News Staff Writer
Early snows haven't been a problem thus far for the Presque Isle County Road Commission, said Manager Gerald Smigelski, but it's a long winter ahead, and with 921 miles of roads to plow and maintain, anything could yet happen.
Smigelski said the impact on his 17 drivers has pretty much been business as usual and he doesn't foresee any problems, either financially or physically from his plow drivers. He said each man is responsible for 54 miles of roadway in the county and some have been plowing the same routes for years, making it easier in some respects to keep roadways in shape.
"We have almost half the number of drivers we had on staff when I first started here so it's not a case of getting the job done, but one of taking a little longer to accomplish clearing the 921 miles we are responsible for," he said. "After the first storm on Dec. 1, we had some areas in the county that went without plowing for two three days. The staff is dedicated to getting to all our residents, but people need to have patience because there aren't as many of us as there used to be."
According to Smigelski, the quantity of snow is no suprise, since the snow total for the same period in 2007 was more than what is on the ground in the county right now. He said in 2007, there was 43 inches on the ground at this time, versus 39 inches for 2008. The difference, he said is that in 2007 there was only one snowfall totaling more than 10 inches and in 2008 there have been two 10-inch plus storms.
"It's not removing the snowfall that's a big issue, it's having two big events so close together that presents drivers with a trickier time on the road," he said. "My guys put in 14-hour days, regardless of what time they are sent out and then they have to take a break. They are working as hard as they can but there are just fewer of them to get the job done, but with snow falling nearly every day since Nov. 14, it just takes a little time."
Smigelski said he asks residents in out of the way areas that take the longest to get to, to have a little extra patience while waiting for the plow. He said if there is a need to get out of a road, residents should call and he will take action.
"Our assigned priority on clearing roads is that state and federal highways get plowed first, then primary county roads, then secondary roads and finally all others not in any of these categories," Smigelski said. "US-23 and M-68, M-33 and portions of County Road 451 are first on the list for us, and then the primary county roads finish the top priority list for my drivers. Once those roads are cleared then we go after the rest, but we do need a little patience and consideration for the plow truck drivers as they go about their work."
He said the two important things motorists can do to help the plow drivers is to drive with their lights on and second, don't crowd the plow! Smigelski said ignoring these two basic rules of common sense in northern Michigan's winter could lead to accidents.
"We have a new nine-foot-wide blade plow called a 'patrol' blade, that enables our drivers to clean from the centerline to the white line in one pass," Smigelski said. "That blade hangs off the side of the truck and if drivers are too close or just aren't paying attention, bad things could happen in an instant. The plow drivers are always on the lookout for motorists but if you are coming up behind them it is sometimes hard to see a motorist in time to avoid an accident."
Adding the new patrol blade is also a major cost savings for the road commission since it eliminates a second pass down a roadway to clear up the residue left by the standard plow under the truck. He advises motorists to be aware of the extra nine-feet of plow blade off the side of the truck and to remember that fact when approaching a working plow truck.
He doesn't see a serious impact on his annual snow budget of more than $700,000, but he said that could change quickly if the pattern continues and heavy snowfalls become commonplace.
Mike Modrzynski can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.