The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 5, 2012

ODOT’s snow/ice crews are hoping for the best, ready for winter’s worst

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

PLYMOUTH — The 2011-2012 winter was one of the mildest in recent memory — and state highway crews were eternally grateful.

Is another balmy winter ahead? The Ohio Department of Transportation’s District 4 hopes so, but are also prepared if Mother Nature displays a cruel streak.

On Thursday, workers assigned to ODOT’s District 4 terminal in Ashtabula County on Seven Hills Road went through its annual preparations for the winter maintenance season. The fleet was inspected and plow drivers were schooled on new techniques.

“We’re ready,” said Justin Chesnic, District 4 spokesman.

The county has 34 snow- and ice-fighting vehicles at its disposal, ranging from plows to tankers that dispense ice-melting liquids, Chesnic said. All could eventually come into play — if a typical winter arrives.

As usual, Ashtabula County was the leader in District 4 winter categories. Last season, we saw an average of six feet of snow, twice as much as the other five counties (Mahoning, Portage, Stark, Summit and Trumbull) that comprise the district. The county was also the runaway district leader in tons of salt used (14,229) and gallons of salt brine (479,373).

State-wide, District 4 also blew away its 11 other brethren, statistics-wise. “Traditionally, Ashtabula County always gets the most snow in Ohio,” Chesnic said.

More snow  and ice, along with more lane miles to maintain (District 4 ranks second in the state) means more material needed to keep highways clean. Mild temperatures last year helped ODOT save money, but this season relief comes in the form of reduced cost for road salt, thanks to changes in bid procedure.

Starting this winter, ODOT gave salt companies the option to bid on entire districts instead of individual counties, according to a statement. Last year, the state average $54 a ton for salt. This season, because of the new bid procedure, the average price drops to $41 a ton, resulting in a $10.1 million savings state-wide.

The savings come on top of stockpiles of salt purchased for last winter but never used. Ashtabula County’s salt bins are filled with 50,000 tons of road salt, but a good percentage of the supply is a hold-over from the previous winter.

“Last year (the county) only used 20,000 tons,” Chesnic said.

District 4 counties will pay $37.13 per ton, among the lowest in the state. Only Lake ($37.04), Geauga ($36.45) and Cuyahoga ($34.02) counties had lower salt prices. The highest salt prices are found in southern Ohio, where heavy snow and ice are rare.

Also new for 2012-2013 are new lights for highway vehicles aimed at increasing their visibility. A portion of the state fleet, including some vehicles in Ashtabula County, will be fitted with new green strobe lights in addition to the usual amber and white lights, Chesnic said. The change is meant to reduce the number of plows rear-ended  by motorists, he said. Ohio has four times the rear-end collisions than neighboring states, District 4 Deputy Director Anthony Urankar said in a statement.

The new color combination is “more easily detected by the human eye than other colors,” according to the statement.

Ashtabula County also hopes to maintain its reputation as one of the most dependable and reliable highway departments in Ohio.

“They are among the best in the business,” Chesnic said. “Ashtabula County gets the most snow of anyone, but the least number of complaints (about road conditions).”