With winter snow creeping in, Dakota and Scott counties are getting their snowplows and operators ready to hit the roads and make them safer for drivers.
Weather Service officials are already warning Minnesotans to brace for cooler than normal temperatures this winter season. They are forecasting an average snowfall of 32 inches in the metro area.
“We’re geared up for that,” Scott County engineer Tony Winiecki said. “It won’t be anything that we can’t handle.”
Scott and Dakota counties have prepped their trucks and plows and filled them up with salt. Maintenance workers meet daily to discuss cleaning routes, weather forecast and snow operations. In early fall, crews were dispatched to inspect the roads for any damage that could hinder plowing.
Scott County budgeted $800,000 for snow removal in 2017 and still has some money left over to carry into next year. They have budgeted the same amount for 2018.
Winiecki said his county has equipped its trucks with a new technology that will help its fleet ration the amount of salt spread on the roads. The county has 20 trucks, two tow plows (snowplows with a rear plow that can clear a wider area) and 20 operators.
They are in charge of 766 lane miles (miles of road multiplied by the number of lanes) in the county. But sometimes, he said, plow drivers also clear snow from some routes in neighboring Dakota County.
When a snowstorm hits, Winiecki said, the priority for the county is to clear travel lanes. Once those routes are done, crews clear the turn lanes. The county got 22 snow calls last year. They expect more this year.
Dakota County transportation and highway manager Mike Greten said his team goes through a similar process to prepare for snow removal, except they don’t follow the weather forecast. A few days back, he said, weather officials forecast 6-12 inches of snowfall in Dakota, but they only saw 1-2 inches.
“We don’t put too much confidence in it,” Greten said. “We’re ready to go whether we get an inch or a foot. That’s all we go by.”
Typically the county has about 40 snow removal runs per year. So far, Greten said, his crews have been out five times to clear less than an inch of snow. It has already used up its $449,000 salt budget for 2017 and has designated $560,000 in 2018.
Dakota County has 26 plow trucks and three graders to use for snow removal. Crews are responsible for 1,100 lane miles of paved roads and 50 miles of gravel roads. Greten said trucks are dispatched at the same time and it takes up to five hours to make a round on the roads.
“All our roads are a priority. We try to take care of everybody,” he said.
This year, Dakota County upgraded some of its snow and ice removal procedures and equipment. It has gotten six new tandem plows to replace old ones and is using calcium or chloride-based products, some made with beet juice, to improve its salt-melting capacity.
In the meantime, Scott and Dakota counties are reminding drivers to be patient and plan to drive slower.
“They cannot expect to drive 55 miles an hour, year-round,” Greten said. “They need to slow down and stay away from our plows and know that it’s gonna take longer to get somewhere.”