2015-12-17 / Community

Road commission ready for winter

By John Bonke
Staff Writer • 810-452-2668 • jbonke@mihomepaper.com
Photo by John Bonke


HURON COUNTY – Even with the mild weather so far, the Huron County Road Commission is getting ready for winter. Pictured here is one of its 26 large orange plow trucks equipped with an underbody scraper and a side wing. HURON COUNTY – Even with the mild weather so far, the Huron County Road Commission is getting ready for winter. Pictured here is one of its 26 large orange plow trucks equipped with an underbody scraper and a side wing. HURON COUNTY – Even with temperatures in the 50s in mid-December, the Huron County Road Commission is preparing for winter’s “snow events.”

The department has a fleet of 26 large orange trucks with scrapers underneath and 12 of those have extendable plows on what would be the passenger’s side referred to as side wings.

“A wing allows for more road clearing during each pass. A normal underbody scraper will clear about 10 feet each pass. With the wing, that same truck will clear about 15 feet or 50 percent more,” explained Huron County Road Commission Secretary-Manager Neal Hentschl.

He said that these types of trucks have been used in Canada for a long time while locally for about five years. Hentschl said he’s found these side wing trucks to be much more efficient and productive.

In addition to the big orange trucks, the road crew also has nine motor graders. These large yellow vehicles can push snow farther away from the roadway and are used for their turn radius ability and where visibility could be a concern, Hentschl also said. The crew operates out of five garages around Huron County located in Bad Axe, Kinde, Pigeon, Port Hope and Sand Beach Township.

Hentschl explained how the crew swings into action during a “snow event.”

A “night patrol” person works from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. patrolling and monitoring the state highways and major primary roads and calls the “road superintendent” and “division foremen” advising them of conditions. These foremen call out their crew as needed – typically around 4 a.m. in the morning. The crews then work to get the roads clear. Although the crews could be out all day, they try to get done before sundown as it is difficult and could be dangerous plowing after dark. Additionally, the night patrol person works closely with Huron Central Dispatch.

The state highways get first priority, said Hentschl. Huron County is serviced by four state highways: M-19, M-25, M-53 and M-142. Combined, they cover some approximate 150 miles. Next come 350 miles of county primary roads and then another 1,250 miles of township local roads. In all, that’s 1,750 miles of roads to clear.

Hentschl said to keep in mind that those 1,750 miles are only one-way as the trucks need to clear both lanes.

“Clearing both lanes is like driving to Florida and back in one day,” Hentschl said.

The road crews plow the snow and dispense the road salt and the road commission keeps track of how much salt it uses.

Last year, the road commission used more than 6,300 tons of salt, almost 1,700 tons from Dec. 10 to Jan. 6, and another 700 tons between Feb. 4 and March 3. The prior year, the total was just more than 5,900 tons. Going back two more years, about 4,500 and 4,800 tons were used. Hentschl said the amount used evens out over a five-year period.

For this winter, the road commission has purchased 1,500 tons of road salt and the Michigan Department of Transportation has provided another 1,500 tons. After Jan. 1, 2016, MDOT will provide more, if needed.

The Road Commission has 62 full-time employees, including engineering staff, a drain inspector, technicians and management personnel, Hentschl said. All but six of them have CDL licenses – so they could plow snow if necessary.

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