RCOC Prepared for Winter: Hires Part-Time Staff

The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) announced it is reviewing 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 third 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.

“Our full-time staff numbers have been reduced so much in recent years that we simply didn’t have enough full-time drivers to provide the level of service that the public deserves,” explained RCOC Chairman Greg Jamian. “Augmenting the full-time staff with temporary, part-time drivers is a cost-effective way to maintain that level of service.”

Jamian 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.

“While we have been able to save enough to purchase 18 new trucks in the last year, most of our remaining salting and plowing trucks also should be replaced, but we don’t have the money to do that,” said RCOC Vice Chairman Ron Fowkes. However, he noted the agency has agreements with the cities of Rochester Hills and Troy that allow those municipalities to repair RCOC equipment.

“We have less than half the mechanics we had in 2007, with a much older fleet,” Fowkes said. “That means our trucks are breaking down more often, but we have fewer mechanics to repair them. The agreements with Rochester Hills and Troy are a cost-effective way to share resources with some of our partners. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

RCOC Board Member Eric Wilson noted RCOC learned some lessons from last year’s historic winter. “Last year, we received more snow than any winter in the region’s recorded history,” he explained. “During those extreme conditions, we tried some new options, such as using contracted snowplow services in a broader range of situations. We aren’t expecting as bad a winter this year, but if needed, we now have a few more arrows in our operational quiver.”

Despite the addition of the part-time, temporary employees and retirees, Jamian pointed out that motorists must be vigilant when driving during or immediately after winter storms. “It’s critical that motorists be aware of the road conditions and drive appropriately for those conditions. We will be out salting and plowing whenever it snows, but driver awareness of road conditions remains a critical element of motorist safety.”

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.

• RCOC does not anticipate any problems getting salt this year, based on assurances from its salt vendor.

• 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 expects to spend approximately $12 million on winter road maintenance this year alone, including approximately $4.4 million to maintain the state highways for MDOT.

• RCOC expects to spend more than $3 million this winter on salt alone (cost per ton = $49.90).

• 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 $220,000 new.

• 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 plow heavy snow.

• Fully loaded, RCOC snowplows get about 4 miles per gallon of fuel. Empty, they get about 6 miles per gallon.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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