Streets crews prepare for winter storm

Blowing, drifting snow could cause traffic problems

Published On: Dec 18 2012 06:31:57 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 19 2012 08:58:10 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

Plow crews are gearing up for a busy 72 hours with a major winter storm in the forecast.

Snow fell steadily in Madison and the surrounding area much of Tuesday.

Madison Streets Division crews applied salt brine to main arterials Tuesday morning and kept 32 trucks out on salt routes all day and through the evening rush.

It's just the first phase of a major winter storm, with the big focus on Wednesday night into Thursday. The forecast calls for the snow to be followed by gusty winds causing blowing and drifting.

"That's going to be the biggest challenge, I think, for us, is dealing with the fact that that wind is going to be pushing the snow all over the place and we're going to have to be continually cleaning up places as opposed to just making one pass through. Having to clean up after the wind is going to keep us busy for quite a while," said George Dreckmann with the Madison Streets Division.

A winter storm watch has been issued for Dane County and areas to the west and north from 6 p.m. Wednesday until 6 p.m. Thursday.

While Madison Streets Division workers may be cashing in on overtime, other private plow companies will need a good winter.

A below-average snowfall last year means this upcoming round of snow is big for getting a paycheck.

Companies such as Barnes Inc. said they have more than 100 trucks ready, 200 snow blowers and 150 crew members ready to go.

City of Madison plows won't be out on residential streets until the snow stops. When that happens, the city plans to have about 150 plow trucks on the roads.

Salt brine has proven to be a critical tool in keeping roads free of ice, but it comes at a cost of about 10 cents a gallon.

The city of Madison is now making its own salt brine using new equipment that was installed last month. The salt brine machine pumps out a solution that's 23 percent salt.

"We've got a pumping system, and then we store it. We've got big storage tanks here, and then we pump it outside, where we can load it into tanks on the truck," Dreckmann said.

It cost about $115,000 for the equipment and installation, but the city said it will pay for itself in just a few years.

The city said it's saving about 4 cents a gallon from when it was purchasing salt brine from Dane County and that it also cuts down on worries over supply.

"You're purchasing (salt brine) from other communities. In our case, we were purchasing it from Dane County, and their needs are going to come first. And if we have a lot weather where we're really working, we might not be able to get as much as we need, or any at all," Dreckmann said. 

Before snowstorms, many streets are simply sprayed with the brine solution. Trucks carrying salt in Madison have a mechanism that sprays the salt with the brine before it's dropped on the road.

Dreckmann said it helps activate the salt quicker, thus melting ice on the roadways much faster.

The city said eventually the goal is to make money from the salt brine. City officials said that once they're more comfortable with the equipment, they hope to start selling the brine to other communities that need it just like Dane County is doing.