(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
Sikeston area MoDOT Maintenance Supervisor Mike Hodgkiss said the Southeast District began preparing for winter as early as October. Each area communicates with other areas to keep track of weather forecasts. So when it does snow or ice, they're ready.
"When my phone rings, I start calling out to the others," Hodgkiss said. "We want to get to work as quickly as possible."
MoDOT's Southeast District uses 170 trucks covering nearly 4,000 miles of roadway in the 14-county region. During storms, crews are scheduled to work around the clock in 12-hour shifts.
"Benton is pretty much the dividing line," Hodgkiss said about snowstorm occurrences. "It usually either snows north of Benton or south of it."
During an average snowfall, crews will use approximately 200 pounds of salt per mile to help melt ice and snow. Last year 275 tons of salt were used in the Sikeston area, and a yearly average is about 500-600 tons of salt for the Sikeston area. Tom Hinson, MoDOT maintenance superintendent over East Prairie, Sikeston, Advance and Charleston, said the amount of salt for the combined areas is around 1,600 tons.
MoDOT spent approximately $26 million last year on state labor, materials and equipment for snow and ice removal, which is about average. However, the department used only 180,000 tons of salt, compared to its annual 210,000 tons statewide.
Before rough weather ever hits the region, crews are out pretreating with salt brine. Salt brine is a water solution that is initially applied to bridges and overpasses which tend to freeze first. With the salt brine solution, crews will apply 25 gallons to cover roughly one lane mile of roadway.
According to Hodgkiss, salt brine has made a world of a difference. "A lot of people may think, 'What are those crazy people doing putting water on the road.' But what they may not know is that it's mixed with salt," Hodgkiss said.
During inclement weather, MoDOT prioritizes all roads to quickly assist the largest number of travelers. Roads with the highest traffic volumes are treated and cleared first. These include interstate highways and other major routes, which are continuously plowed and treated throughout the storm.
"People don't understand we can't be everywhere at one time. Priority routes are done first and then the others," Hinson explained.
Nearly 1,278 miles make up Hinson's supervised area with a crew of 24 people, which means one person covers 53 miles.
Newly designed strobe lights and bigger plows are among the list of new items this season for the Southeast District this year. Some Southeast District trucks will use 14-foot plows that can swipe two lanes in one trip as opposed to a 12-foot plow that takes two rounds to clear.
Crews also use plows that can alternate from left to right. "There used to be only left plows and only right plows, and now we can switch directions with the same plow," Hodgkiss noted.
Motorists are urged to use caution when traveling area roadways throughout the winter. MoDOT trucks applying salt brine usually travel less than 40 mph, while snow plows usually travel around 20 miles per hour. Slower speeds can be expected due to conditions. Motorists are advised to reduce speed and stay back at least 100 feet from these vehicles.
Hodgkiss has witnessed several accidents since working for MoDOT over the past 22 years. "I've seen everything. So please all we ask is to slow down and drive according to the conditions," he advised. "Everything gets worse at night."
About 70 percent of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The best advice we have for motorists is to stay safe at home during snowstorms," said Jim Carney, state maintenance engineer, in a recent statement. "Especially be careful during the winter's first storm. If you need to drive, give snowplows plenty of room and don't pass them. Always stay alert and drive cautiously, especially during the winter season."