Much snow, or little, winter roads demand attention


Staff Writer

IRON MOUNTAIN – The milder winter weather does not necessarily mean less work for local road plowing crews. In fact, storms that bring smaller amounts of snow or freezing rain can be more difficult to deal with than big snowstorms.

“A dusting can cause more headaches and warrant as much activity, because it causes slippery conditions that require sanding and salting,” explained Doug Tomasoski, superintendent of the Iron County Road Commission. “Our time and equipment used can be the same for a half-inch as it is for five inches.”

Warmer temperatures also cause the snow already on the ground to melt. When the snow melts and re-freezes, trucks have to go out to sand or salt again, Tomasoski added.

Jim Harris, superintendent of operations at the Dickinson County Road Commission, pointed out that precipitation that comes with near freezing temperatures, about 32 degrees, requires more materials like sand and salt than a cold, heavy snow would need.

According to Kingsford Department of Public Works Superintendent Justin Wickman, small storms are also less predictable than large storms.

“It’s hard to know when to send the guys out,” he said.

Not that big snowstorms are necessarily easier to clean up.

Harris said that Dickinson County road crews worked for about a week to finish working on the Dec. 20 snowstorm that dumped approximately seven inches of snow on the area. Since cars had compressed the snow down into a hard pack, road crews had to use plows, sanders, and graters to clear the roadways.

What about when there is absolutely no precipitation?

Florence County Highway Department Commissioner Jeff DeMuri called the situation a double-edged sword.

“We’re saving money by not paying overtime or using salt,” he said. “But, we get reimbursed to run our trucks on the state roads. If we’re not plowing, we’re losing revenue.”

However, DeMuri noted that state money not used in the winter is available for summer road maintenance. There is a similar system for the Michigan road commissions that clear state roads, said Tomasoski.

Road crews also take advantage of the lack of precipitation by completing other projects.

Tomasoski, Wickman, Harris and DeMuri said those projects include: brushing roadsides, working on gravel roads, cutting down hazardous dead trees, equipment maintenance, ditching, tree trimming, and minor road reconstructions.

“There’s always things to do at the highway department,” said DeMuri.

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