Athens County endured a foot of snow in the past three weeks, leading to massive quantities of salt, gravel and sand being dumped on roads and highways.
According to The National Weather Service, Athens County received as much as 13 inches of snow. The City of Athens was recorded on Feb. 15 as receiving 10.2 inches of snow since Feb. 5.
When the snow and ice comes, so do the crews of plows and pickup trucks working around the clock to ensure the roads are safe for travel.
Scott Sanders, transportation manager for Athens County Ohio Department of Transportation, said his crews were working 12 hour shifts to treat state and interstate roads.
“Literally our trucks have not stopped running yet,” Sanders told The Messenger on Thursday. “Lots of hours — lots of worn out guys and girls.”
Sanders said his ODOT trucks, 12 in total, have been dumping tons and tons of pure rock salt on major arteries in the county — ODOT is not responsible for county and township roads.
Sanders said that when the temperature gets low enough, ODOT crews will begin treating roads with “Beet Heet” — a sugar-based mixture that not only sweetens the road — but significantly lowers the freezing temperature. ODOT crews will also use a 50/50 brine mixture to treat the roads.
Ashley Rittenhouse, the spokesperson for the Southeast Ohio district 10 of ODOT, told The Messenger the Athens County division used 4,600 tons of rock salt this winter. Across all of District 10, road crews used a whopping 47,000 tons of salt.
Compare that to last year’s numbers; Athens County ODOT only used 555 tons of material by this time last winter, and the entire district only used 6,300 tons.
Despite the high volumes of material used, both Rittenhouse and Sanders agreed that there would be enough salt and materials to continue treating the roads if wintry weather continues.
“We still have plenty of salt on hand even though we went through significantly more than last winter,” Rittenhouse said.
At the county administrative level, Athens County Engineer Jeff Maiden is working to ensure county and township crews have enough materials to treat the 361 miles of road.
To that end, Maiden said his department has been distributing shipments of salt from their large reserves to townships and municipalities across the county. Maiden said
Athens, Waterloo, Trimble, Alexander, Lee and Dover Townships all received trucks ranging from 9 to 15 tons of material. Trimble and Albany villages also received separate shipments of material.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job trying to help everybody,” Maiden said.
Maiden said his crews have been working 16 hour days rather than around the clock like ODOT due to union contracts. He commended the crews for the work they have been doing.
“Our guys have been diligent, they’ve gone out and done a good job,” Maiden said.
He added that the department has spent $ 25,000 in overtime from Jan. 1 through Feb. 12, which is approximately one-third of our allotted overtime for the entire calendar year of 2021.
Maiden told The Messenger the Athens County salt storage sheds began the winter with tons of material, and have used up 2,700 tons. He said his department has ordered more treatment materials, and shipments have been arriving in piecemeal since then.
“We’re ready, we could handle another storm,” Maiden said.
Unlike ODOT, Maiden said, the county does not use pure rock salt, but rather a salt/grits mix. Grits is a combination of fine gravel and sand that lowers the freezing temperature of water and also offers additional traction on the roads.
Maiden said the cost of grits is much lower than rock salt: grits cost $13 a ton, and rock salt costs around $72 a ton this year. Crews are given a mixture that is one part rock salt and two parts grits.
To clear the roads, his department has eight large trucks capable of holding 15 tons, eight trucks capable of 9-10 tons, and a handful of pickup trucks for more precise snow removal like at intersections.
The tandem trucks capable of handling 9 tons are used for roads constructed with chip and seal, a more porous surface than pure asphalt. The larger single-axle trucks are used for larger roads, like Johnson and Radford.
Give plows space
Rittenhouse, Sanders and Maiden all agreed that preserving the safety of the road treatment crews was imperative.
On Thursday morning, a car rear-ended an ODOT truck treating U.S. 33, making it the ninth collision with a plow in Ohio this week.
“Unfortunately it is a common occurrence,” Rittenhouse said. “Don’t crowd the plows, give our drivers plenty of room.”
Sanders said Athens County was fortunate to not have had a collision with a vehicle this year, but urged drivers to take their time and take the “extra five minutes” to ensure the safety of all on the roads.
“Thank God there hasn’t been nothing here, keeping your strobes on and being visible is all we do,” Sanders said.
Maiden said the width of rural roads and the size of plow trucks can lead to situations where the trucks are taking up a majority of the road. He said drivers should be aware of this and yield to the trucks.
“Slow down, get over, and allow for them to get through,” Maiden said.