by ANDREW NEAL
It snowed nine inches in metro Detroit last Monday, setting a new November record; The old record held strong for 94 years.
Troy’s DPW crew got to work before sunrise and would continue working in 12-hour shifts – clearing major roads, school routes, and local streets – until midnight Wednesday.
Scott Carruthers is the city’s streets and drains operations manager at the Department of Public Works.
“Every storm is different,” Carruthers said. “This time, we began accumulating snow right at morning rush hour so it was really difficult to get ahead of this storm. But as soon as the guys could, we got a coat of salt down to try to prevent the bond from snow to pavement, and that did help. I think the main roads are looking really good compared to other areas outside of Troy.”
During emergency snow events like the one on Monday, the city utilizes its DPW crew and recruits help from the water and parks departments, and outside contractors.
A lot of the seasonal contractors also work in construction and had equipment tied up in other jobs, as they are rushing to get work done before… winter hits.
“It was difficult for them to collect their equipment and get it back into Troy to help us out,” Carruthers said.
Overall, Carruthers said the city responded swiftly. “We put about 16 drivers out and everybody has a main road and there’s a school bus route attached to most of those roads.”
After a snowstorm, their main priorities are clearing major roads, then industrial roads, then school runs, then local roads and subdivisions.
“We only go into the subdivisions if we have greater than four inches of snow accumulated, and if there’s freezing temperatures forecast,” Carruthers said.
Based on the radar and predictions from the National Weather Service, they knew they’d be going into the neighborhoods this time.
“The DPW staff really did a fantastic job and stepped it up and we did get it done.”
After the initial rush to clear the roads, the rest of the week was spent maintaining areas that pose the most threat, also known as HICs – hills, intersections, and curves.
A lot of snow means a lot of salt
“Obviously, if money wasn’t a factor, we would salt everything,” Carruthers said, “but we have a lot of roads in Troy and we would throw all the salt we have budgeted for the year.”
Like most surrounding communities, Troy buys into a cooperative with Detroit Salt. Using figures from previous years and future forecasts, the city ordered 8,000 tons of salt for this season. They have the option of using 20% less or more, depending on the severity of the winter.
“If we have a heavy winter – and if this continues on this trend we may have one this year – maybe we would need that extra 20%,” Carruthers said.
In the last two years, the city has been able to fill up its salt dome at the previous years’ price while their contract was still valid, allowing them to save on cost when prices go up the following year.
When asked about alternatives to salt, Carruthers said those options are either too expensive or not as effective.
“Right now, for the bang for the buck, and with the equipment we have that utilizes salt, it’s the best option for Troy because it’s so effective.”
“In the past, we’ve looked into beet juice,” Carruthers said, which happened before he was in his current position. To his understanding, the city considered it but ultimately decided to stick with salt as the primary ice melter.
When will your street get plowed?
Troy has 364 miles of road to maintain, and of that, 250 miles are local roads, which usually take about 24 hours to clear after a snowstorm passes.
In the northwest corner of Troy, there are four zones of local roads that always take priority because of their hills and curves.
“The rest of Troy is fairly flat and we do rotate the rest of them every time,” Carruthers said.
The order in which they clear the local roads rotates after every storm, so if you were the first zone this time, you’ll be at the end of the list the next time.
How to stay informed during a storm
For accurate updates on when your street will be plowed, residents can go to Troymi.gov under Departments – Public Works – Streets & Drains, and click on Snow and Ice Control. There you’ll find an interactive map that provides status updates on residential snow-plowing. In addition, a Citizen Request Portal can be found on the city’s homepage, or residents can download the My Civic App on their phone.
These systems send messages to the appropriate departments in realtime to help address issues quickly. Carruthers says they get calls all the time and depending on the severity of the issue, the city can quickly inform and dispatch the right crew to take care of the situation.
Who is behind the wheel?
Troy’s snow crew consists of 18 drivers and two supervisors, and Carruthers said they consistently do great work and provide a vital community service to the residents.
“These guys are really where the rubber meets the road for what DPW provides. Without our employees, this town wouldn’t be what it is.”
But not everybody is always happy with snowplow people.
“We put a little snow at the end of people’s driveway and some people absolutely lose their minds over that.”
As a former city snowplow driver himself, Carruthers remembers having snow shovels thrown at him, ice balls hurled through his windows, even people scaling the running boards of the truck threatening him.
“It’s kind of hard to figure out because you’re out there, away from your family in the middle of the night, losing out on sleep, but you’re there to provide a public service,” Carruthers said.
He’s quick to note that it’s probably less than 1% of people who act out angrily at snowplow drivers.
“There are far more people that are happy, and every now and then we get those kudos emails and I like to put those up so the guys can see them.”
In a normal snow event, like the one that happened Thursday morning with about an inch of snow coverage, crews will throw salt down on the major roads, bridges, and focus on the HICs, and that’s about it. This can be done with anywhere from five to 10 drivers. In a major event, like Monday, crews work in 12-16 hour shifts.
So, please be kind to the city’s snow crew.
After all, there are approximately 144 days until the last snowfall of the season.