A fresh blanket of snow in the UP is welcomed with different reactions from those who drive in it. Some love it and can’t wait to play in it, some want more to sustain a bountiful tourist season, and for the folks at the Houghton County Road Commission, they want to remove it from the roads and keep motorist safe.
“When it’s heavy like this, our routes are usually delayed a little bit because you can only travel at a slower rate of speed,” said County Highway Engineer Kevin Harju.
Yesterday’s snowfall was a heavy, wet, dense, mixture that would be great for making a snowman, but with a layer of ice already underneath it, one thing it’s not good for is driving. This type of snow is just as hard on the maintenance equipment as it is to drive in. “The biggest thing is the fatigue on the machine and the driver because you’re fighting the heavy snow. No one likes to have that heavy snow pushed up into in their driveway either but unfortunately that’s where a lot of it ends up,” said Harju.
As motorists approach an intersection or even a hill where slippage is likely in icy conditions, they will notice a darkened area on the road, indicating the sander truck has been by, leaving them with a basic tool for traction. Simply by placing sand on icy or snow covered pavement, the material mixes a grit into the snow or ice, and that is what tires depend on to move a vehicle in these conditions.
Harju said, “The season was a little delayed this year, and thank goodness because of all the construction that was going on from the flood damage. Now of course, it started and probably in typical Copper Country fashion, it will snow every day a latte bit, just enough to require our plows to go out.”
Whether it snows a lot or a little, the Houghton County Road Commission maintains over 850 miles of blacktop, which keeps this heavy equipment moving around the clock for snow removal, but once spring comes around again, it’s back to repairing those roads that remain affected from this past summer’s natural disaster.
“We have $30 million worth of damage on the road commission system and we were only able to fix about $15 million of it before the snow set in. We worked until about Christmastime. There’s a lot of damage that you don’t see that’s laying underneath that snow that not only drivers should be cautious about, but our drivers have to be also,” said Harju.
In the meantime, motorists are asked to use general caution when approaching a plow truck. “Just be patient with our drivers. There’s a lot of breakdown when we have heavy snow like this, which can slow down the runs,” Harju said.