A look inside the snow removal process

Alex Doty • Dec 30, 2017 at 11:00 AM

We’ve had plenty of snow in Northwest Ottawa County over the past few weeks. In fact, the National Weather Service says our area has received more than a foot of snow during the past three days.

To keep our roads clear and our daily commute as easy as possible, the Ottawa County Road Commission is on call.

In the winter, the Road Commission has the ability to have 24-hour coverage on the roads, if necessary, commission spokesman Zach Russell said.

“Year-round we have a Safety Patrol supervisor on duty at night, even on the weekends,” Russell said. “This supervisor monitors road conditions across the county. During the winter, we also have a few employees on a night shift that runs from around 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. In a large winter event, the Safety Patrol supervisor can call in more people as necessary to plow the roads. The daytime supervisors can also call in the night shift earlier in the case of a large winter event, as well.”

When there are big snowstorms or winter-weather events, Russell noted that drivers are often called in early or stay late and work overlapping shifts to keep the roads cleared.

Once the drivers get to work, there is a priority that is followed in clearing the roads.

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“During all snow-removal operations, our first priority is state trunklines and primary roads, higher traffic volume roads,” Russell explained. “After those have been cleared, then crews move into local roads, gravel roads and subdivisions. At night and on the weekends, due to limited workforce, our trucks are usually only on state and primary roads, unless there is significant severe weather for them to move into local roads or subdivisions.”

The Road Commission’s supervisors are spread out in four districts — Grand Haven, Coopersville, North Holland and Hudsonville — and keep up to date on the weather conditions and make decisions on when to deploy plow trucks or treat different roads.

“They have to make decisions about what treatments to apply — salt, sand or a mix — or possibly no treatment at all to the roads based on the policies and practices established, as well as road conditions,” Russell said. “Often, these decisions involve communication and coordination between our district garages, neighboring road commissions and (the Michigan Department of Transportation). Communication and staying up to date on weather and road conditions across the county are important parts of our supervisors’ jobs as they make decisions.”

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