Winter plowing: Clearing the way for others

“The objective is to make the roads safe to travel. That is a steep challenge in snow country; and, Maine is snow country.

— Don Willard, Raymond Town Manager

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — There has been a shift in people’s work and lifestyles in the past two decades. That change often requires folks to be on the road during the worst part of snowstorms, or at times when the roads are the iciest.

As drivable roads have become a necessity for day-to-day living in Maine, many towns find it a tall task to keep those thoroughfares cleared of snow and ice around the clock. It is a service people value, and expect.

In Casco, Town Manager Dave Morton remembers as a young boy sledding down Mayberry Hill Road for a few days following each snowstorm because that road was not immediately plowed and there was no vehicular traffic to impede a few hours of snowy fun.

“There has been a whole change in the way our jobs work and society functions.

When I first started (as town manager) people understood they might not be plowed out for a day or so. Most people did not drive at night when the weather was bad,” he said.

“Now, I get calls at two or three in the morning, to complain that a spot is icy or snow is building up,” Morton said.

“Now, there is a public expectation that the roads will be cleared and sanded and available to drive on at all times,” Morton said.

“That is an expensive expectation. It requires a bigger effort, more materials. It is not good or bad — it is just a fact,” he said.

Commuting More Often

“Again, more people are working late night shifts than there used to be. There is a lot more traffic on our roads at all times of the night,” Morton said.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard agreed with Morton’s take on the driving trend. Willard also attributed the advent of winter worthy rigs that allow people to brave driving no matter the conditions.

“There is a shift away from the stoic Mainers who stayed home during the storm. If you live in Maine, you expect snow and ice during the winter. The rule of thumb is to stay home. Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Now, people have to and feel they need to travel regardless of the weather,” Willard said.

“People want to drive safely in the height of a blizzard situation,” he said.

“In the old days, it snowed and people stayed home. The average person had a rear-wheel drive automobile. If you had to go out you would throw cinder blocks and sand bags in the back, and hope for the best. But, most people stayed home during a blizzard,” Willard said.

Now, the average family owns an SUV.

“Yes, you can go out in any weather with a four-wheel-drive, but you cannot stop,” he said.

“Every winter, we see people out riding around during major snowstorms.” he said, adding that did not happen very often 15 to 20 years ago.

Each town handles snow removal differently, but with the same goal in mind. The towns of Naples and Casco contract out the job of wintertime snow removal. The towns of Bridgton and Raymond have public works departments to handle that service.

Willard compared approaches to winter road maintenance in other Maine towns.

“In Dixie the policy was: You had to have two inches of snow on the ground before sending the plows out. In Rockport, we would sand the whole town on the threat of a snowstorm,” he said.

“The objective is to make the roads safe to travel. That is a steep challenge in snow country; and, Maine is snow country,” he said.

Snow, ice occupies road crews

Once again, the importance of wintertime road maintenance has come to the forefront, as one-third of the days in December had snow, rain or a wintery mix as part of the weather system.

Already, area sand sheds have been stocked with a mix of sand and salt in preparation for wintertime in the Lakes Region. Already, crews have kept late hours to keep road clear of ice and snow.

According to Raymond Public Works Director Nathan White, “My crew, I manage their overtime as tight as I can. With this last storm, we went out at 2 a.m. yesterday (Dec. 27) and I got home at 7 a.m. today.”

“We thought the storm was over. We went home around 6 p.m. We would have slept and then come out by 3 a.m. to start plowing the roads, to be ready for the morning commute,” White said.

The Cumberland County “Sheriff’s office called and said the snow was piling up. There was about six inches accumulation on the ground. So, we had to go back out,” he said, estimating crew members got a four-hour break before a snowstorm that was not forecasted to hit.

According to Morton, the contracted crew kept busy with eight trucks on task for about 24 hours during the post-Christmas snowstorm.

“The town requires them to plow until the job is done. Sometimes, it is a short period. Sometimes, it goes on for days,” he said

The town also stipulates the contracted plow company owns a backup vehicle.

“He had one that broke down. In fact, it was parked at the town office when I drove in this morning. He doesn’t have the luxury of stopping to repair a truck. He has to bring in his backup truck and finish the job,” Morton said.

In Bridgton, crews were dispatched to clear roadway on Christmas day, according to Public Works Director Jim Kidder.

“It was enough (snow) that we were called in to go plow and we did,” Kidder said.

In Bridgton the policy is to not pre-treat the roads, and instead to remove snow and ice once it starts accumulating.

Kidder provided a running tally for last month’s winter events.

“The first weekend we had a light snow, then that turned to light ice. The weekend of Dec. 8, we had freezing rain. On the 10th we had a couple inches of snow that turned to rain. Starting on Dec. 16, it snowed for three days; and then, it rained for three days. On Dec. 21, we had snow, and it also turned to rain. We were out on Dec. 25, and Dec. 27 through 29 — it snowed,” he said.

“December has been more traditional than in years past,” Kidder said.

Residents’ winter driving habits

Naples Town Manager Derek Goodine said he has witnessed a change in the weather patterns in the eight years since he has been employed with the town. Goodine also took note of the patterns in resident’s driving habits during adverse weather.

He said the weather that occurred in December 2012 is more typical of southern Maine’s snowstorms, especially compared to the mild winter of 2011-12.

“We actually refortified the sand shed last winter. I restocked it a little bit late in the season, and someone pulled the plug on winter. After February, it just stopped and got warmer,” he said.

“In the last decade, I’ve seen more of the ice coating storms,” he said.

“I like seeing the snow better than the ice, because ice makes it so much trickier to treat the roads. With ice storms, you have to get out there when there is not any precipitation, and you have to use more salt and sand,” Goodine said.

“I prefer for it to snow — it’s better for the economy, for snowmobiling and for skiing,” he said.

“Also, people slow down when it snows. We get fewer fender benders than we do with black ice. If people see white, they expect it to be slippery” and drive accordingly, he said.

Goodine said most of the vehicular accidents happen on the state roads rather than on town roads.

“Generally speaking, when you rebuild the road, people are more confident about the road, and they travel a little faster. That is a pattern you always get when you fix a road,” he said in reference to sections of Route 302 that were rebuilt as part of a State Transportation Department project.

“Route 35 used to get complaints. Then, it was paved and that made it smoother. It still twists and turns and is a dangerous road when it is slippery,” he said.

Drivers “should still travel at slower speeds with winter conditions. You aren’t going to get there any faster in the long run,” he said.

Goodine said every winter, he fields complaints about the maintenance of side roads a few days after plows pass through, as well as call from third shift commuters.

“During the storm, depending when it starts, I get complaints during the early hours of the morning. Because the road crews are resting between shifts at that time, people assume the roads aren’t being plowed,” he said, adding P&K Sand and Gravel, Inc., does a good job.

According to Willard, one of the biggest changes in people’s mindsets is the expectation that the roads are always going to be safe no matter what the weather.

“When in doubt during a snowstorm, it is best to stay home. Don’t risk your life for a trip to Wal-Mart,” he said.

Miles of road, wintertime sand usage

Town of Bridgton Public Works Department

Coverage area: 111 miles

Average estimated sand: 4,000 to 6,000 yards

Average estimated salt: 1,400 tons

Fleet: eight plow trucks with sanders plus sidewalk machine and a pickup truck for snow removal in parking lots. No subcontractors.

Town of Casco

Coverage area: 58 miles

Average estimated sand: Between 3,500 and 5,000 yards

Average estimated salt: 200 to 350 tons

Fleet: R.N. Willey is contracted by town to do wintertime road maintenance.

Town of Naples

Coverage area: 55 miles of road, including Route 35 and State Park Road.

Average estimated sand: 4,000 to 5,000 yards

Average estimated salt: 700 tons

Fleet: P&K Sand and Gravel, Inc., currently has wintertime road maintenance contract.

Town of Raymond Public Works Department

Coverage area: 50 miles, including Route 85.

Average estimated sand: 4,000 yards

Average estimated salt: 600 tons

Fleet: Four town-owned trucks and four contracted trucks. Of the public works trucks, two have sanders and two are pickups. Also, the town has a sidewalk snow removal machine. Currently, Raymond subcontracts P&K Sand and Gravel, Inc.

Where to get personal-use sand

For residents trying to remain on both feet in their own yards, each town provides free sand with salt mixed in.

Typically, community members bring their own buckets to transport the sand. People are permitted to pick up free sand for each snowstorm.

“This is for yards and walkways only,” Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.

Morton reminded residents to be aware of the location of their wells, and not to put the sand-salt mix on the ground near drinking water sources.

“Road salt is mined salt that is crushed to certain gradation. It’s called sodium chloride, or rock salt, because chunks are bigger than table salt,” Morton said.

In each town, the public sand piles are made accessible to residents.

According to Bridgton Public Works Director Jim Kidder, “We make it easy for the taxpayers of Bridgton to get to the sand pile.”

Kidder commented that, prior to a storm, there are a lot of people who fill up buckets of sand for residential needs.

 

PUBLIC SAND SHED LOCATIONS:

 

Town: Bridgton

Location: Outside gates of Public Works Department property.

Address: 31 Willett Road.

Town: Casco

Location: In the small kiosk across the street from Casco-Naples Transfer Station.

Directions: 425 Leach Hill Road, off Route 11.

Town: Naples

Location: Outside town sand shed fence, behind the Naples Fire Department.

Directions: Route 302, just west of Causeway.

Town: Raymond

Location: On the right side of the Public Works lot, just outside of the gate.

Directions: Plains Road, Fire Lane #89.

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