Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 23, 2014

Winter work can be one cold cycle

The Independent

ASHLAND — Time does not stop for anyone. For those in public service, the show must go on — no matter the weather.

But without the constant vigilance of public workers, like road maintenance, sanitation collection, police enforcement and other services, many vital communal functions would be lost.

Allen Blair, information officer for District 9 of the State Transportation Cabinet, said crews transition into 12-hour rotating shifts during snowstorms and work continuously until all state roads are clear.

Blair said the snowstorm that came in late Monday brought in the highest snow accumulations of the season, calling for highway crews to begin working at midnight Tuesday.

The large trucks seen pushing slush off roads function as both snow plows and salt trucks.

But during crucial storm prep, Blair said the real challenge is in the chemistry, since salt will not stick to the roads without first mixing with accumulation to make a melting solution.

Another battle is sub-zero temperatures. The icy air that followed the storm Tuesday brought back Arctic air comparable to the chill brought in from the polar vortex last week. But contrary to many beliefs, salt is not a cure-all when temps plummet.

“The challenge for this storm was to get as many routes as possible clear before nightfall last night (Tuesday) because we knew temperatures would fall,” Blair said. “Salt solutions on roadways are limited by temperature; the closer to zero, the less effective it becomes.”

Since cold weather penetrated into Wednesday, relieved temporarily by the sun during midday, Blair said they continued to work on plowing main roads and lower priority roads like Ky. 1 and Ky. 5.

Scattered ice patches inevitably remain.

Although this winter has seen more snow than recent years, Blair said he does not predict the state-funded Cabinet will face salt deficits.

“In our 10 counties, we stockpile around 25,000 tons of salt,” he said. “That's what we have in our salt domes. During a typical storm, we only use a few thousand tons. We may use three or four thousand in storms lasting three-to-four days.”

If they do run dry, because of the vigorous plow, salt, plow, resalt cycle, Blair said they can always draw from the state’s main tavern in Louisville, or from county reserves.

For those workers laboring continuously to keep roads clear, Blair said the long shifts during winter are normal.

“It's really a profession. Professional drivers and equipment operators,” he said. “It takes dedication and teamwork, but part of our duty is to maintain these clear highways and get them clear for people who rely on them. That's our job.”

Duty does not stop at maintaining roadways. Local public servants, such as sanitation workers, have a duty to residents to collect solid waste no matter the weather.

Head of the Ashland Solid Waste Department, Jim Wheeler, said this week was especially challenging for sanitation crews with the holiday on Monday, causing them to play catch-up in the snow.

Wheeler said the most challenging part is actually retrieving the trash from residential receptacles.

“The hardest part is the terrain. You have to walk through different terrain and snow makes it harder,” he said. “Trash cans don’t want to roll in the snow and in the frigid temperatures, cans want to freeze. They’re made of plastic; plastic and cold don’t mix.”

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.