Snowplowing: ‘It keeps life going’

It takes an army of drivers and equipment to clear roads during a storm

Snow. Some dance for it while others think only about how to push it off of area roads and streets.

“Everyone in town expect streets to be cleared in a timely manner after a snowfall. It keeps life going,” Mike Somsen, supervisor of the city’s Streets Department, said. “We do everything we can to meet these expectations.”

For city crews, this process starts before the flakes start falling.

“The snowplows have been set up and ready since the middle of October,” said Levi Lloyd, street superintendent for the city.

This year, the city is using a new pretreatment regimen that uses a mixture of magnesium chloride, corrosion inhibitors and sand for traction to improve the effectiveness of plowing efforts.

No matter the city’s approach, it’s not possible to clear all 74 miles of roads and streets under its jurisdiction at once. So crews’ strategy is to focus first on the central downtown area up to 15th street and south to the train station.

“We typically remove that snow first because the downtown district is the blood of Durango,” Lloyd said. “We want to keep that in good shape for locals and people visiting during the winter.”

Also a priority are the main thoroughfares: 32nd street, Goeglein Gulch Road and North College Drive.

“We typically try to maintain open driving lanes, and then as time allows, go back in and start pushing snow back into parking lanes,” Lloyd said.

At the same time, the county will have its plows dispatched across county roads, and the Colorado Department of Transportation will be working the highways and passes.

Snowplowing can be a stressful job, requiring back-to-back days of 12-hour shifts when the snow is flying.

Drivers also are required to go through extensive training before the snow seasons.

Most of the city’s crew have gone to school for snowplowing and equipment operation. Drivers are also required to have a class B commercial driver’s license to operate snowplows, Lloyd said.

“Every year, we have a ‘snow rodeo’ where we set up an obstacle course that is used to simulate conditions that they would see in the real world: narrow alleys, cars parked, trying to swoop in between cars to push snow back into parking areas,” Lloyd said.

During training, the snowplow drivers are graded on their performance and their time, Lloyd added.

“It is a timed event, but obviously you get time penalties if you were to hit cones or other obstacles,” Lloyd said.

The course takes into consideration what is expected of snow removal, how crews are going to combat snow and the different level of services residents expect while preparing for snow season.

“We have a snow meeting every year where we outline our policies and procedures to our plow drivers,” Lloyd said.

After training, drivers go into their areas and look for any new obstacles or things that have changed such as street alignments or added streets, Lloyd said.

Once snow coats the city’s streets, snowplow crews work until the streets are clear.

“We’re always in constant communication with each other on radios as we break up into pairs to plow different areas in the town,” Somsen said.

In the city, plowers are working mostly residential areas, and the techniques differ from those used by plowers along county roads or highways.

“We’re very careful in town, driving slow as to not damage private property,” Somsen said.

Plowers face the same dangerous conditions encountered by all drivers during hazardous weather.

“The roads can get very slick at times, and you just have to be prepared and careful,” Somsen said. “Our drivers in the field keep trucks chained up when it gets really icy like that.”

While plowing crews do all they can to be prepared, some measures only residents can take. These include moving cars out of on-street parking.

“Moving cars off the street while it is storming is the biggest thing that community members can do to help the city crews get in and plow streets from curb to curb,” Lloyd said.

Not playing, sledding or skiing in the streets helps, too.

“I see a lot of people out here that like to play in the snow, and that creates a potential for accidents to happen,” said Thomas Utah, an independent snowplow driver and owner of Utah Industries Corp. “It’s a tragedy when people get out here and don’t know what they’re doing.”

Residential snow removal is another way that members of the community can help.

Property owners should shovel snow from their sidewalks and driveways into their yards instead of back into the street, Lloyd said,

“The citizens love snow,” Lloyd said. “They understand the demands that are put on the drivers and are appreciative of snowplow efforts.”

pblank@durangoherald.com

Ivan Marrs, with the Colorado Department of Transportation, pushes snow off of U.S. Highway 550 north of Molas Pass on Friday. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Ivan Marrs, with the Colorado Department of Transportation, pushes snow off of U.S. Highway 550 north of Molas Pass on Friday.

Being able to multitask is something Ivan Marrs, with the Colorado Department of Transportation, has to be able to do as he drives a snowplow on winding mountain roads using a type of joystick in the plow that operates the front blade, the wing blade and the sander while at the same time watching for traffic on U.S. Highway 550. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Being able to multitask is something Ivan Marrs, with the Colorado Department of Transportation, has to be able to do as he drives a snowplow on winding mountain roads using a type of joystick in the plow that operates the front blade, the wing blade and the sander while at the same time watching for traffic on U.S. Highway 550.

A memorial on U.S. Highway 550 on the north side of Red Mountain Pass, honors snowplow drivers who have given their lives while working on Red Mountain Pass. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

A memorial on U.S. Highway 550 on the north side of Red Mountain Pass, honors snowplow drivers who have given their lives while working on Red Mountain Pass.

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