RCOC Prepared for Winter: Hires Part-Time Staff to Augment Snowplow Drivers

The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) continually reviews its winter plowing and salting procedures with its truck drivers, preparing its trucks for winter and getting snow plows ready – all in anticipation of the inevitable arrival of winter weather.

This year, for the fourth year in a row, RCOC is hiring part-time, temporary snowplow/salt-truck drivers to augment its shrinking full-time staff. The agency plans to hire 40 temporary drivers.

“Additional money is not expected anytime soon from the state legislature to assist with winter maintenance, so we will continue to augment staff with part -time help,” explained RCOC Chairman Ronald Fowkes. “The public wants roads maintained safely through the winter elements, so hiring additional temporary staff definitely helps with that effort.”

DSC_0501Fowkes noted the agency has also brought back an additional four retired plow drivers on a part-time basis. RCOC has reduced its staff about 35 percent overall since 2007, and nearly 40 percent within the Highway Maintenance Dept., as a result of the decline in state-collected road funding over the last decade.

While the addition of the temporary, part-time workers and retirees should help to alleviate some of the strain caused by staff reductions, RCOC continues to struggle with aging equipment.

“We have been able to save enough to purchase 12 new 10-yard trucks earlier this year, as we slowly work toward replacing an aging and tired fleet of trucks,” said RCOC Vice Chairman Eric Wilson. However, he noted the agency has agreements with the cities of Rochester Hills and Troy that allow those municipalities to repair RCOC equipment. This additional resource assists RCOC mechanics with getting equipment back on the road in a timely manner.

“The weather predictions this year call for a mild winter, but we always prepare for a harsh winter,” added Wilson. “The winter snow season historically makes or breaks a road commission budget. A lighter winter will definitely help the road commission plan for maintenance activities after the winter is over.”

RCOC Board Member Gregory Jamian noted that the RCOC team is constantly looking for best practices when it comes to maintaining roads during the winter months. “Equipping many of our trucks with wing plows improves the efficiency allowing the snowplow driver to clear a lane of road while moving snow off the shoulder at the same time.”

Despite the addition of the part-time, temporary employees and retirees, Fowkes pointed out that motorists must be vigilant when driving during or immediately after winter storms. “Drive for conditions, it makes a safer environment for everyone on the road.” He also reminded motorists to not crowd the plow and give them room to groom.

Finally, citizens are reminded to check the stability of mailboxes located along roadsides. “If your mailbox shakes just touching it, chances are it will not withstand standard snow-removal operations,” said Dennis Kolar, RCOC Managing Director. “Taking time to tighten screws and securing or replacing mail receptacles now will help prevent future mishaps,” added Kolar.

RCOC Winter Maintenance Fact Sheet 2014-2015

Below are some facts and figures related to winter road maintenance in Oakland County.

  • Salt trucks and snowplows typically travel more slowly than other traffic. RCOC urges drivers to use caution around the orange trucks and allow them enough room to safely do their jobs: “Don’t crowd the plow.”
  • RCOC uses an average of 64,000 tons of salt per winter.
  • RCOC salt trucks are kept at six garages located throughout the county. Salt is kept in salt storage facilities at each of those garages. Those facilities, currently nearly full, hold a total of about 37,500 tons of salt.
  • In all, RCOC has jurisdiction over 2,700-plus miles of county roads (including subdivision and gravel roads).
  • RCOC also maintains 230 miles of mostly multi-lane state highways on behalf of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). This includes I-75, I-696, I-96, M-59, Telegraph Road and Woodward Ave., among others. These 230 miles of mainly freeway roads are the equivalent of 2,000-plus miles of one-lane pavement.
  • RCOC divides all the miles of paved primary roadway it maintains (including county roads and state highways) into 106 salt “routes.” A single “salt run” for a truck typically uses about 6 tons of salt.
  • RCOC spends approximately $12 million on winter road maintenance, including approximately $4.4 million to maintain the state highways for MDOT.
  • RCOC is spending more on salt this year, the price per ton jumped from $49.90 last year to $58.05. Over the last 10 years, salt prices have soared by 61%.
  • RCOC standards call for approximately 400 pounds of salt to be applied to each two-lane mile of pavement.
  • Most RCOC salt trucks are equipped with computerized salting mechanisms that automatically adjust the amount of salt spread based on the vehicle’s speed. The salt spreaders also include “pre-wetting” devises that spray salt brine on the salt as it is being spread, so that it begins working more quickly. These technologies also allow RCOC to conserve salt.
  • At temperatures below 20 degrees, salt begins to lose its effectiveness. At 10 degrees, it does virtually nothing.
  • Salt is still the most cost-effective option for removing ice and maintaining the safest roads possible.
  • RCOC keeps salt trucks ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • RCOC crews maintain state and county roads in Oakland County based on a priority system. “Critical priority” roads are those with more than 10,000 vehicles per day per lane. “Priority 1” roads are those with 2,500 to 10,000 vehicles per day per lane, while priority 2 and 3 roads have less traffic.
  • RCOC typically does not use sand on paved roads because it does not melt ice and can clog storm drains. Sand is used on gravel roads where typically there are no storm drains and where salt is less effective.
  • A snowstorm that shuts down Michigan’s economy for one day has a $251 million impact on the state’s economy (Source: the non-profit Salt Institute, Alexandria, VA).
  • A single RCOC snowplow/salt truck costs approximately $251,000 new, 99.5 % cost increase over the last 10 years. The cost for snowplow blades necessary for winter snow and ice removal has risen 100.4% since 2004.
  • RCOC has approx. 135 snowplows/salt trucks, though all trucks are never used at the same time (some are “spares,” used when others break down). RCOC also employs 19 “road graders” that are used to plow heavy snow. 3 new/replacement graders purchased in 2015 at a total cost of $900,000.
  • Fully loaded, RCOC snowplows get about 4 miles per gallon of fuel. Empty, they get about 6 miles per gallon.
  • RCOC contracts with a number of Oakland County communities to salt and plow some RCOC roads within their boundaries in order to provide a higher level of service.
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