Highway driving varies as vehicles travel through counties

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Truck driver Richard Nary always can tell when he enters and leaves Rock County during a snowstorm.

"You do see the difference," he said of driving south into Rock County. "The moment you cross the state line into Illinois, it's 100-percent better."

Nary's been driving for 22 years, including the last 12 at Mansur Trucking in Janesville. He said he's noticed Rock County's snow removal response has improved in the last few years.

His daily trips vary, but they usually send him to Chicago.

While it depends on the storm, Nary said his experience has been that Rock County roads aren't as clean as in other counties. For instance, Walworth County is better, but still not as good as Dane County.

Other drivers who frequently cross the Rock County line in winter say they can usually tell where the line is based on the snow removal efforts.

Rock County Public Works Director Ben Coopman has heard those comments and said there are several reasons why that could happen. In the last few years, the county changed from a sand-salt mix to pure salt on county roads, which "should definitely make a difference" on those roads, he said.

"A lot of times, it's just the weather itself and the conditions葉he blowing and drifting," he said. "The other thing that often happens for us is breakdowns."

Some of the county's fleet is old and becoming "a little undependable," which sometimes keeps the wheels from hitting the road, he said.

The county also has four plow route vacancies that are in the process of being filled, Coopman said.

"This affects the level of service because other drivers have to add these route miles onto their already long routes," he said.

It comes down to resources揺ow many drivers you have and pieces of equipment, he said.

"You do the best you can with what you have available," he said.

The Gazette asked public works officials in Rock, Walworth and Dane counties how many plows they use for an average snowfall. Their responses show Walworth County puts one plow on the road for about every 35 lane miles it plows, while the coverage area increases to one plow in Rock County to 42.5 miles, and 44.7 miles in Dane County.

The amount of salt used per lane mile also varied, according to officials. Last year, Walworth County used 15.7 tons of salt per lane mile on Interstate and state highways while Rock County used about 19 tons. Dane County used nearly 28 tons.

The amount of salt used on county roads compared to state roads also has dropped in all three counties. Last year, Dane County used only six tons of salt per county lane mile, while Rock County used about 11 tons and Walworth County about 12 tons.

This winter, Rock County increased its coverage of its Interstate corridors容specially I-39/90, Coopman said.

"Traffic has been so heavy and so fast we've just chosen to be a little more proactive, and it seems to have paid off," he said.

Crews have tried to make sure there are no scattered icy spots, and the county probably has used a bit more salt, he said.

Thousands of commuters also use Highway 14, which runs from northwestern Rock County southeast into Walworth County.

Countryside Restaurant sits on Highway 14 at the Rock/Walworth County line at counties M and C, where owner Laurie Borden works and lives. She's heard people for years come in and say things like, "I came from Delavan, and it's clear all the way, but as soon as I hit the county line" it got messy, she said.

"I hear that kind of thing all the time," said Borden, who has owned the restaurant for more than 12 years.

"The Rock County trucks are out, there's just not as many of them," she said.

Other commuters who leave Rock County in state vanpools to Dane County say it can be slipperier at their point of origin.

Members of Janesville resident Carolyn Egan's vanpool jokingly refer to the Rock/Dane county line as "The Bermuda Triangle."

"It seems like right at that point, it's either better or worse," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen."

So what does Dane County do that drivers seem to notice?

"We try to be proactive," said Dan Behrend of the Dane County Public Works Department. "We get out there before the storm. You try to get out there before the storms so your trucks are out there and everybody's ready to go.

"You don't want an inch of snow to get on before you're out there."

Rock: The county plows 2,335 lane miles.

Rock County differs from Walworth and Dane counties, which don't plow any township roads.

The county has 80 plows available, but during a typical storm only 50 to 55 plows are used, Public Works Director Ben Coopman said.

The county has 67 employees available, but only puts 59 in the field while the rest work in the shop, he said.

Walworth: The county plows 1,200 total lane miles.

The county has 34 plow drivers, but also has two back-up plans for additional drivers. Plan B brings in drivers from the LTE様imited-term employee様ist, and Plan C brings in drivers from a third-party contract with Mann Brothers.

The eight drivers on the LTE list are not guaranteed hours and do not receive benefits or overtime葉hey are called in when needed.

The county has 37 plows. LTE and Mann Brothers drivers use county plows.

Dane: The county plows 2,550 lane miles.

The county has 110 plow drivers, but only puts about 57 out on a normal storm because it owns 57 plows.


Rock: Drivers are assigned to a section of the county, and then a few unassigned drivers help wherever they're needed, Coopman said.

Three drivers are assigned to the I-90 corridor, which is split into three sections of about 8 miles each. One driver handles I-43. Unassigned drivers can help with the on/off ramps, the truck scale and rest stop areas.

State highway drivers generally stay on their numbered highways, and the same goes for county highway drivers. Generally, drivers who are assigned to a township plow all the town roads and leave the county/state roads for the other drivers, Coopman said.

If a driver finishes his assigned section, he can help in other area sections.

Walworth: There's no real formula when it comes to plowing during a storm because of the variables葉raffic volumes, location of the storm and where wind is creating drifts, Public Works Director Shane Crawford said.

"There is no playbook. It would be a different book for every event," he said.

Crawford has a team of six to seven individuals who monitor conditions across the county and come up with a plan to handle a storm.

Thirty-three trucks are assigned to a beat with four "extra" trucks going to where conditions are the worst.

Dane: Highways are designated into 24-hour and 16-hour coverage, with major highways such as the Interstate getting 24-hour coverage. Sections are split up based on how much time it typically takes, but sometimes a number of trucks can be in the same area helping each other.

Last updated: 3:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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