The 2002 North American Snow Conference is scheduled for April 14-17 in the city of Columbus, Ohio, which happens to be the home city of the new chair of the American Public Works Association’s Winter Maintenance Sub-Committee. Diana Clonch will take the helm of the subcommittee this month. From that position, she will guide the group’s dissemination of information related to snow and ice control.
As operations manager for the street maintenance and street cleaning section of the Columbus division of engineering and construction, she oversees all street maintenance and cleaning operations, including winter snow and ice control, in a state capital of over 600,000 people, with an annual budget for snow and ice of about $1 million.
In early August, while the heat index here in Chicago was reaching 105ûF and the asphalt underfoot felt more like the lava flowing out of Mount Etna, Clonch talked by telephone with Roads & Bridges about how to get rid of frozen water. Transporting the snow and ice six months ahead in time to let it melt in the summer heat was not an option, although other technologies are available. What follows is a summary of that conversation.
What’s your agenda for your term as chair of the subcommittee?
We have a project that we’re working on. It’s an update of a manual on snow and ice control. It’s been out there for a long time. I can’t remember the last time it was updated. That’s the big project that we will be looking at, trying to dig into and really get a hold on.
It’s a supplement to the "Snow and Ice Control Guide for Local Governments and Urban Areas." That’s the technical name for it.
Speaking on behalf of the committee, I think updating that manual is extremely important. People are always seeking information and seeking best practices for their area.
What are some of those best practices that you’re investigating?
We did a survey of various local governments and government entities and tried to collect their input and look at resource requirements, levels of service. A big issue in urban areas would be the level of service that’s provided on residential streets. It’s pretty basic to look at the level of service that one provides on freeways, but what about the lower volume streets?
The city of Columbus is certainly in that category. We are a very mobile unit. I think there are still a lot of locations throughout the United States that do not even service residential streets, but the urban areas are being pushed toward that.
Some of the information that we were trying to collect for consideration into this update would be looking at the types of resources and levels of service that are provided across the nation in different areas. What we do in the city of Columbus is definitely different than what you do in some smaller, rural area or smaller community.
Has your budget for snow and ice removal been increasing or decreasing? Have you been hurting, because I know some states have reduced their gasoline taxes to help motorists?
In the city of Columbus, we are feeling the same squeeze and the same crisis that everyone else seems to be feeling with budget considerations. Our operating funds, basically the majority of them come from the gasoline tax and license tag fees. Snow and ice control, pothole patching, mowing, those typically are not items that are funded through federal dollars.
As far as snow and ice, what happens is we decide the level of service. We try to budget for the average, for the norm, and then we try to prepare for the extreme, so that in the event that we do experience something out of the norm we at least have a plan of action developed to address it. Our budget has been [adequate]. Of course, our budget could always be more, but I think we’ve done fairly well. Of course, that can just fall apart with one bad season.
Everyone was under a lot of pressure last winter in this locale, because we had a phenomenal amount of cold weather and snow through November and December. Typically, the winter that we gear up for in Columbus is January and February, and we had the majority of winter in November and December. As it turned out, we basically had a very mild January and February. But on New Year’s Day I had effectively placed an order that depleted my budget for winter materials.
So what would have happened if you had a bad February?
We would have really suffered budget-wise. Of course, we went to the city council and asked for more money, which they appropriated. You have no choice. You have to take care of whatever Mother Nature deals out to you. It’s not optional, especially in a major urban area.
Your title for the city of Columbus is operations manager. What does an operations manager do?
I oversee all street maintenance and street cleaning operations for the city. We talk snow and ice a lot. Snow and ice is our largest single maintenance item cost- and resource-wise that we tend to. However, we also maintain all the pavement and roadsides within the right-of-way in the city of Columbus, so we do everything from pothole patching and repairs to bridge deck repairs and mowing and sweeping activities.
Has the level of service in your area been increasing? In other words, are people expecting more from you? And do you get your residential streets clear within a specific time?
Yes and yes. We make every attempt to address our residential areas within a timely fashion. At the city of Columbus, we have developed written guidelines for addressing various situations, but everyone in snow and ice knows those are simply guidelines.
We strive to provide bare pavement on the arterial system, including our freeway system, as soon as possible. The national rule of thumb, I think, is pretty much to provide bare pavement within 24 hours after the conclusion of the storm. We actually stay well within those guidelines, and on our major arterials after the conclusion of the storm within six to 12 hours we typically are looking at bare pavement. That’s about 2,000 lane-miles of roadway.
At the snow conference, I sat in several seminars about technology, such as automated anti-icing systems and road weather information systems (RWIS). Is there a technology that would make a big difference, that people ought to be doing more of?
There’s a number of automated systems that provide anti-icing in place that are working, so this is proven technology. I think as the information becomes more readily available and education on these issues becomes more readily available, it’s definitely a trend that we’ll be moving into across the country.
The RWIS system and the pavement sensors that we have are critical to us for knowing what the pavement temperature is. Here in the Columbus area, we have a tendency to get a lot of freezing rain or a lot of rain preceding the snow. If temperatures are hovering at freezing, it’s critical to us to be able to pinpoint when that pavement is likely to freeze. So one of the things we get out of our RWIS system are forecasts for pavement temperatures.
That’s critical when it’s raining. When it’s raining and it freezes you can’t pretreat because it washes off, so it’s critical to know when to deploy your crews. You want to catch it before it freezes. But if you put it down too soon it washes off, dilutes out.
What other information or services does the APWA offer?
Our subcommittee has adopted three goals. The first one is to disseminate winter maintenance technologies throughout the community. The second one is to serve as an advocacy group for the APWA on things like the Winter Maintenance Coordinating Committee for AASHTO. The third one is to develop and make available winter maintenance training on proven procedures and techniques.
We have a webpage that we’ve put together and will be maintaining for disseminating information [www.apwa.net/about/pet/transportation/winter-maint/].
Some of the other hot topics to be looking at—and I will be moderating a session at the national congress on—are GPS and AVL in public works applications. AVL [automated vehicle location] has been around for a long time. For the last four to five years, it’s really been very actively pursued in public works applications.
AVL lets the control center know exactly where the trucks are?
It lets you know not only where they are but, depending on what kind of sensors you may have on your truck, you will know how those resources are being used. I think of it in terms of quality control.
In snow and ice control in the city of Columbus, it’s not unusual to run up to 100 or 120 units at one time. There’s no way in the world that we can have enough managers in the field to check that we’re being consistent in our application across the board. This allows us the quality control and assures the consistency and compliance to those best practices. It’s a management tool.
I’m working on a GPS and AVL project here.
Environment Canada released a draft report recommending that road salt be considered a toxic substance, raising the prospect of severe restrictions on road salt. The final report was scheduled for release in December 2000 but was delayed. What is the latest information on Canada’s road salt assessment?
I have not seen whatever they’ve had to say as of lately. I know that the committee put together a recommendation supporting best practices.
In some places it may be very well acceptable and the best available practice to use sand or to use salt or to use a combination thereof or to use other chemicals. But as I said earlier, just because it works one place doesn’t mean it works somewhere else. It depends on the considerations.
It was an issue of great concern and debate. And rightfully so. We have to be practical. I think it would be a mistake to make an absolute statement on anything, especially on something like snow and ice where there are so many variables involved. It’s very difficult to give an answer or make a statement that’s black and white when we operate in such a gray area.
Dick Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, told Roads & Bridges that as of our deadline Environment Canada was still working on its final report. It may be ready sometime in September 2001 for consideration by the Environment Canada and Health Canada ministries before a 60-day public comment period and, finally, implementation.