The Missouri Transportation Department is gearing up for winter by staging a test run Wednesday to gauge its preparedness.
During the drill, all of MoDOT’s 3,200 employees involved in winter operations will respond to a simulated forecast of snow for the entire state. Emergency operations centers will activate and maintenance employees will be deployed.
MoDOT’s Linda Wilson-Horne says this means residents will likely see snow plows driving down the road on what could be a dry day with fair weather. “Of course their blades will be up and they won’t be spreading anything” said Wilson-Horne. “But it’s important for our crews to actually drive their routes and be familiar with them. For some, it’ll be the same route they drove last year, and for others they might have a new route, or they might be a new employee.”
The state has 1,500 plows that’ll be traveling the 34,000 miles of road it’s charged to maintain Wednesday. The drill will encompass everything from interstate highways to lettered county roads. Typically, during a snowstorm the 3,200 employees will each do 12 hour shifts to allow plows to be on the road 24 hours a day.
Wilson-Horne says practice runs are essential in the preparation for snowstorms. “The main point is for them to go and drive their route, get a feel for that on a nice day as opposed to it being on the first snow day. The public expects us to clear the roads when we have a snow day. So we need to practice in advance of that.”
One piece of equipment which won’t be part of the drill is the tow plow. Wilson-Horne notes employees practice with tow plows in MoDOT yards. “It is an additional plow that is towed behind the initial truck” said Wilson-Horne. “When that plow is extended to the side of the truck, one truck can plow two lanes at a time.”
A MoDOT employee invented the tow plow, which is increasingly being used in other states as well. In Missouri, tow plows are mostly deployed in the metro Kansas City and St. Louis areas where highways are often three to five lanes wide on one side.
In addition to the one day drill, MoDOT employees complete an annual winter skills training which is used as a refresher course for plowing snow. The agency says it’s a precautionary measure to make sure employees are properly operating machinery and using safety measures in the job. MoDOT says every piece of equipment is inspected to ensure it’s operational.
The department also claims to be well stocked to treat roads during snowstorms. Wilson-Horne says 220,000 tons of salt is being stored across the state ready to be used, while most years about 137,000 tons is needed. “During a typical winter we spend about 3 million gallons of salt brine and 500,000 gallons of beet juice. All of those supplies are ready.” Wilson-Horne says the chemical nature of beets actually works well in treating roads for snow, depending on the temperature.