The trucks and snow plows were on full display Thursday at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s Bethesda Depot. Plow operators gathered in the cafeteria for the county’s annual “snow summit.”
Those plows will likely be put into use soon, potentially again and again if predictions of a more snowy than usual winter hold up. Thursday’s event was part preparation, part pep talk and part introduction to make sure all (the plow crews, State Highway Administration workers, Parks officials, contractors and others) were on the same page.
“I take this very personally. We have all this sophisticated technology. You can go online, look at what’s happening in your neighborhoods,” County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) told the summit. “But it is, I think, clear now that if anyone wanted to reach me, then it’s a very simple process. All they have to do is call me at home. I’m listed. My telephone is there. And I can tell you that people call. So I know very personally what happens with all the winter operations because people call me at all times of night. I’ve received phone calls at 2, 3 o’clock in the morning with people calling me with the challenges they have on their streets.”
The man in charge of DOT’s effort to plow those streets is Keith Compton, chief of DOT’s Division of Highway Services. His snow plow crews are responsible for clearing 5,000 lane miles of roadways in five geographically organized sections of the county, a task that in large snowstorms can mean lengthy turns plowing and re-plowing streets.
“The most important thing is food,” Compton said. “Protracted events mean that our operators need to be well slept and well fed.”
DOT typically tests its winter operation with a mock snowstorm, something that Compton said will not be necessary this year after the real road-clearing and cleaning operations that came with Superstorm Sandy earlier this week.
His division is adding a few new wrinkles this winter, including TomTom GPS navigation units in every truck that have the 220 snow plow routes programmed in via a SIM card.
There will also be new wing plows on the side of some trucks that will allow a second operator to plow a wider swath on larger arterial roads. DOT is piloting new East County plow routes designed for greater efficiency by a private firm that also maps routes for major delivery companies such as UPS. Compton said the firm will likely do the same for routes across the county.
The Bethesda Depot, which is actually located on Seven Locks Road in Rockville near I-270, will serve county plows, SHA plows and contractors if necessary. The Depot is home to a massive barn of road salt.
The county relies on contractors to perform some plow work if there is too much snow for county crews to deal with, county spokeswoman Esther Bowring said. It’s a cheaper option over the long term, Bowring said, because blizzards such as the ones that hit the area in the winter of 2009-2010 don’t come often.
In fact, barely any snowstorms of significance came through Montgomery County last winter.
That’s supposed to change this time around, at least according to the National Weather Service and forecasting company AccuWeather, which both call for a larger than average amount of snowfall.
Compton didn’t seem as convinced. He said the wooly worm, the caterpillar some say can accurately predict the amount of snow in winter, is predicting a fairly mild winter.
Either way, Leggett hopes the crews are ready. He delivered opening remarks to the group of more than 100.
“I’ve seen people out of trucks with snow and ice on the ground, and I say, ‘Man, that is a difficult, difficult job.’ And I know often times that you are tired, but the mission that we have is an important mission,” Leggett said. “Because it may mean that someone who wanted to get to the hospital, did get there. It may mean that the parent who needed to make a diaper run to quiet their child, they were able to make it. It may mean that a small business is able to open because of your operations.
“We have a very large economy here in this county and the lifeblood of that is transportation and its convenience. If we’re not able to do that, then we all suffer.”