Thursday, December 6th, 2007
Plowing into another Mercer County winter
By Janie Southard
Snow plow driver Mark Rauh, a 15-year ODOT veteran, cleans off the front lights. . .
Wednesday morning it was snow and more snow when Mercer County ODOT drivers like Mark Rauh put the blades down on the big state trucks to begin hours of clearing the roadways.
The first significant shower of the winter reminded drivers that, yes, their vehicles again will fishtail and slip off the road just like last year. Rauh's route (state Route 29 between Celina and St. Marys) requires back and forth trips all day long keeping the road clear. By Wednesday night, he would have traveled about 125 miles in all, just on that 8-mile stretch.
Here is a first-hand look at snow from inside the snow plow:
First impressions were that the International Harvester, single axle, wing plow was absolutely clean and fresh - no wet mitten odor here - and the cab was comfortably warm, if a bit confined due to various controls mounted here and there.
At the front is the actual plow, a curved blade that can be turned and tilted, lifted and lowered to the driver's satisfaction. Attached to the side of the truck is a wing blade that drops down to push and ultimately spray the snow to the right, further into or even over the ditch. Everything pertaining to snow removal is controlled by the driver through a panel of toggles, buttons and whatnots on a box to his right at nearly shoulder level.
Rauh, a 15-year Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) employee, easily runs the plow and wing through their paces and answers questions, all while keeping his eye on traffic, which is, perhaps, the plow driver's biggest concern.
"After 15 years driving, I have never seen the public more courteous of the plows. It's like they finally understand we're doing our jobs," says Rauh, as autos pass at a fairly cautious rate of speed.
However, several times semi trucks zip past the plow a little more than a handshake away. "Plenty of room," Rauh says reassuringly, as a huge purple semi races by at bullet speed leaving a buckshot of spray on the plow windshield.
It would appear the public has accepted the slower moving snow plow is performing a service and, because of its bulk and attached equipment, cannot easily swerve to miss some unforeseen object on the roadway. "But you always have to be vigilant as to where moving traffic is," he says.
Does the plow ever skid on the slick roads? Sometimes it does. And, if it's icy, Rauh says there's nothing you can do but drive very slowly.
"Some years ago during a winter storm ice was packed on almost all the roads. I was working on state Route 219 and it was a real mess. We added calcium (chloride) to the brine, but it was still a mess," he says.
A new additive to brine this year, primarily in northeastern Ohio, is beet juice. Still in the experimental phase, Summit, Lake and western Cuyahoga counties are giving beets a try.
Trials with beet juice indicated it is not sugary enough to attract animals to the roads. The sugar is extracted leaving a waste product that doesn't freeze. That waste is brown so there's little chance drivers will be negotiating pink snow.
Rauh says there will be neither a pink nor brown beet concoction on the local roads this season. Thus, Wednesday's 3 inches of snow was managed with pure salt and a brine mixture, which is dispensed from a tank at the back of the truck. The brine is spread automatically based on the speed. Salt distribution from the truck bed Wednesday was 417 pounds per mile.
"That's fairly heavy, but (ODOT) want this four-lane cleared fast," he says, adding his route does extend into Auglaize County and he makes the loop back west at the St. Marys exit where he circles over the overpass and back onto (U.S.) Route 33 to Celina. "For one thing there's nowhere to turn around right at the county line and it's not unusual for the county posts to go a little ways into each other's territory. Van Wert and Darke both come into Mercer."
It appears Rauh and the other 20-plus ODOT employees in Mercer County, who are on call 24/7 to clear hundreds of miles of roadway every snowfall, again will ply their wits against the weather as another few inches of snow hit the ground tonight.
So, if you drive to work tomorrow morning without much grief, thank the ODOT plow drivers.
Law enforcement agencies in Mercer and Auglaize county have released information to help keep residents safe this winter.
Sheriffs in both counties handle snow advisories differently. In Mercer County, Sheriff Jeff Grey issues three levels of warnings to drivers of hazardous roadways. They are:
• Level 1, a snow alert. Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow and/or roads are icy. Drive carefully.
• Level 2, snow advisory. Roadways are hazardous with blowing and drifting snow. Some roads are becoming impassable. Only motorists who feel it is necessary to drive should be out on the road. Contact your employer to see if you should report to work.
• Level 3, snow emergency. All roadways are closed to non-emergency personnel. No one should be out during these conditions unless
it is absolutely necessary to travel. All employees should contact their employer to see if they should report to work. Those traveling on the roadways may subject themselves to arrest.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon does not issue snow levels but uses the assistance of county Engineer Doug Reinhart and county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Troy Anderson to monitor road conditions and let the local media know of road conditions or any road closings.
If it is determined that all roads should be closed in the county, this will be announced after the sheriff confers with the engineer's office and the local EMA, Solomon said.
He advises residents to listen to local radio and television stations and check local newspapers for further information. He also asks citizens to use caution when traveling and have patience with county and state crews as they try to clear the roadways.
Solomon also reminds residents who use generators to make sure they are properly ventilated. Placing them outside in a garage, particularly one connected to a home, is not always safe from toxic fumes, he added.
- Shelley Grieshop