MaineDOT snowfighters keep Maine ‘open for business’
Another maine winter is here, and once again MaineDOT requests your patience and cooperation while we work with our municipal counterparts and private operators to clear snow and ice from Maine’s roads as quickly and efficiently as possible.
MaineDOT’s vehicle fleet includes roughly 400 plow trucks to remove snow and ice from over 4,000 centerline miles of state highways. In a typical winter, MaineDOT will use nearly 100,000 tons of rock salt and 15,000 cubic yards of winter sand. Although the use of liquid chlorides, such as calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and salt brine, have received a considerable amount of discussion in recent years, liquid usage by MaineDOT actually represents only about 3 percent of our total materials volume.
MaineDOT currently uses two types of liquid chlorides: salt brine (salt dissolved in water) and a magnesium chloride blend (commercially available under the name, Ice B’Gone.) Liquids play an important role in any snow and ice program because they provide a proactive option for treating roads in advance of adverse conditions. In addition, liquids also help reduce overall salt usage by keeping more of the salt on the road, activating it more quickly, and giving it a much-needed boost at lower temperatures. The magnesium chloride material is used by MaineDOT because it is recognized by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency as part of its “Design for the Environment” program, and because it can be blended with our salt brine to improve its performance and help make it less corrosive to metals. However, it is still important to recognize that all types of chlorides (salts) are corrosive, and that care should be taken to rinse vehicles routinely throughout the winter and annually to touch up any areas that start to rust. In recent years, there have been changes in the chemicals that protect the metals used in certain automotive components – particularly a reduction of the use of hexavalent chromium – that make proper maintenance more important than ever.
Technology and training now play a huge role in today’s snow and ice programs. At MaineDOT, all of our plow trucks are outfitted with infrared pavement temperature sensors and on-board computers to help us assure that we only apply the necessary amount of salt required to keep the roads safe. Remote cameras, weather stations, radar and our law enforcement partners help us monitor distant locations and how traffic may be impacted. End-of-storm and seasonal reporting of material usage from every truck is recorded and electronically downloaded after each storm. This helps us monitor how we are performing and helps ensure we are managing the taxpayers’ dollars well.
Even the snowfighters’ most important tool, the snowplow, has undergone dramatic improvements. MaineDOT now uses various types of front plows, wings, and underbody plows to remove as much snow as possible from the road. Less snow means better driving conditions and less salt usage. Some plows are even segmented across their length to better conform to the shape of our roads, enabling them to pull the slush from wheel ruts. And, if you happen to travel north of Bangor on I -95 or on Route 1A this winter, you may even see a new piece of equipment known as the “towplow” – a 25-foot-long, trailer-mounted plow that can swing out to the right to clear an additional lane beside the plow truck, doubling the plowing efficiency of one truck and driver.
By continually seeking ways to improve, and implementing those products and strategies that prove effective, MaineDOT has been able to increase plow-route lengths, decrease trucks, reduce staff, eliminate buildings and lots, and save Maine taxpayers millions of dollars each year. This, in turn, has helped us put more towards improving the roads to offset the rising costs of our aging infrastructure. But despite all of the technology and improvements, it is important to recognize that winter storms do temporarily impact our transportation system, and will create slippery conditions. If you can avoid travel during a winter storm, please do so. It will allow us to clear the roads more quickly and efficiently.
If you must travel during a storm, please make sure you leave plenty of time, have good tires on your vehicle, use your seat belt, and most importantly, drive slowly and cautiously. We will sincerely appreciate your cooperation and will return the roads to normal as quickly as possible. Always remember…“In ice and snow, take it slow!”