No matter which forecast you read, the truth is the winter of 2014/2015 could leave Maryland covered in snow, pelted with sleet or encrusted in freezing rain any given day. With millions of people trying to get to and from work, school and activities, the State Highway Administration (SHA) is prepared to get roads clear and passable quickly after precipitation stops.  SHA showed off its array of snow fighting equipment at the Statewide Operations Center in Hanover and at the Fairland Maintenance Facility in Montgomery County.

To complement its fleet of plow trucks, dual wing plows, tow plows and state-of-the-art snow blowers, SHA will deploy nine new “Monster Plow Trucks” that are nearly one and a half times the size of a regular plow truck. The quad axle truck has extra salt and fuel capacity, allowing drivers to stay on routes longer before having to reload and refuel. Standard SHA trucks can carry seven cubic yards of salt and hold 80 gallons of bio-diesel fuel. The quad axle truck can carry 17 cubic yards of salt and has a 120 gallon fuel tank.

(SHA Photo: Quad Axle Truck)

“Having the extra fuel capacity to remain on the roads for double the time as a standard truck is critical when storms are producing an inch or more of snow an hour,” said SHA Administrator Melinda B. Peters.

Salt Reduction

Each year, SHA’s goal is to use less salt on the roads while keeping highways safe and passable. One method being used is pre-wetting salt before dispensing it onto the roads.  SHA wets the salt with brine or magnesium chloride prior to spreading; this helps it adhere to road surfaces and prevent waste due to “bounce and scatter.” Experience and studies show that pre-wetting can lead to a 30 percent reduction in salt usage.

“Battling a winter storm requires good equipment with a skilled workforce and contractors,” said Ms. Peters. “We’re using better technology, training our staff and contractors and using other methods to keep us ahead of and not behind a storm.”

It is a balance to find the right amount of salt needed to keep roads safe and reduce impacts on the environment and at the same time save money.  SHA’s salt domes and barns are constructed to prevent salt from becoming wet and running out of the structures. Crews operating loaders are skilled at loading salt into the back of a dump truck without extensive spill.

Additionally, SHA is modernizing roadway weather sensors to help crews receive enhanced pavement information. Many of the existing pavement sensors are embedded in the roadway and degrade over time.  SHA is employing pavement sensors with laser technology that are pole mounted rather than embedded in the pavement. SHA has 35 pole-mounted laser sensors and plans to install 100 more by the end of 2015.

Before the Storm

SHA maintenance personnel and operations staff plans for each storm as much as several days in advance. They closely monitor weather forecasts and treat major roads and interstates in advance of storms. Over the past several years, SHA increased the pre-treatment of State roads using salt brine.  Crews spray the salt brine onto roads several hours or up to a few days prior to a storm, leaving a thin film of salt on the pavement.  Pre-treating will not take place if a storm is forecast to begin as rain because the brine solution will wash off and be ineffective. There are 14 salt brine facilities and 94 salt barns throughout Maryland, filled with 380,000 tons of salt and nearly 900,000 gallons of salt brine to treat the more than 16,000 lane miles of SHA-maintained roads.

Before a storm hits is the best time for motorists to make certain their vehicles are in proper working order.  A thorough check of belts, hoses and battery life is essential.  Adequate tire tread is also critical in winter driving. Cold weather can turn a small problem into a costly and dangerous larger problem.

During the storm

“Take it slow on ice and snow. Remember not to pass snow plows or plow trains.  The unplowed roads are ahead of the plows and the treated roads are behind them,” added Ms. Peters. “We ask motorists to clear snow completely off vehicles before driving.  It provides increased visibility, and packed snow can become dangerous projectiles in the days after a storm.”

When the weather service forecasts storms with six or more inches of snow, SHA will designate certain park and ride lots where truckers can pull off and wait out the storm. These lots serve as safe havens for truckers and lessen the chance of large trucks becoming stuck or disabled during winter weather. For a complete listing of emergency truck pull off locations, click here.

For larger predicted storms, SHA is continuing to deploy heavy-duty tow trucks designed to tow large commercial trucks should they become disabled in the roadway. The large tow trucks will be deployed at strategic areas where trucks have a higher chance of becoming stuck.

Communication

SHA crews work hard to keep roads passable during snow storms so that access to critical services, such as hospitals, can be maintained.  SHA reminds everyone to “Know Before You Go – Especially in Ice and Snow.”  Maryland now has free 511 traveler information.  Call 511 or 1-855-GOMD511 or visit: www.md511.org  for current travel information. Sign up to personalize travel route information through MY511 on the website.  Remember to use 511 safely – Maryland law restricts hand-held mobile phone use and texting while driving.  Travelers can also plan ahead before heading out by logging onto the cyber highway at www.roads.maryland.gov and clicking on “CHART.”

Finally, follow SHA on social media through Twitter @MDSHA and on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/MarylandStateHighwayAdministration.  SHA will continue to use SoundCloud for real-time updates during winter weather. The social media platforms are staffed Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and during major emergencies and storms.