WINTER ROADS TID BITS 

THE  WORLD   ACCORDING  TO  GARY MITCHELL

  1. Some towns have a “bare road policy” - Gary says the state operates this way.  That is, they aim for keeping the roads bare at all times.  Hawley is not one of them.  If your vehicle is properly equipped for winter driving in the snow/ice, most of the time you’ll be okay here in most storms.  Keeping roads bare is impossible in Hawley; this would take double the labor, double the trucks, double the chemicals on the roads and into the vegetation/ water table, and undoubtedly a miracle.  Gary uses just enough salt in the sand to keep the mixture pliable.  Salt is very costly, has environmental consequences, and only functions as designed at certain temperatures. 

  2. High beams are dangerous and annoying – even to plows and sanders. Snow and ice on the roads makes this factor even worse.   Please remember to give all drivers a break. If you do try to pass the plow/sander, keep this in mind – plowing is unpredictable.  Despite the highway team’s best skills and intentions, hitting an unseen object in the pavement or on the side of the road can shift the truck suddenly out into the road.  VERY bad when a car is passing, especially on a narrow, windy road. 

  3. During a storm, Gary is in touch with County Dispatch in Shelburne constantly.  Even during calm weather, he is on call at all times no matter where he is for notifications of worsening weather, hazards, and accidents.  He carries a cell phone (for times/places where a cell works in Hawley), as well as a radio.   If a branch is down, he’ll be likely to know it; if someone has slid off the road into a bank, ditto.  Gary also accesses radar maps constantly to track a storm – this gives him more information to plan what gets done (sanding…..plowing….) and when it gets done.  

  4. Did you know that a plow/sander can get stuck as well, primarily due to ice?  Gary has tales of sliding plows and sliding plow guys, on Hawley’s hilly wooded terrain.  Sometimes trucks and equipment also break down and need repair at the most unfortunate of times.

  5. The more extreme temperature fluctuations there are, the more challenging management of winter roads is.  When winter was WINTER, from December straight through to April, things were more predictable.  Lately, winter temperatures have been more up and down, with rain or ice being as frequent as snow.  It’s just plain NOT SIMPLE!  For example, sand can often just wash away instead of staying put and traffic tends to move it around to places where it’s no longer useful. 

  6. Each location on the roads has its unique treatment needs.  Factors that come into play:  

     *elevation of the spot at any given time- the temperature, humidity, and wind speed;  

    * whether the road is dirt or paved (dirt roads freeze first);

    * whether the road is shaded or open;   

    * and the amount of traffic on the road. 

  7. Much of what Gary does is preparation -  management of the equipment and crew to be ready for the next event – but much of coping with a winter storm event is “figuring it out on the fly”.  He uses his experience, consulting with other road crews, knowing the roads and how his equipment and supplies work, and watching and anticipating the weather.  He will be the first to tell you – they do what they can, but they’re not magicians.

As with any element of country living, there is this fascinating interplay that goes on between independence and help.  We all do an awful lot for ourselves and do what we can to keep ourselves safe and happy. And yet, for some things, we depend on others – family, friends, neighbors, our town, etc. – and we accept help, if needed, when it’s offered.  This is the essence of community.  With any unpredictable weather event, YOUR OWN PREPARATION IS THE BEST INSURANCE against problems, large or small.

Gary would be glad to share his anecdotes and expertise, if you’re interested in talking with him – the Highway Garage number is 413-339-5509.  And the Department will be happy to hear your comments - the good and the bad.

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