January 04, 2012 - Winter may be a bit behind schedule, but winter driving is just an eventuality.
The sleet and snow may be off to a slow start, but as always - winterís coming. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
Unfortunately, Orion Township citizens may have a rougher ride ahead than in years past, according to a spokesman for the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC).
Orion Township's RCOC garage is now understaffed and has been since 2007. Budget cuts have made covering the same ground increasingly difficult, and 2012 is no different.
"Our Orion garage district has seen a reduction of about nine employees and that's from a full contingent of 28 in 2007, down to 19 now," said Craig Bryson, RCOC public information officer. "To put that in context, we divide the county into salt runs - it's what one driver and one salt truck with 10 to 12 tons of salt can cover in two hours. The Orion district has 15 runs, so that means in the past we had almost twice as many drivers and salt runs.
"The drivers can be out for 16 hours maximum. We can cover the 15 routes with 15 drivers for the first shift, but the next has to cover 15 routes with four people. We spread it out more evenly obviously, but that's the theory."
Manpower is not the only area where the RCOC is hurting - equipment has started failing as well. Not only are people not being replaced when they retire or otherwise depart, but the Commission is not replacing trucks when they go bad. No truck is than four years-old.
"Many of our trucks are now beyond their useful life, which means they break down more frequently and this means they're not on the road," said Bryson. "It will cost more to maintain that vehicle than to buy a new one, but we just cannot afford to buy new trucks. In the big picture, we're being pennywise and pound-foolish."
Yet the RCOC has managed to find ways to scrimp and save where needed, Bryson said. The biggest change in recent years was the introduction of salt brine to the spreader trucks. The brine, which is naturally occurring and pumped straight from the earth, accelerates the reaction salt has on ice - something that salt alone takes time to do.
Since the water and salt are already mixed when they hit the ice, the chemical reaction begins before the mixture is even applied, effectively halving the amount of salt needed to clear a road, Bryson explained.
Other countermeasures include sharing workers between RCOC departments more often and reliance on technology.
Of the 160 miles covered in Orion Township, priority goes to the highest traffic volume and fastest speeds - explaining why subdivisions are last on the list. School routes, hospital routes and potentially dangerous routes are also high on the list of roads to be cleared.
Bryson added he hopes drivers will understand the clearing may take longer than in previous times and hopes motorists will factor that into their driving plans.
"Try to assume it's ice and not just wet like it has been in the past," he said. "We also appreciate when people call. We cannot be everywhere, but we have a staff that is trained to get the info, record the reports and get to the right people in the department."
That number is (877) 858 - 4804.
For a list of interesting facts about road clearing, including the number of tons used annually and at what temperature salt has no effect on ice, visit the RCOC's website at rcocweb.org and click on "Press Releases" under the "About Us" tab.