Steamboat Springs Through the past seven days, motorists in Steamboat Springs have experienced how challenging driving on local roads can be in the midst of a multi-day snowstorm, but it can be a different experience altogether on Routt County’s more than 800 miles of road, which are plowed once per day in the midst of a storm.
County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said Jan. 9 she received a message from a constituent this month urging the county to begin plowing roads three times daily, instead of only once in the early morning hours. The rural resident requested that the county also plow every afternoon and evening, when needed, Hermacinski said.
County Road and Bridge Director Janet Hruby explained Jan 10 why it’s not practical for her crews to plow the same road multiple times per day.
“I think one thing people forget is a difference between the city (of Steamboat Springs) and the county is that, in the city, the plows can do multiple laps (on their route), but our routes are 20 to 30 miles and designed to take just under eight hours to complete,” Hruby said.
On days there isn't a snow event, the crews head out to create more space on either side of the county roads in order to open storage space before the next storm.
“Our crews did a remarkable job on the one day it didn’t snow, using it to push back the snow banks and widen the route,” Hruby said.
The county’s website spells out its policy regarding snow plowing; county crews check conditions between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. to determine is there is a (need) to plow, and they start early to reduce the impact on traffic.
Snow removal in the county is divided into three zones: Oak Creek, Steamboat and Hayden. Each shop has one extra snowplow driver in case of an illness.
“On snow event days, road crews operate on one shift between 3 a.m. and noon,” the policy reads. “On non-snow days, road crews operate a single shift between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.”
Hruby said in addition to snowplows, her department dispatches sanding trucks during snowstorms. The sanding trucks travel shorter routes than the plows and can often make two, or sometimes even three, laps in a shift.
Hermacinski ventured to fellow commissioners Doug Monger and Tim Corrigan that, if the county wanted to try to increase plowing frequency on a handful of county roads in extreme circumstances, the chosen roads would be based on traffic counts, and County Manager Tom Sullivan said that would mean Routt County Road 129 to North Routt and Steamboat Lake State Park and Routt County Road 14, which leads from Steamboat to Stagecoach.
Monger pointed out that annual staffing at Road and Bridge is based on the current snowplowing schedule and suggested it would be difficult to keep extra plow drivers in reserve, because commercial snow removal contractors have already tied up the qualified heavy equipment operators.
“Our pool of people are already working for Native Excavating and CD Johnson,” Monger said. “When we need them to be on call, they’ll already be working 20 hours for somebody doing snowplowing.”
Sullivan and Corrigan, coincidentally, commute to the courthouse from South Routt on Routt County Road 14.
“I just hardly ever have had bad driving conditions on RCR 14,” Corrigan said, but Sullivan was of the opinion that it can get difficult during the evening commute.
Hruby said big snow events, such as the two-day storm cycle of Jan. 5 and 6, are much like any day on the job for her snow removal crews, but the fact that they are driving heavy equipment doesn’t mean they have super powers.
“People assume because they’re in a plow, they’re superheroes,” Hruby said. “If it’s a blizzard, it’s challenging for them, too.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1