GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Thursday morning’s snow may have largely melted away by evening – thanks to steady rain and some temperatures climbing back into the 40s – but the message from mother nature is clear.
Winter is setting in, and more snow is on the way. In the North Country, the roads have to be ready for a slippery season.
This week, the Warren County DPW has been busy at work getting ready for flakes and ice and low temperatures. In fact, they have been for some time.
“We do get October storms, so we always try to suit up our trucks by the end of October, and we were pretty much all suited up,” said DPW Superintendent Kevin Hajos on Thursday. “Our salt barns were filled from last year.”
The county is responsible for 100 miles of road every winter. That traditionally means salting the roadways, but in recent years the DPW has invested in brine, a salt-and-water solution that soaks into the pavement while roads are dry.
The first round of brine went around earlier this week, hitting northern parts of the county around the DPW’s northern headquarters in Warrensburg. Queensbury and Glens Falls haven’t been as thoroughly treated yet.
Hajos was hoping to send a crew out to hit those areas on Friday, but said it depends on the weather; specifically, how wet things stay after Thursday’s rain.
“I would not want to put brine down and have it just washed away,” Hajos said. Once it soaks into the road, brine stops slick ice from ever forming on roads. Warren County bought equipment to make brine last year, and the process was a total success.
Thursday’s rain doesn’t pose a problem. However, some towns brine on their own – Lake George and Hague being the most prominent two. Hajos said he saw both of them get to the process early enough that he wonders how much work may have to be redone.
Meanwhile, the county has a line of 13 snow plow trucks ready to go, as well as a large number of smaller “crew cab” trucks with smaller plows. Those trucks are the ones that will be out this winter, sweeping snow off that 100 miles of roads. Lake George, Hague and other municipalities are responsible for another 150 miles of their own. The county stretch of the Northway will be covered by state plows.
Another North Country winter is all in a year’s work, whether at the local or state level. The New York State Department of Transportation reports having plowed nearly 10 million miles of road statewide last winter. The New York State Thruway Authority plowed approximately 1.5 million individual lane miles – 570 miles total across the state – and a total of over 20 feet of snow.
The DOT advises against crowding plow trucks too close. Slippery conditions affect vehicles of any size, including those pushing the snow away. In words on the state website: “None of our practices are intended to slow you down. They are intended to maximize safety!”
Another factor that ties town, county and state together is a difficult time finding enough staffing to operate all the vehicles that keep those roads clear through the winter. Hajos says his employees are eager to take the overtime, but he knows that’s easier to say at the start of the season than it will be in a month or two.
“When it comes to the end of the season, when these guys have worked a lot of overtime and they’re tired, it helps to have that extra staff,” he said. “Every single one of us is hurting for people, and it’s hard to fill positions.”
At Warren County, Hajos himself instituted a policy in recent years offering Commercial Driver’s License training to anyone who applies for a job and doesn’t have one. Employees need those licenses to drive plow trucks, as well as double or triple trailers or anything carrying tanks of hazardous materials. Hajos says he would rather facilitate anyone who wants to work with the skills they need, rather than wait for someone fully-qualified to walk through the door. Even so, right now, he’s down two or three people at the county highway department.
“You don’t have to have a construction background to come work here; a lot of kids who come in here don’t,” he said. “And then, once they realize that we can train them up, those are the guys I want to keep.”