vehicles moving on sixth avenue

Traffic starts to back up on Sixth Street in DeWitt as a snowstorm ramps up a week ago. The pre-storm rains made for a nightmarish road-clearing challenge for DeWitt municipal road crews. 

Last weekend’s storm might not rank high in the “storm of the century” category, but it might rank right up there as one of the top road-clearing conundrums for DeWitt’s snowplow brigade. 

Most local and county governments have determined that the most effective way to combat Mother Nature is to pre-treat the roads before the storm hits. DeWitt Director of Public Works Matt Proctor subscribes to that philosophy, too. His crews often pre-treat the streets with salt brine ahead of certain types of storms.

“The brine is not a snow-melter like regular rock salt,” Proctor said. “It is a bond-breaker that allows us to clean more effectively.”

However, when it rains before a storm, it will wash salt brine off the roadways, he said. That made last weekend’s storm a challenging one for DeWitt’s plow drivers.

Road-clearing has become a bit of a science. The forecasted temperatures, ground temperatures, and the characteristics of the oncoming precipitation — for example, the amounts and duration — all need to be factored in, Proctor said. 

“The storm had rain in it and low ground temps, so when we cleaned the snow down to the pavement, the rain basically turned to ice,” he said. 

The storm threw a few more curve balls at road crews. It rained more than what was shown on the radar, Proctor said.

“The rain compressed the earlier fluffy accumulations into wet and heavy slush that, in turn, froze because the temperatures dropped quickly,” he said.

Proctor also addressed the ice storm that seemingly came out of nowhere a week ago Wednesday.

“There was no defense to the ice we had last Wednesday,” he said. “The police called and said that, basically, in 15 minutes, all the drizzle-mist turned into ice. We were out on the road within a half hour of notification.”

There were some wrinkles thrown into efforts to combat the ice storm, too.

“Several portions of the routes had to be run in reverse to allow the trucks to back on top of the material they spread,” Proctor said. “Using mirrors to back large trucks while spreading and dodging vehicles in the street is not a fast process.”

In the case of last weekend’s snowstorm, the initial clearing of the streets is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in terms of what road crews are trying to accomplish. 

“We also spent a night hauling all the snow out of the downtown,” Proctor said. “Pretreat, plow, clean up, and load out are our steps. If we are lucky, we have time to wash the salt off the trucks before the next event.”

He said that the city is taking a more aggressive philosophy to vehicles that the city is forced to plow around. He refers to them as “beached” vehicles. A city ordinance prohibits a vehicle from being parked on a residential street during a snow event until that street has been plowed.

Vehicles are not to be parked on the street during a snow event until we plow the streets per ordinance 69.10. Parking downtown is permitted until signs are placed in the middle of the intersection. 

“The beached-car problem prevents us from trying to get all the snow off the road and open the gutter so snowmelt can make it to our storm sewer system,” Proctor said. “Some people don’t ever move their vehicle for us to clean. Others park right back in the same spot without letting us plow it.” 

He said it is frustrating to see the same vehicles “beached” for each snow event.

“Public works staff has tagged vehicles that are beached with orange stickers,” Proctor said. “Police also have started to ticket. The next step is towing. It is much easier to tow if the car we have a history of ‘beaching.’”

In general terms, parking is permitted in the downtown area during a snow event, but overnight parking is a no-no, he said. Detailed downtown plowing usually is reserved for the wee hours of the morning.

“Parking downtown is permitted until we place the signs up in the middle of the intersection,” Proctor said. “When signs are up, we plan to clean the downtown, so there is no parking after midnight.”