The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 9, 2013

Ashtabula County highway crew helps ODOT receive national recognition

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP —

Ashtabula County’s ability to keep state highways and Interstate 90 as passable as possible during winter storms helped Ohio win a national award, officials said Wednesday.

The Ohio Department of Transportation recently received the Excellence in Snow and Ice Control from the American Public Works Association. The accolade probably wouldn’t have happened without innovations pioneered in Ashtabula County, Justin Chesnic, ODOT District 4 spokesman, said Wednesday.

“(The county) is the snow capital of Ohio,” he said. “A big part of why we won the award is because of what they do up here.”

A handful of ODOT officials came to the county outpost on Seven Hills Road in Plymouth Township to discuss the award and its impact.

Technology, practices and equipment used by state highway crews in the county was noted by the state in its award application to the APWA. One such item is the massive tow plow in use locally for the past three winters. The big machine is pulled behind a traditional plow truck, and allows one operator to clean two lanes at once.

Only one tow plow is in ODOT’s fleet, and it’s used exclusively in Ashtabula County. The machine now logs around 5,000 miles a season.

Two more are planned for other parts of District 4, which also includes Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage, Stark and Summit counties, officials said. “Ashtabula took the lead and proved (the plow) works,” said Frank Howell, transportation manager.

The state also noted the use of cornrow fences in parts of the county was another big factor, Chesnic said. ODOT has made arrangements with some farmers to let stand several rows of corn that adjoin highways. The corn stalks serve as a natural snow fence that help keep snow from blowing onto roads. Corn rows “barriers” are in use in several areas, including sections of routes 534, 6 and 7.

Last winter the state spent around $11 million to keep District 4 highways clear. While big storms were infrequent, the season proved challenging many days featured an inch or two of snow that needed to be cleared before it hardened into ice, said Alan Moore, county manager.

“We’d have to treat (roads) all day long,” he said.

Other programs ODOT cited in its job application include road/weather information system, traffic-related websites, salt and brine retention protocol and special driver training programs. Such innovations did not go unnoticed by the APWA, Chesnic said.

“We’re trying to think outside the box,” he said.

The award is a huge compliment to the state’s road workers, said David Ray, District 4 highway management administrator.

“We were very happy,” he said. “It’s good for the employees. We’re always looking for innovations. That’s one reason Ohio (won).”

While other parts of the state contributed to Ohio’s national honor, District 4 and the snow it routinely shoves aside each winter is the real winner, Howell said.

“District 4 had a lot to do with the award,” he said. “There’s more (snow and ice control) emphasis on District 4.”