Snow removal fast facts

Alex Doty • Dec 7, 2017 at 8:00 AM

It won’t be long before Old Man Winter makes his mark on the community, making our commutes messy and leaving plenty of snow to dig out of.

While we often take for granted having passable roads once a snowstorm passes, there is a lot that goes into winter road maintenance by our local road crews.

Why is salt used to de-ice roads?

According to the Ottawa County Road Commission, when water freezes into ice, the molecules bind together to form a solid structure. Any particle that can be dissolved into water will help slow down the process of forming ice — something that salt is effective at doing.

When salt dissolves in water, it lowers the freezing temperature of the water, making it more difficult for ice to form. Thus, salt prevents ice from forming at the freezing mark of 32 degrees.

Why isn’t salt used when it is really cold?

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, when the temperature falls to between 10 and 20, salt takes longer to work. Wet pavement refreezes at a much faster rate.

The melting of ice and snow with the dilution of the salt between zero and 10 degrees accelerates refreezing even more. Continuing to apply salt at these low temperatures will actually cause more problems than it solves.

What is used besides salt to keep roads passable?

The Ottawa County Road Commission often uses sand and other abrasives to help cars maintain their grip. Liquid solutions such as calcium chloride can also be used in addition to, or in place of, salt to de-ice roads.

What is the priority for plowing roads?

The Ottawa County Road Commission has a snow-plowing policy in place to clear the roads as quickly and effectively as possible. This means the highest volume roads are cleared first, and in a large storm event it may take some time to get to less-traveled roads.

The order is:

• Priority 1 – state trunk lines (U.S. 31, I-96, etc.)

• Priority 2 – multi-lane primary roads

• Priority 3 – primary roads

• Priority 4 – local paved roads

• Priority 5 – subdivision streets

• Priority 6 – local gravel roads

• Priority 7 – dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs

What are the state’s speed-limit laws when it snows?

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the state’s basic speed law requires drivers to use a "careful and prudent" speed in all driving conditions, and they are to be able to stop within the clear distance ahead. This means that, if it snows, you may have to drive slower than the posted speeds.

Why do plows push snow into my driveway?

According to the Road Commission, the plow blade will push snow to the right, which means that if you pile snow at the end and to the left side of your driveway, the snow could get pushed back into the driveway.

The Road Commission recommends piling snow on the right-hand side of your driveway, facing the road, to help keep snow from being pushed back.

Why do bridges freeze faster than other roads?

The Road Commission notes that the warmth of the ground can help keep ice from forming on roads, but bridges don’t have contact with the ground. This, coupled with wind factors, can lead to bridges icing before other roadways.

Drivers are encouraged to be careful when temperatures drop.

What do I do if my mailbox is ruined?

The Ottawa County Road Commission has a mailbox replacement policy. To take advantage of this policy, residents need to contact the commission’s office to set up an appointment, and bring either a picture of the damaged mailbox or the actual damaged mailbox to get a replacement and post.

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