Elk­ton SHA of­fice pre­pares for win­ter storms

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER

— 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-

ELK­TON

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.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.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

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