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Weld County Public Works ready to battle winter roads

Posted on 11/06/2017
Weld County Public Works ready to battle winter roadsTeamwork.

That word. Tossed around so often that few pause to consider its value when executed properly. One look at the Weld County Department of Public Works however, and it becomes clear that proper execution of trust and teamwork is crucial to keeping Weld County roads in good condition for all travelers throughout the winter season.

“It’s vital,” Public Works Deputy Director Curtis Hall said of teamwork. “Everybody’s got their area of expertise but at the same time everyone can jump in and do whatever’s needed at whatever point in time.”

Hall has worked for Weld County Public Works since 1996. Alongside Public Works Director Jay McDonald, the two oversee the snow season and work side-by-side with the public works team to ensure safe travel on county roads.

Weld County has 19 snow routes covering almost 3,000 miles of county roads.The winter season for public works lasts from the first week of October to the last week of April. During a storm, Weld County sends 20 trucks out on 20 routes at any given time. Drivers are responsible for plowing 737 miles of paved road. While not plowed by trucks, 27 station operators and nine emergency operators grade and maintain 2,217 miles of unpaved road.

Everyone has a job to do and success starts with proper knowledge and planning. The Department Operations Center serves as a hub of information regarding the path and severity of storms. The room, supplied with TVs and computers, allows for better communication throughout surrounding areas. Information received aids public works in deciding where to send resources.

“We can monitor (Colorado’s) Emergency Operations Center,” Public Works Director Jay McDonald said. “During an event, we have the capability to (share information) so that Fort Collins or Loveland or anyone who wants to could see what we’re doing. During snow events, we put this up so we can see what’s going on around us.”

In addition, four monitors are connected to satellite TV, allowing local and national weather channels to be viewed.

During a storm, the room is headed by a “Snow Boss”. Snow Bosses are individuals responsible for running operations for snow plow trucks. They are tasked with monitoring information received in the operations center and sending resources to appropriate areas. If conditions change, drivers can contact a snow desk personnel member, who takes notes and relays the information to the Snow Boss. Five Snow Bosses rotate shifts throughout the winter.

From weather reports received, the Snow Boss then has the option of utilizing snow patrol. Two snow patrol members are located in Weld County, with one north Weld and one in south Weld. Patrol can be asked and provide the snow desk with more information regarding road conditions. Such information can help give a clearer picture of the overall severity of a storm. Snow Bosses then give reports and updates to Hall and McDonald.

“(Snow bosses) can say ‘Hey go out. Let’s start looking at stuff and see what you guys are seeing.’” Hall said. “That helps also look at a radar (for other problems) and helps us to call drivers in.”

Split into two shifts that can last from eight to 12 hours, three teams of drivers work diligently across Weld County plowing roads and spreading a mixture of the chemical Ice Slayer and sand. Hall and McDonald are pleased with the effort their drivers put out, knowing the task can be difficult.Snow patrol drivers alert the snow desk to road conditions to make sure plows are sent to the areas that most need them.

“There are times when you’re two weeks into a storm and plowing the same snow, but the wind is still blowing,” Hall said. “That’s when the days can get kind of long.”

Even with all the technology and predictive measure, McDonald said sometimes there is simply no way to predict what kind of weather Weld County will experience. A veteran of 32 years in county government, he and Hall still have a clear goal: Have the roads plowed as soon as possible.

“Ideally, we try to have the roads passable by 6 a.m.,” McDonald said. “It doesn’t always work out. It depends on timing and when the storm hits, but that’s our goal.”

When snow piles on the ground and residents see snow plows out, both Hall and McDonald ask for patience when waiting for roads to be plowed. According to Hall, arterial roads — roads that connect to high-traffic areas — are given first consideration when plowing. Also, Weld County Public Works only focuses on snow removal on county roads only; state highways and city roads are not maintained by the county.

While McDonald asks for patience, he also wants it to be made clear that public works will help in an emergency.

“We dispatch whatever machine we need to allow ambulances to get to locations,” McDonald said. “Even rural residents who run out of propane can call us and we will meet the propane truck and plow into the driveway.”

In an emergency, residents are urged to call dispatch, who will then send information to public works.

Given the size of Weld County, snow removal can seem like a daunting task. While it does have its challenges, Hall and McDonald both realize the tremendous sacrifice of drivers and everyone at public works. They both appreciate the work put in and seem excited by the next opportunity to show what their well-organized, well-trained staff can do.

“The team around here - when it comes to snow and getting roads open - I think they enjoy the challenge,” McDonald said.

County Road 49: A special challenge
County Road 49 will be given special consideration this winter. The newly renovated five-lane road is made of concrete as opposed to asphalt which will present new challenges this winter.

“You have to be careful of which chemical you put on the concrete or it could react with the cement, and the surface will start breaking,” explained McDonald.

McDonald also said the road’s width and length must be taken into consideration. To ensure county road 49 receives necessary attention, McDonald said one truck will primarily focus on keeping the newly constructed 20-mile road in good working order.
Mud flap on the back of a Weld County plow truck.

Feature article by Baker Geist, Weld County Communications Specialist