MoDOT to cut costs in the winter months

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The MoDOT maintenance shed in Concordia recently received a TowPlow, a new innovation the state is using to save money.

With hazardous road conditions on the horizon, the Missouri Department of Transportation has been busy preparing for its fight against winter weather; however, this winter is different because the department is looking to implement several cost-saving measures that will streamline how they clear roads.

MoDOT is striving to save $10 million statewide on its snow and ice-removing efforts. The transportation department estimates on average it spends $30 million annually on snow and ice removal. Last year, according to District 4 Maintenance Engineer Jim Burgess, MoDOT spent $54 million. District 4 spent approximately $6 million.

"It (the cost) has slowly been creeping up each year," Burgess said.

To meet their goal, MoDOT's 10 districts will exercise stringent cost-saving measures by reducing manhours, prioritizing snow removal and conserving resources such as salt and fuel.

Burgess said the first step to reducing manhours is to avoid large sums of employee overtime.

According to a statement released by MoDOT, crews will not work continuous, 24-hour shifts as has been normal.

Once roads are "mostly clear," evening or night crews will be sent home and morning crews will take over when their shift starts. A "mostly clear" status applies to roads with snow on the shoulders and ribbons of snow on stripes. The "mostly clear" status is part of a new classifying system MoDOT released this year, which it hopes will better describe road conditions. Categories include: closed, covered, partly covered, mostly clear and clear.

Burgess said MoDOT crews will not neglect roads in order to avoid incurring overtime hours, but supervisors will pay closer attention to how effective crews can be late at night when temperatures can get too cold for salt to melt ice. Once a road meets the "mostly clear" criteria, it should be safe enough for regular traffic, granted drivers use caution and drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions.

The new road-condition categories will help crews prioritize their efforts and give them a way to determine when a certain road is finished or suitable for traffic. Burgess said crews will first focus on heavily-used and regionally-significant roads such as Interstate 70 or Missouri Highways 23, 40, 20, 24 and 50. Once these roads are secure, the crews will focus on minor roads with special attention given to curves, hills and intersections.

While MoDOT is trying to cut costs, Burgess said, "We're not doing anything different than what we have done in the past."

The TowPlow, a plow attached to the back of a truck that extends outward and invented by MoDOT, has been another innovation MoDOT has been using for a few years to reduce the number of plow drivers clearing roads. District 4 has 24 TowPlows and the local maintenance shed in Concordia received its first this year.

"It has allowed us to go from two or three trucks to one," Burgess said. "We noticed we can clear the roads much quicker."

The reduction in trucks and amount of manhours should, MoDOT hopes, conserve salt and fuel. In recent years, the cost of salt and fuel have increased dramatically, making it a vital area for cutting costs. Burgess said with crews spending less time clearing roads they will also reduce the amount of salt and fuel used. He said supervisors will especially watch temperatures this winter because if it's extremely cold the chemical reaction between salt and ice no longer occurs and the salt is ineffective. When this happens, he said, it is pointless to keep crews spreading salt.

Also, MoDOT in recent years started using beet juice in a mixture with salt brine to increase the potency of salt at lower temperatures. Beet juice is cheaper and less corrosive than calcium chloride, which the department had previously used.

Beet juice can also be mixed with salt to make it less clumpy, which allows salt to more freely flow from spreaders.

The money MoDOT saves, Burgess said, will be used for various road improvement projects around the state.

"We're going to apply it to lettered roads and lesser-used roads," he said. "If you put a ton of salt down it will be gone in a matter of hours, whereas if you put a ton of asphalt down it will be there for years."

Currently, with high salt prices, it can be purchased for about the same price as asphalt. In some places, salt might even be a little higher.

The idea is to not put money into temporary projects, but to use it for long-term, sustainable, ventures.

"It's not so much that we're trying to save money," Burgess said, "we're just not trying to spend it on salt and snow removal."

For information about road conditions during inclement weather visit MoDOT's Web site at http://www.modot.-mo.gov/

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