Icy roads: What does it take to ensure safety after a storm?

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UTAH (ABC4) – For those of us who don’t work from home, this morning’s commute was likely somewhat treacherous. Snowfall picked up around 7:30 am, causing low visibility and slick conditions on highways and surface streets alike. Utah Highway Patrol reported a major increase in crashes related to this morning’s storm, where some areas of Utah saw up to 20” of snowfall. These accidents caused traffic delays on I-15 and SR-215 this morning.

It’s safe to say that both the Utah Department of Transportation and private snow removal companies were working around the clock this morning to ensure safety for car travel.

“This morning was a little bit crazy,” says Luis Torres, manager of Cheap Landscaping and Snow Removal in West Valley City. “We were expecting a lot of snow, and we didn’t get that much, but it turned into black ice.”

Because today’s temperature was about 10 degrees colder than yesterday’s, the ground temperature was also colder, making it easier for snow to pile up and black ice to form.

According to John Gleason, public relations director at the Utah Department of Transportation, black ice was only one reason why this particular storm presented difficulties for road management professionals. He also cites the timing as a challenge for clearing roads and mediating the storm. Because many Utahns were making their morning commute when snow picked up, it was harder to get the roads plowed.

“When you have a storm that is dropping a good amount of snow in a short amount of time, all it takes are a few fender benders or minor crashes and it can really slow traffic,” he says. “Our snowplows can get caught in it. The challenging conditions build up once you have those crashes and the plows can’t get through to clear the roads.”

But what does it take to maintain the roads after a storm like this?

It starts, of course, with sending out plows. According to Gleason, UDOT first begins by making sure highways are clear because these roadways see the most traffic. Then, they move on to major roads that connect to highways, and then on to surface streets.

How long it takes before roads are cleared depends greatly on the duration and intensity of the storm. If the storm lasts several days, UDOT will deploy plows multiple times to ensure roads remain clear. But the work isn’t done when the storm stops, either.

“Once the storm has subsided, we’ll be working on those cleanup efforts as well. It’s not just about plowing the lanes that people travel in, but we don’t want that snow and ice to build up on the shoulder, either,” Gleason says. “That can take a couple of days after the storm passes to make sure that those areas are clear.”

Oftentimes, local storm cleanup efforts are taken on by private snow removal companies. Cheap Landscaping and Snow Removal services a variety of properties, from schools and hospitals to local neighborhoods and HOAs. Though many properties didn’t report enough snow to necessitate plowing this morning, Torres says his team has been out since 6 a.m. salting roads and properties.

“I called all the properties and they said: ‘No, we’re OK, we don’t have too much snow,’” Torres says. “And then around 5 a.m. it started getting cold and they were like: ‘You know what, let’s do salt.’”

Salting the roads works by – simply put – melting the ice. Saltwater has a lower freezing point than pure H20, and since salt is water-soluble, the solution made from salting the roads lowers the freezing point of the ice, therefore melting it.

Although the precipitation has subsided for the time being, and conditions have largely been restored to safety, it’s important for Utah drivers to learn from their experiences of driving in this morning’s slick conditions.

“For all of us as drivers, it takes one or two of these storms to get used to driving in these conditions again,” Gleason says. “It’s a good reminder to all of us that we need to slow down. Whether it’s rain, sleet, or snow, it doesn’t make sense to be driving at freeway speeds.”

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