Elkton SHA office prepares for winter storms
— With memories of last January’s huge snow storm still fresh in their minds, the Elkton office of the Maryland State Highway Administration is once again gearing up to plow and remove snow from 475 miles of state roads in the county this winter.
“We did a lot of plowing trains,” recalled Ken Fender, resident maintenance engineer of the Elkton SHA shop, about the storm that dropped more than 2 feet of snow on the county from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24.
While there is no snow in the forecast yet, the probability is good for the flakes to fall before spring arrives in March. According to statistics from the SHA, the Eastern Shore, which includes Cecil County, aver-
email@example.com ages six winter storms each year. The earliest winter storm in recent memory is Oct. 29, 2011.
Fender said his staff has been readying its equipment by installing water tanks, sprayers and plows.
“We have 20 state trucks and up to 25 contractors,” Fender said.
The barn on Route 7 as well as the domes near Rising Sun and Cecilton also have 11,000 tons of salt ready to apply.
Statewide, 380,000 tons of salt is available for this winter with the Maryland SHA budgeting $61 million for cleanup operations. Last year, thanks to the January blizzard, more than 137,000 tons of salt was applied,
which stretched the state’s snow budget to more than $ 100 million.
Meanwhile, the county has 38 county vehicles and another 28 contractors on call to respond to winter storms. Those trucks will be responsible for more than 600 miles of county roads. The county has also stockpiled 32,000 tons of salt.
SHA has also already made 32,000 gallons of brine in a 23- percent solution, Fender said.
“We pre- treat with the brine and the salt is used throughout the storm. The salt is there to stop the snow and ice from bond- ing to the road,” he said.
The major thoroughfares — Routes 40, 213, 279 and 301 for example — will be treated with the salt solution ahead of any snowfall.
“The water evaporates and leaves the salt behind,” he said.
That fine coat of salt will melt the first attack of snow or ice.
By the numbers, Fender said 150 pounds of salt brine is applied per lane, while up to 600 pounds of salt falls per lane. There is a move to use less salt and lessen its lingering impact, Fender said, noting not only the environmental damage but also its effect on concrete and asphalt.
But while snow plowing may be tedious work, the plow drivers are eager to get started. James Bolado, facilities maintenance supervisor at the Elkton Maryland State Highway Administration office, shows how salt is broadcast on the roads accompanied by a mist of water to keep it from bouncing off the road surface.
Brian Messing, a facilities maintenance technician, recently ran one of the newest heavy trucks through its paces. The 2015 Freightliner carries 6 tons of salt and a water tank to wet down that salt.
“We put two scoops in each truck,” Messing said.
A loader moves the salt from the barn to the plow trucks.
“We keep the salt wet. It bounces less,” Fender said.
Messing said the salt brine does its job for about an hour.
“It depends on if it’s coming down quick and hard. Then the window closes sooner,” Messing said.
This is where the driving public can help by staying off the roads.
“Give our guys time to do what they need to do,” Fender said.
James Bolado, facilities maintenance supervisor,
said plow drivers have to contend with the weather and traffic.
“We get frustrated when they get behind our vehicles,” Bolado said.
These trucks need a wide berth to spread the brine or salt properly, he said, noting that sometimes drivers get testy and blow past the plows when conditions are bad.
“They’ll pass our guys and we’ll see them in a ditch further down the road,” Bolado said.
A winter storm makes for long days at work and there’s no bunkhouse at any of the SHA shops.
“A lot of times these guys will sleep in their trucks,” Fender said.
That’s because the work doesn’t stop when the snowfall ends.
“Our guys are here for the duration of the storm,” Fender said. “It’s not just what you deal with while it’s happening, but days after the fact.”
Bolado said southern and western Cecil County especially have blowing and drifting issues. Snowfall on farm fields can blow and close a road that SHA trucks had just cleared.
“We try to keep at least a portion of the roadway open at all times,” he said.
Bolado said seasoned plow drivers also know where the roads can be a problem regardless of the accumulation.
“There are spots on Route 273 and on Route 222 by Mt. Ararat,” Bolado said.
When those plow blades hit the road, the noise inside the cab is thunderous. However, Messing said drivers get used to it quickly and once the road gets snow covered, the sound changes. The din is covered by the need for constant radio contact with staff at the SHA offices along with other drivers. Along with the forecast and accumulation, crews also keep an eye on the road temperature. Salt can no longer melt ice and snow once the temperature drops below 20 degrees.
The plows can float just above the road surface to get over speed humps and expansion joints on bridges.
“We just know to slow down and go over them,” Fender said.
Fender said the carbon steel blades on the plows wear out quickly and are replaced several times each season.
Ken Fender, resident maintenance engineer for the Maryland SHA Elkton shop, shows how the carbon steel blades on the bottom of snow plows wear away and must be replaced.