Snow removal no easy project |

Snow removal no easy project

by Melissa Blosser
Special to The R-C
Chris Oakden and members of the Douglas County snow plow crew.
Douglas County photo |

While there hasn’t been much snow to plow for the last few weeks, winter is just starting and can bring harsh and ever-changing weather conditions.

Driving hazards such as limited visibility and black ice are just some dangers that may be encountered on winter roads. When winter weather hits, Douglas County’s Public Works Department responds with snow removal and sanding to keep road travel safe.

“You might be surprised to learn that this is a group of really friendly guys that seriously like working in the snow, enjoy knowing they help a lot of people, and take great pride in their work,” said Maintenance Operations Superintendent Chris Oakden for Douglas County Public Works. “Some of our drivers have been pushing snow for a long time and know what they are doing. The process is far from random; its part art and part science.”

When watching a snow plow it can sometimes be difficult to understand when, why and how certain roads are plowed. There is a system when it comes to plowing snow and a policy that has been established to ensure services are provided efficiently, effectively and at low cost.

County-maintained roads are classified into three different categories for snow removal. The first priority is arterial roadways or major roads having high traffic volumes and speeds. These roadways are top priority to ensure accessibility for emergency vehicles. Plowing and sanding of these roads is performed during the night, on weekends, and holidays.

The second priority consists of collector roadways and local streets. Once snowfall subsides and arterial roadways have been safely cleared, equipment is then deployed to plow collector roadways and school bus routes. Collector roadways distribute traffic between arterial roadways and residential streets and often serve as links between subdivisions. Collector roadways normally do not provide direct access to private property. Local streets and cul-de-sacs are intended for low to moderate traffic volumes within subdivisions and provide direct access to residences or private property. The plowing of local streets and cul-de-sacs is typically addressed after arterial and collector roadways have been cleared. All local streets and cul-de-sacs are plowed during every storm unless accumulations are minor and are expected to melt the following day.

The third priority consists of all county-maintained unpaved roads. Many times the snow melts quickly after normal snowfall events and it is unnecessary to plow unpaved roads. Normal snowfall (one foot or less) is typically removed within 72 hours, or as warranted, if sufficient manpower and equipment are available.

“I think the biggest misconception people have is that as soon as snow starts to fall, we are out there with the plows. Our policy states we send out the crews at 4 inches of accumulated snow on the roads. We have a small staff and they are allowed to work 12 hour shifts with the federal regulations on commercial drivers, and that includes stand by time,” said Oakden.

One thing is for certain, Douglas County snow plow drivers have to know their job and be aware of all the things going on around them. During day plowing, the primary concerns are traffic and pedestrians. “Drivers that follow too close and even pass the plows during snow removal operations can create very dangerous situations. We encourage drivers to take it slow and respect the plows,” said Oakden.

At night, their primary concerns are visibility and objects along the roads, such as parked vehicles covered by the snow.

“One way people can help us out is to wait until the road is plowed before cleaning out the end of their driveway because there is no practical way to plow the road without depositing snow into the driveway. It also helps if you can place snow on the side of your driveway in the same direction the plow is traveling, then the plow will carry snow away from your driveway,” said Oakden.

Winter road conditions can be checked at and if a storm is approaching it is best to check the conditions and prepare for any winter weather you might encounter.

Although a snow plow driver’s route might still boggle your mind, and you might not understand their methods, there is reasoning behind their route. Remember these employees are out on the roads keeping you safe, many of them working long hours and in tough conditions.

“It doesn’t hurt to wave at them, they are the ones keeping all of us safe out on the road,” said Oakden. “Without them, some winter travel just wouldn’t be possible.”

The Public Works Department is busy during the summer months filling pot holes, maintaining the roads, sealing cracks, striping and grading.

Melissa Blosser is the Douglas County Community Relations Coordinator.