Effects of plowing, scraping, salting unsure

ALPENA – The harsh winter northern Michigan has so far left its mark on many things locally. One consequence of the snow, ice and the clean up of it won’t be realized until the spring, when road commissions can see how much of a toll plowing, scraping and salting had on them.

Alpena County Road Commission Managing Director Larry Orcutt said it is impossible to tell how much of an impact blading and salting have on roads until the weather warms. He said more than anything the weather wreaks more havoc than the machines and material used to combat poor road conditions.

Orcutt said when the weather gets cold, frost will push its way up and form a bump in the road and as temperatures climb the swelling on the surface recedes. The process weakens the pavement and leads to ruptures in the road.

“Moisture gets under the road and it expands and creates bumps,” Orcutt said. “Some will settle when the thaw occurs, but others will crack and let water in them and it is really the birth of a pot hole.”

Orcutt said his road crews have been busy trying to keep up with the weather this winter. He said the supply of salt is slowly dwindling, but as of Thursday there was no danger of running out soon. He said at the beginning of winter the road commission had 1,900 tons of salt for the state highways and an addition 1,900 tons for county roads. Orcutt said he is keeping a close eye on it and when it becomes clean more is needed, steps will be taken to purchase more.

He said the extreme cold temperatures Alpena has had over the last several weeks actually has helped it conserve salt because it loses its effectiveness when temperatures plummet too far.

“We have been blading instead of salting lately .because of the low temperatures,” Orcutt said. “There is still a lot of winter left though and you never know when you’re going to get hit with an ice storm. The salt is something we are paying close attention to, because of if you get a bad storm with a lot of ice, you can go through it quickly.”

Many motorists also are dealing with large snow banks at intersections that block the line of sight and make seeing oncoming vehicles a challenge. Orcutt said the plow drivers have been doing what they can to make driving near these snow banks more safe.

“We really don’t haul the snow away, but we will use the wings and the truck and push the banks as far back as we can to make room,” Orcutt said. “There are not a lot of areas in the county that are real bad right now. There are many places that are much worse. Places in the Upper Peninsula have already received more than 200 inches of snow, so we aren’t dealing with a lot of the challenges those communities are.”

The 10 day forecast predicts the temperatures are going to remain unseasonably cold, with a chance of snow. Orcutt said his crews are doing the best it can to keep the roadways passable.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com