Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Vermont's snow, ice road policy explained

From Burlington Free Press (By Nancy Remsen):

Agency of Transportation And Storms

• POLICY: The Vermont Agency of Transportation has a “safe-roads-at-safe speeds” standard for storms — not a bare-roads policy. 
• STAFF AND FLEET: The maintenance section has 500 staff, 450 of whom perform winter maintenance work. The fleet includes 275 plow trucks, 56 loaders, 10 graders and 100 heavy-duty pickups and baby dump trucks with plows. 
• SALT USE: Usage decreased in 2009 and 2010 because of fewer storms. AOT counted 43 storms in February and March of 2008 compared with 25 for those two months in 2009 and 27 in 2010. 
• WINTER CRASHES: The number has dropped in recent years from 7,914 in 2007 to 6,606 in 2009 and 5,401 in 2010, with December data incomplete.

A vehicle crashed into the guardrail on a snowy Interstate 89 in Richmond on Jan. 5. Vermont maintains a safe-roads-at-safe-speeds standard in winter.

Rogers began by reminding lawmakers that the Legislature set the state’s policy for storm cleanup in 1981 when it endorsed a safe-roads-at-safe-speeds standard, not a bare-roads policy. 

“During a storm, drivers can expect to see snow on the roads,” Rogers said. The challenge, Rogers said, is to get drivers to slow down. New message boards on interstate highways are one way the state warns drivers about winter conditions that merit more cautious driving. 

“It’s given me pause,” Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, said of the times when she has seen the flashing messages. 

The state’s priority for after-storm cleanup are interstate and primary highways, Rogers said, showing lawmakers a map of the roads color-coded based on their priority. Until crews have laid bare the full width of busier highways, drivers should expect to find only a middle swath of snow-free pavement on less-traveled roads. 

With ice in Tuesday’s forecast, Rogers also talked about how salt works and the state’s use of brine. 

“The effectiveness of our salt goes down dramatically as the temperature goes down,” Rogers said. At 30 degrees, for example, a pound of salt would melt 46.3 pounds of ice, while at 10 degrees that same pound would melt just 4.9 pounds of ice. 

In the past two years, the state has begun experimenting with brine in northwestern Vermont. “Brine is a tool, a tool the state is late getting into,” Rogers said, but added, “The folks who use it, love it.” 

Dry rock salt bounces when it hits the road surface, and a significant amount can end up outside travel lanes. 

The agency is still evaluating the benefits of brine versus its cost, Rogers said, but acknowledged, “I’m a big believer in it.” He said he expected to bring brine to central Vermont next year. 

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