said.

Another new device that Tosten and McGee take great stock in is the zero velocity spreader.

The computer-driven spreader sits on the back of the dump truck. The driver programs how much salt or anti-skid material to use per mile, depending on conditions, and the device spreads it accordingly.

It's precise in its application by spreading the material on the road directly behind the truck, unlike conventional spreaders which cast it over a wider area.

The maintenance shed has its own Doppler radar system to bring in the latest weather reports, McGee said. During winter months, four trucks go on constant night patrol to ensure that roads are clear for morning commuters.

McGee said the amount of snow that falls in an average Pennsylvania storm is about two inches.

"That's true. It's been tracked," he said. "It takes more material to clear a two-inch snowfall than it does to clear a foot.

"The worst-case scenario is to have a freezing rain just before the morning commuters hit the roads," he said.

Drivers normally work 12-hour shifts before they get a rest.

"They get tired and, sometimes, they get short with each other. Sometimes, in a blizzard, they sleep in their trucks or in sleeping bags on the floor," McGee said.

"Sometimes, we send them to a motel to sleep or grab a shower."

McGee's advice to motorists driving in winter storms is to never pass a snowplow, don't tailgate a plow, slow down in general or, best yet, "stay home if you don't have to go out."

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