Roadway winter maintenance prep begins in Ada County

In August, long before the first snow flies and people are still looking for ways to wrap up summer, the ACHD Maintenance Division is busy readying themselves for the coming winter months. There is an enormous amount of planning that goes into the winter maintenance efforts of the 5,121 lane miles of roadway that fall under ACHD’s jurisdiction.

Crews begin reviewing and updating their winter maintenance route maps before there’s even a hint of fall in the air. A lot can change over the course of a year with the addition of new roads, subdivisions and schools, and other important features. This process lasts until early October, when winter maintenance routes are finalized.

In mid-October, crews take to the roads and familiarize themselves with their routes. Equipment is inspected and prepared, crews are reminded of safety protocols, and winter weather predictions are given by the National Weather Service and NOAA. The winter maintenance season at ACHD starts on November 1st.

What that means for our winter maintenance crews is that on-call shifts begin. Staff members take turns being on-call and are ready to come in overnight should weather conditions warrant road treatment while the rest of the county sleeps. On-call rotations continue until the end of “winter” at ACHD, which is April 1st.

This year, our winter maintenance team will be tackling snow and slick conditions with:

  • 60 total pieces of equipment, including 46 plows
  • 144 team members
  • On-call contractors
  • 280,000 gallons of magnesium chloride
  • 12,000 tons of rock salt and our sand/salt mix

Many factors go into how a road will be treated, including current weather conditions and upcoming weather predictions; the current temperature and predicted temperature over the next several hours (both air and pavement temperatures); wind; fog; and whether any anti-icing material remains on the roadway from the last treatment. For example, magnesium chloride, our anti-icing agent, is most effective when pavement temperatures are between 15 and 28 degrees.

Roadway treatment is also broken down into three priority categories:

  • Priority #1:  Arterials, collectors, major intersections, overpasses, bridges, hospitals, fire stations, railroad crossings, school crossings, and streets with a grade of six percent or higher.
  • Priority #2:  School bus routes as identified by public school districts and support for vulnerable populations.
  • Priority #3:  Residential streets, including cul-de-sacs.

Priorities #2 and #3 are implemented at the discretion of the Deputy Director of Maintenance.

By policy, ACHD crews clear streets in order of priority. If a new storm begins, crews must return to the original priority order and begin working down the list again. Clearing snow from the sidewalks is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner/resident and does not fall under the purview of ACHD.

Typically, ACHD spends just under $2 million a year on winter maintenance costs. During the winter of 2016/2017, record snow fall and below-average temperatures kept crews in 24-hour operations for almost eight weeks. Winter maintenance costs that year rang in at a little over $6 million. ACHD is prepared for the 2019/2020 winter. We are staffed, routes have been confirmed, equipment is ready, and materials are on hand. The one factor that we can never control is Mother Nature, but rest assured that whatever weather is thrown our way this winter, ACHD crews will be working their hardest to maintain safe travel routes for our customers.