Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
Last weekend, the North Carolina Department of Transportation had trucks on the roads preparing for yet another round of winter weather to hit the mountains.
Maintenance crews across the state begin preparing for winter storms as early as fall by cleaning, repairing and testing equipment, reviewing snow removal routes and stocking up on necessary supplies, such as salt and sand.
When a storm is forecast for North Carolina, NCDOT relies on the National Weather Service to monitor conditions to stay ahead of the weather. When weather reports forecast adverse conditions, the NCDOT immediately gets to work on how to best address the mountain roads. Each county is responsible for the roads within their borders and are responsible for clearing them for motorists.
NCDOT, which maintains the second largest state network in the country, is responsible for interstates, state and U.S. routes as well as secondary roads not maintained by area municipalities. NCDOT has more than 1,900 trucks that can be equipped with plows and spreaders to remove snow and ice. If needed, NCDOT moves trucks and equipment from areas less affected by a storm to areas more affected.
“The NCDOT system in Macon County is broken up into three types of roads,” said Mark Hill, County Maintenance Engineer for Clay and Macon County with the NCDOT. “There are primary paved, secondary paved, and secondary unpaved roads.”
Macon County has 99 miles of primary paved roads, including NC 28, US 441, NC 106, US 441 Bus., US 64, US 23, and a portion of US 19 near Topton. For comparison, in Jackson County, there are 110 miles of primary roads.
“These routes are what are called ‘bare pavement’ routes, meaning that these routes in a snow event will be scraped until cleared and crews will not be dispatched to take care of secondary routes until the primaries are taken care of,” said Hill. “In snow events, bare pavement routes are our priorities.”
Macon County Maintenance has access to about a dozen trucks that have the capability to scrape and salt the roads, and it takes all of them to maintain the primary routes in a winter weather event.
Once the primary routes are completely cleared, then the crews will begin work on the secondary paved routes.
“We try to alternate where the beginning of the removal on secondary roads begins so that no one area is always cleared before another,” said Hill.
There are 467 miles of secondary routes in Macon County. In Jackson County, crews are responsible for 112 miles of secondary roads.
After the secondary paved routes are scraped, then the crews will move on to the secondary unpaved routes, which total 327 miles. While the state is responsible for the highways and majority of secondary roads, the town of Franklin is responsible for roads within the city limits.
According to Franklin Manager Summer Woodard, the town of Franklin maintains approximately 30 miles of roads and currently uses two trucks to push snow and one to spread salt in the event of winter weather.
If conditions are good up to 48 hours prior to a storm, crews will pre-treat roadways with a salt-water mixture called brine to help keep ice from bonding to the pavement.
“If we have enough time and headway, we will try to pretreat the routes with brine at least 24 hours ahead of time, weather permitting. You do not want to pretreat if rain is preceding the snow event as it will just wash away the pre-treatment,” said Hill.
During and after a storm, crews in affected areas work around the clock to monitor changing weather conditions and treat roads.
NCDOT budgeted $44.6 million for storm preparation and snow and ice removal across the state. Should NCDOT exceed that amount, additional funds are taken from emergency reserves.
Even if the budgeted amount is exceeded, NCDOT does not scale back its response, nor does it have fewer crews out clearing the roads. Crews continue to clear roads as quickly and efficiently as possible, whether it’s the first storm of the winter weather season or the last. NCDOT can store up to 170,000 tons of salt and sand and 1.52 million gallons of brine at its storage facilities in each of its 14 transportation divisions.
In early December, during one of the worst snow falls to date this season, more than 400 employees across the seven far western counties placed 119,000 gallons of brine on state-maintained roads on the roads.