MOUNT VERNON — As the winter storm raged in Knox County, road conditions worsened by the hour. Snow and ice made roads unsafe, and the county remained under a Level 2 snow advisory this morning.
Under a Level 2 advisory, “only those who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the roadways.” Workers are urged to contact their employer to see if they should report to work. The dedicated service men and women of the Ohio Department of Transportation, Mount Vernon Street Department and Knox County Highway Garage braved the snow and ice to make the roads safe for those who found it necessary to drive.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office advises drivers to make sure their cars are properly cleaned off, with no snow covering the headlights or turn signal lights. It also recommends keeping the headlights on while driving, even if the sun is shining.
“The snow emergency levels are issued for public safety reasons, primarily to allow the highway departments and the road crews to do the best job they can to clear the snow and ice off of the highways,” said Sheriff David Barber. “And we try to get people to limit their travel to give the highway departments the opportunity to pile, sand, and salt in order to reduce people’s chances of being involved in a collision.”
Barber explained that the snow emergency levels are determined by road conditions and the feedback given by the deputies on patrol, ODOT and the county highway garage.
“I think if people understand the difference in the levels, it would be a little better for people being out, and it would cut down on a lot of the phone calls that we receive at the dispatch center,” he said.
During bad weather, Barber advises people to call Pathways 2-1-1 help line and stay tuned to local media sources for information on road conditions and snow emergency levels. 9-1-1 is designated for emergency calls, and is not an information center.
“I try to put out information to all the resources I can to cut down on [nonemergency] calls to the 9-1-1 dispatch center,” he said.
When drivers are on the roads in bad weather conditions, Barber explained, that makes travel for EMS, the fire department and deputies even more difficult. People should only be on the roads if necessary and should use caution while driving.
“In addition to people keeping their cars cleaned off — particularly, head lights, tale lights and windows — people need to really slow down, and really exercise patience and common sense,” said Barber.
“The crews never stopped from yesterday,” said Kate Stickle, spokeswoman for ODOT. “They actually worked 16-hour shifts yesterday and the day before, and then they went into 12-hour shifts after that. Now they are working around the clock to combat the ice and snow.”
Workers in the county are split into two working shifts; 12 crews are out on the roads.
“Basically two shifts come in; we have auxiliary drivers and regular drivers that are on the payroll,” said Stickle. “In the counties, we only have a certain amount of drivers, so to relieve them we bring in auxiliary drivers, who are trained throughout the season. With those, we also have seasonal drivers, so we don’t put out people on the roadways that are very tired.”
ODOT treats the roads with a combination of salt/grit mixture.
“[This] adds traction to the roadways, especially in these icy conditions. We can dump pure salt, and that is usually what we do on some roadways; on other roadways we will add the grit mixture,” said Stickle.
Snowplow drivers go through classroom training, as well as getting on-the-road experience. Each year they go through renewal training to keep them up to date on being prepared for winter weather.
“On these days, the training of our drivers really comes out. They are really put to the test because of the ever changing conditions — they have to change their smart salt strategy to always address the changing weather, they have to focus on the piling when there is more snow, and then targeting using salt in their other materials when there is more ice and freezing rain. It is definitely a constant battle for the snowplow driver,” said Stickle.
Heavily traveled roads such as Ohio 13, 95, 3, and U.S. 36 are a major priority to ODOT.
“Those are listed as first priority because they have the most traffic,” said Stickle. “The average daily traffic count is taken throughout the year, and on those routes there is the most traffic, so they are attended to first. Following that is the less traveled roadways — State Route 229, 661, and 62.”
ODOT covers 382 miles in Knox County. Those miles include 112 bridges, which freeze faster than normal roads.
“Wherever you have a bridge with the free air flow over the top and underneath, they tend to freeze first because of the air flow,” she said.
ODOT encourages caution if drivers have to be on the road in weather conditions such as what hit Knox County this week. Stickle explained there are four things to know: Leave early and expect any trip to take double the normal time; plan the route and avoid bad road areas; increase driver following distance; and don’t make any unnecessary trips.
The Mount Vernon Street Department has been out on the roads since Wednesday morning, on two 16-hour shifts, maintaining 82 miles of roadway. The seven crews are spilt, with five to four crews a shift, to cover both shifts, explained David Carpenter, superintendent.
The city uses a mix of 50/50 salt and No. 9 gravel to treat the roads. When it comes to weather conditions such as those experienced Tuesday, some roads take priority over the others.
“The state routes are the priorities, but we have a list that we maintain here of the main streets and the hills in town; those are the priorities. And when it gets like it is right now, all [the plow drivers] have been doing is plowing the main streets. We are really trying to hold our own until it quits so we can start going through and getting things cleaned up,” said Carpenter.
Crews from the Knox County Highway Garage were also out on the roads, working hard to manage the road conditions for 444 miles.
“There aren’t any designated priority roads, but we do have what we call salt routes which we use pure salt on; those are kind of the main [county] roads around Mount Vernon,” said Chris Horton, superintendent.
The county covers all of the dirt roads and gravel roads that are in the area.
“If [the roads are] gravel, then we treat them a little different than we do with asphalt. They tend to be a lot more slick and we don’t normally put salt on a gravel road, it will just make it mush. We use No. 8 gravel and some No. 9 gravel, but it is hard. You can’t really say what you would do in every situation; it just depends on [road conditions],” he said.