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Paynesville Press - December 3, 2003

MnDOT announces snowplowing changes

Snowplow operators for the Minnesota Department of Transportation are gearing up to tackle this season's winter weather.

To meet the challenge of being efficient with a limited amount of resources, MnDOT will continue to assign the same number of snowplows to highways with higher traffic volumes, such as interstate and major four-lane freeways, as in previous years.

However, due to staffing changes aimed at reducing overtime costs, the traveling public may see fewer snowplows than they were accustomed. Therefore, motorists must share in the responsibility for safe driving conduct during a snow and ice event.

"When it snows, clearing the roads to allow safe travel is our first priority," said Bob Busch, MnDOT District 3 Engineer. "In the past, we continued plowing operations until highways reached bare pavement. However, depending on the time of day and intensity of the storm, plowing operations may be suspended and resume several hours later in an effort to limit our overtime costs," explained Busch.

Plowing operations will begin as soon as practical on all state highways, but the intensity of the plowing and the time needed to achieve bare lanes will vary by highway traffic category.

Senator Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar), who chairs the Senate Transportation Policy and Budget Division, criticized the new policy, saying it hurt greater Minnesota. "Minnesota has a long-standing tradition - it snows," said Johnson. "And when it snows, we plow our roads quickly, consistently, and efficiently. It is unfortunate we are about to break from that tradition and compromise public safety."

Snow plowing goals for state highways (which are measured after the end of a snowfall or when blowing snow ceases) remain the same, according to MnDOT:

*Highways with highest traffic volumes (e.g., interstate freeways, four-lane highways) achieve bare lanes within three hours. (MnDOT defines bare lanes as having all driving lanes free of snow and ice between the outer edges of the wheel paths and having less than one inch of accumulation on the center of the roadway.)

*Major highways with high traffic volumes achieve bare lanes within five hours.

*Two-lane rural highways achieve bare lanes within nine hours.

*Highways with lower traffic volumes (800 to 2,000 vehicles per day) achieve bare lanes within 12 hours. *Highways with fewer than 800 vehicles per day achieve bare lanes within 36 hours.

In a news release following MnDOT's announcement, Johnson criticized the cutting of $37 million in funds to MnDOT for maintenance and snowplowing. "We need the department to plow our highways and roads in a timely manner," said Johnson, who represents Kandiyohi County and the western half of Stearns County in the Senate.

People in greater Minnesota will lose under the new snowplowing procedures, said Johnson. "We're told that even though we pay our taxes, too, we aren't as high a priority when it comes to snow removal. Unfortunately, my constituents still need to get to work and get their kids to school. It isn't too much to ask to be able to do so in a safe manner."

MnDOT snowplow operators will continue to use techniques such as anti-icing to gain a foothold when battling winter storms and pre-wetting to boost the melting power of salt mixed with sand. The anti-icing process uses liquid de-icers mixed with magnesium chloride to raise the temperature of ice and snow to prevent them from freezing on road surfaces. Pre-wetting the sand and salt mixture with brine (a liquid salt-water solution) improves its melting capability and its ability to adhere to the road surface.

An additional benefit of these techniques, according to MnDOT, is that they reduce the amount of salt entering the roadside environment. Although the range of snow-fighting tactics and priorities has changed, the safety of the traveling public remains the department's top priority, according to Busch, who added that motorists must share the responsibility of safe driving during Minnesota's often severe and hard-to-predict winter weather.

"We strive to improve our processes and respond to the public's needs, but we also need drivers to use extra care in winter, stay alert for snowplows and other service vehicles, and exercise good judgment in their driving decisions," he said.

Motorists should remember to dial 5-1-1 or log onto for weather and road information.

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