Friday, October 31, 2014

State highway workers ready to ‘kick ice’ this winter

When it snows this winter in Johnson County, the pavement might turn green.

Seriously. It is nothing to worry about, according to Sara George, Information Officer for Highway District 12. “We are trying a new material called Clear Lane that is a combination of rock salt and dehydrated calcium chloride, which is supposed to work better at lower temperatures. We are told it turns the pavement green. Should be interesting, that’s for sure. We want to assure everyone there is nothing wrong. This is not a hazardous substance, just colorful.”

In addition to 1,000 tons of Clear Lane for Johnson County, Highway District 12’s materials keep arriving daily in preparation for the coming winter weather.

The district’s snowfighters are set to “kick some ice,” George said. “We are ready for whatever the weather brings: rain, snow, sleet, ice, freezing temperatures, or any combination of adverse conditions. We are prepared to work as long and often as necessary to ensure that state-maintained roads in our seven counties are as safe as we can make them.”

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spent just over $75 million on snow and ice work last winter. District 12’s cost was $6,362,248.00, about 8 percent of the state total. A breakdown of the expenditures looks like this: Labor -- $1,980,613.00, Materials -- $2,718,237.00, Contract Equipment -- $802,434.00, State Equipment -- $854,981.00. Miscellaneous -- $5,983.00.

Statewide, the Cabinet used 440,355 tons of rock salt, 1,926,803 gallons of salt brine, and 1,545,466 gallons of liquid calcium chloride. District 12 used 37,657 tons of salt, 146,925 gallons of liquid calcium chloride, 1,121 bags of calcium pellets, and 40,549 gallons of salt brine.

As of Friday, October 31, District 12’s materials inventory included 22,500 tons of salt, 80,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride, and 1484 bags of chloride pellets. The District manufactures its own salt brine as needed. Brine is used to pre-treat dry roads prior to an expected snow event. The brine solution prevents snow from bonding with asphalt and makes the plowing and removal process faster and easier.

Heavy equipment operators completed mandatory annual training October 13. Each operator must have a valid CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) and must submit to random drug testing. The Cabinet has a “zero tolerance” policy on drug and alcohol abuse. 

Stamina is an important part of the job, too. Darold Slone, Engineering Branch Manager for Lawrence, Johnson, Martin, and Floyd counties, explained that crews work 16-hour shifts during major weather events. “It messes up your internal clock,” he pointed out. “You have to stay awake and alert for 16 hours, go home and sleep for eight, and then get back on the road again for another 16. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday and you miss church – nobody else is going to get to church if we don’t get the road plowed – or if it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. That’s just the way it is. Even though most people don’t know who we are or what we give up to make the roads safe, like time with our families, it is very satisfying to know that what you do actually makes a difference in people’s lives. In fact, we know there would be more lives lost on our roads if we did not do what we do.”

There are 10 maintenance garages in the seven counties in District 12 – Lawrence, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, Knott, Pike, and Letcher – three in Pike County, two in Floyd County, and one each in the other five counties. A district-wide Equipment Garage in Pikeville serves all 10 garages with mechanics, welders, and heavy equipment technicians who work the same hours as the snowplow drivers. “That would be 24 hours a day for as long as each weather event lasts,” George explained. The Equipment Garage stocks everything from batteries, light bulbs, and windshield wipers to truck tires and backup plow blades.

“Our people are trained in every aspect of emergency weather response,” George said. “The men and women driving the plows are on the front line, for sure, but each driver has an entire team of people who have his back – dispatchers, radio operators, mechanics, inventory specialists, people who monitor radar, and those of us who keep citizens informed as each storm runs its course.”

Roads are worked according to a priority system that is based on traffic counts and importance of the road as a critical route for emergency vehicles to get to medical facilities. County maps which show the Cabinet’s “A,” “B,” and “C” routes are available on its website at .

The goal for clearing Priority “A” Routes is a two-hour turnaround from the time of crew mobilization.

Priority “B” Routes should be salted completely during a routine winter storm within four hours of crew mobilization, and only after all Priority “A” routes have been addressed.

Priority “C” Routes are worked only after both “A” and “B” routes are worked and within eight hours after crew mobilization.

George said that the District maintains a Facebook page, KYTC District 12, which features road condition updates during major weather events. The page also offers reminders about road safety and winter driving tips.

“Crashes that occur on wet or slick roads are usually the result of failure to maintain control, excessive speed, or following other vehicles too closely,” George said. “We encourage everyone to buckle up, slow down, and make sure you are well rested and alert every time you venture out, especially if you are driving in less than ideal weather conditions.”

Additional safety tips for motorists during the snow and ice season:

·        Make sure your vehicle is sufficiently winterized – check the battery, antifreeze level, heater, defroster, wiper, and windshield washer.
·        Dress for the weather in layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, in anticipation of unexpected winter weather emergencies.
·        Try to keep your gas tank at least two-thirds full to prevent fuel line freezing and to prepare for possibly lengthy delays on the roadway.
·        Make sure a friend or relative is aware of your travel route. Carry a mobile phone.
·        Make sure your vehicle has an emergency care kit. The kit should include jumper cables, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid, an ice scraper, blankets, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, and traction material such as cat litter or sand.
·        Give a wide berth to snow removal equipment. Do not tailgate or try to pass a snowplow.
·        Check the forecast and call 5-1-1 before you leave or check the 5-1-1 website (http:/511/ If conditions are dangerous, avoid travel unless necessary.