Is it warm enough to plow snow yet?

Dennis Banka
Public Works Manager
City of Lenexa, Kansas

Here it is mid-summer and many agencies are already preparing for the upcoming winter season. It's sure faster to plow snow when it's 90 degrees outside because it just doesn't last as long. However, it is a good time to bring out last year's program, plans and any notes you might have made during last year's season to help remind you of changes you may want to consider for the upcoming winter. New equipment, materials and techniques seem to add efficiencies to the operations but let's not forget to question why we purchase the equipment we do, or question ourselves as to why we do it the way we have been doing it.

One area you might want to consider is travel time between the route and the material stockpile. Many times it takes longer for the driver to get from the stockpile to his/her assigned area than it takes to spread the load of material. Cutting this drive time down means more productivity and more plow time. Many times this can be accomplished by satellite material storage areas near the "long haul routes." Areas one might consider for a satellite are parking lots in city parks, private parking lots of business or industries, dead-end streets in undeveloped or new areas, etc. Many times people are more than happy to help because that means their area may be plowed and treated earlier and add a few dollars to their pocket for a short-term lease. At first thought, this might sound like a lot of trouble and expense but when the snow is falling and people are calling, shorter haul times may make all the difference.

Nearly all of these types of temporary satellites are just that, "temporary." Many may not be set up until almost the beginning of the snow season and will be required to be torn down and cleaned up in early spring. The size of the satellite will depend on the space available, but having a stockpile large enough to get through at least one storm and having enough room for a truck to turn around and be loaded is a big advantage. Another consideration for the site is if power is available. Power is important if you run a block heater for the loader, have an area work light, or will be pumping a liquid chloride on the material.

Having the right equipment on the trucks along with drivers that understand how the equipment operates can make a big difference in productivity and reliability. Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself are: How wide is the front plow? Why is it that wide? Could a different-sized plow make a difference? Could a wing plow, underbody plow or tow-behind plow be used? Trucks are getting bigger with more powerful engines and stronger frames so the truck might handle a larger plow, an additional plow or a larger spreader unit. By installing a wing plow you could add an additional 5'-7' of snow removal width using the same truck resulting in fewer and wider passes.

Keep in mind that a wing plow doesn't always have to be used. There are many types that store out of the driver's line of sight and when in the stored position are no wider than the width of the front plow. Not every street is the "right" street for a wing plow. If you look around I'll bet you'll find more street than you first thought to use a wing plow. Underbody plows many times eliminate the need for a front plow. It makes it easier for the driver to get around in traffic and areas with lots of parked cars and narrow streets.

  A wing plow being tested and used by MoDOT

Tow-behind-type plows are something new in the Midwest and are just now being tested. However, in certain situations and on specific routes they may help take out additional snow width with the same truck that a wing just can't provide. Yet, these types of plows can quickly be disconnected allowing the truck to be used on other, more normal-width routes when the tow-behind unit has been removed.

In regards to plow/spreader combination trucks, are your trucks both a snow plow and spreader unit? Many times this makes a big difference not only in the amount of equipment used in any given storm but in manpower needed to drive these trucks. When you are setting up two 12-hour shifts to handle a storm, manpower to operate these units seems to always come up short compared to equipment, so combination units become very cost effective.

Are the spreader units putting down the right amount of material? When was the last time someone calibrated the spreader? What is your spread rate? Do all the drivers know and follow the prescribed rates? Many of the newer systems are ground speed-oriented, so once calibrated they put down the same rate of material no matter how fast or slow the truck is moving. Have you ever come up to a stop sign or traffic signal and found a small pile of material on the ground? Yep, I'll bet the driver forgot to turn off his spreader. Ground speed systems can help take care of this problem along with making sure the desired spread rate is maintained throughout the route.

I know most of this sounds like common sense and for the most part it is, but many of us seem to get stuck in a rut and don't often sit back and ask ourselves, "Why are we doing it this way?" Many times the short answer is, "We did it that way in the past and it worked, so why should we change?" I would challenge you to step back and take a hard look at your operation and equipment, and question everything. I'll bet you'll find a few new ideas that might make your equipment and operation even more effective.

Dennis Banka can be reached at (913) 477-7810 or dbanka@ci.lenexa.ks.us.