MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) Winter road crews in Vermont will be using more brine instead of salt this year, new plows that can clear two lanes at the same time on interstates, while also giving road crews more discretion on how much salt and brine to apply, officials announced Dec. 23.
Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his weekly news conference mostly to a discussion of winter road maintenance and a plea to the public to slow down in snowy or icy conditions, especially around snowplows.
“We’re urging drivers to use extra caution on icy roads, as we always do, because that saves lives,” Shumlin said.
Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said Vermont would continue its “safe-roads-at-safe-speeds” policy for winter road maintenance.
“This means that during a storm we will be out plowing, sanding, salting, to keep the roads open,” Searles said. “But drivers should expect during a storm to see snow on the roads. So, we need drivers to be a partner with us, to adjust their driving to those conditions.”
Snowfall in Vermont has been spotty at best so far this winter, but the morning of Dec. 23 saw a fresh snowfall of up to 3.8 in., according to the National Weather Service in Burlington.
Shumlin and Searles were joined by front-line plow drivers who shared harrowing stories of encounters with aggressive and distracted drivers.
Jerold Kinney said he was on his first trip plowing his route between the state garage in Randolph and Bethel on Interstate 89 when “I had an individual driving a four-wheel drive pickup, texting with one hand — I’m pretty sure his coffee cup was in the other —driving with his knee, go by me at 50 miles an hour, maybe 60, on a snow-covered road.”
“Two miles later I saw him backwards in the ditch, still on the text messages. He said he was fine so off I went,” Kinney said. “But it’s just a clear case of the distractions that the drivers have.”
When they’re not busy watching out for other drivers, plow operators like Kinney will have more authority to judge road conditions and determine how much sand, salt or brine — a mix of salts and water — to apply to road surfaces, Shumlin said.
In talking with workers, “There was some feeling among the hard-working men and women who are keeping our roads safe that for budgetary reasons that they couldn’t always allocate what they felt was right as the storm was being dealt with ... without further orders from higher up,” the governor said.
Shumlin said the policy this winter will give road crews the authority to use whatever they think is necessary to keep the roads clear and safe.
Brine will be favored over salt this winter because brine adheres to road surfaces better than salt, is less damaging to the environment and can be applied in advance of a storm to keep conditions from getting bad in the first place. Special equipment is needed to make brine. It has been available in northwestern Vermont and this year will be used in the Rutland area for the first time.
The state also will have two “tow plows” in use. The plows have rear-mounted equipment that clears two lanes of interstate at once, officials said.