How the city street department combats winter weather

City of Rochelle Street Department Superintendent Tim Isley explains some the equipment his crew uses to combat winter weather.

Superintendent Isley: ‘Every single storm is different.’

ROCHELLE — During winter weather events, the City of Rochelle Street Department is responsible for clearing 160 lane miles of road, 13 miles of alleys, 54 cul de sacs and dead ends and 14 parking lots. 

So far, Street Department Superintendent Tim Isley said he’s enjoyed this year’s calmer winter. He said the department has saved “quite a bit” of money due to less snow and ice to clear. Savings have come from using less fuel, salt and employee overtime hours. Equipment has seen less wear and tear.

When snow storms do come, the street department has eight operators that can go out to clear roads. Two people are always on call during the winter and stay ready if snow comes and roads start to white over. If the weather gets bad enough, the rest of the operators are called. 

Each operator is assigned a route. A salting crew is sent out first when snow starts to collect on roads, going over the major routes like Illinois 251 and overpasses and bridges. Operators team up with a partner and run through the major roads and plow them off. Once those are clear, they go to regular streets that don’t get as much traffic. 

“Usually it takes right around six hours to do the whole town,” Isley said. “As long as we have everybody in. We used to be able to clear it up a little bit quicker than that. We're also down two guys right now, so it takes us a little bit longer."

The street department is currently looking to fill one operator position which Isley said would help “a lot” during winter weather. 

“Just because for every person we're down, then that means somebody else has to cover their entire route and it takes about 5-6 hours to get through one route."

When the street department knows a winter weather event is coming, it takes measures beforehand. Brine trucks are filled up and roads are sprayed with a mixture of salt brine and beet juice. That helps prevent a bond between the snow and the road and snow can be scraped off more easily afterwards. 

Isley said the brine spraying practice has become popular with municipalities. 

“It does work and we also use that same product with our newer trucks,” Isley said. “They actually have tanks on the truck and then it mixes that solution into the spreader and then when we're putting it on the road it helps keep the salt from bouncing as much and it's wet, so the salt starts working faster. We do use it sometimes after a storm too, if it's kind of icy we'll spray sidewalks and stuff with it. It will melt snow and ice."

The street department budgets for around 1,200 tons of salt a year. Isley said that can fluctuate depending on the year. This year, he estimates about 150 tons have been used so far. 

When acquiring salt for the winter, the city participates in the Illinois Department of Transportation bid process each year. Hundreds of other municipalities, townships and schools jump onto contracts together to get a better price and everybody buys from one vendor. 

In recent years, the department has purchased newer trucks that have been put to use clearing roads in the winter. They’re outfitted with plow wings to accomplish more, and high-tech controllers for laying down salt that have reduced salt usage by 25 percent, Isley estimates. 

The street department has opted for more expensive, but reliable Kenworth trucks recently after purchasing Internationals in the past, Isley said. 

"This time of year puts a lot of wear and tear on trucks,” Isley said. “Especially with all the salt and everything. We've moved to stainless steel bodies. We just got one older truck painted. You spend a little more money on a stainless steel body, but we just spent like $15,000 to get this painted and holes patched. It makes quite a difference. We have about 10 plow trucks, eight of them we use most of the time."

Isley said every winter storm is different and requires different measures. If it’s going to snow for a long time, operators only salt intersections to save product since plowing will be done later. After a long snow, salt is then put down as roads are cleared to get things melted. 

Residents should park their vehicles off the road during snow events if they can, Isley said. That way operators can plow past their property and clear the road and not leave piles. 

“One of the other things is, some people think we plow driveways shut on purpose,” Isley said. “We would never do that. The last thing we want is more complaints about filling somebody's driveway, so we never do that. Snow plows push snow, they don't remove it. It has to get pushed somewhere so it just gets pushed off the sides of the road and that's how driveways get filled up."

The most difficult areas to clear in town include narrow roads where cars park on both sides, Isley said. That makes plowing tough or impossible for 11 and 12-foot wide plows. Areas prone to drifting like Steward Road, Flagg Road near Caron Road and 20th Street are also problematic at times

The long hours during winter weather events can take a toll on the city’s operators. 

"It becomes difficult for sure,” Isley said.”You would think it's just sitting in a truck all day, but when you're out there plowing and say the snow is really coming down hard and it's blowing, we always have our lights flashing and everything to make sure everybody can see us, and then you get the snow coming down. It gets difficult to see. The guys can easily spend 12 hours in their truck plowing. It becomes pretty exhausting.”

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