Minneapolis Star Tribune
Under the state's new no-overtime snowplowing strategy, the
first performance of the season took an average of 2.9 hours
to regain bare pavement on freeway commuter routes in the
metro area, barely within the target time of one to three
After the snow stopped in the two biggest storms of the season,
Nov. 23 and Dec. 9, it took crews more than eight hours on
average to return to bare pavement. Under old staffing practices,
during a comparable storm last February, it took one hour
on the same routes.
The initial results, released Thursday by the Minnesota Department
of Transportation (MnDOT), counted three ice or snow events
in November and six in December.
MnDOT says it's too early to draw conclusions, because snow
has been too scarce to provide patterns, which are important
because snow-removal challenges in any one storm are dictated
more by weather and traffic conditions than by staffing, said
Bob Winter, director of district operations for MnDOT.
MnDOT views the snow-plowing season like a baseball season:
it's not judged by a single game but by the averages over
the entire season, Winter said.
But as an early indicator, the 2.9-hour average time to bare
pavement through December does not compare favorably with
the 1.3-hour average time over the course of last winter's
entire plowing season.
Winter said the first report means: "Keep watching and
see what happens."
If target times have not been met at the end of the season,
the department will investigate.
The one-to three-hour target for regaining bare pavement
(once the snow stops) is a goal MnDOT arrived at after public
opinion research in the early 1990s.
The targets are less aggressive on more lightly traveled
roads. For more information about statewide targets see http://www.dot.state.mn.us/dashboards/.
Snowplow drivers decide when a road has been returned to
bare pavement and log the times. As defined by MnDOT, a road
has been returned to bare pavement when all driving lanes
are free of snow and ice between the outer edges of the wheel
paths (not the shoulders). If there is a scant line of snow
left between the lanes it must be less than 1 inch deep.
Plowing has been a public focus this winter because the Pawlenty
administration is spending less on snow removal to spend more
on road construction.
Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, the state's transportation commissioner,
took about $950,000 this year from what had been a $38.6 million
annual budget for plowing and de-icing the state's highways.
That and other money taken from other MnDOT services and
operations will pay $36.1 million a year for the debt service
on $400 million borrowed to build roads.
To adjust , plow drivers have been instructed to hold down
overtime. The policy translates into fewer plows on the road.
Last year, crews were deployed in two 12-hour shifts with
four hours of overtime built into each shift . This put half
the plowing force, or about 200 plows, on the road at all
times during a storm.
This year, crews have been divided into three eight-hour
shifts. This puts roughly 40 percent of the force, or 180
plows, on the road between 3:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., with a
drop to 20 percent of the plowing force overnight.
The reduced staffing has been tested twice so far
Nov. 23, when 5.6 inches of snow was recorded in the metro
area, and Dec. 9, when 9.5 inches of snow was recorded.
After the Dec. 9 storm, which started during the Tuesday
evening rush hour and continued into Wednesday morning, it
took 180 plows an average of 8.6 hours to regain bare pavement.
On Nov. 23, snow started Sunday with a 16-hour snowfall that
continued into Monday. Once the snow stopped, it took 186
trucks an average of 8.3 hours to return roads to bare pavement.
MnDOT compared it with a snowstorm on Feb. 2 last year, when
staffing levels were higher. The storm started on a Sunday
and continued into Tuesday, like the Nov. 23 storm. The Feb.
2 storm had an accumulation of 6 inches compared with 5.6
in November. Temperatures were comparable. But the results
With 214 plows on the road under last year's staffing , the
average time to regain bare pavement on metro commuter routes
was one hour, compared with 8.3 hours with the 186 plows used
in the November storm.
The department used 3,061 hours of overtime in the November
storm and 2,806 hours in the February storm.
Winter said he isn't able to explain the difference.
"We don't feel it's accurate to compare based on one
event last year or one event this year. The weather, the traffic,
when it occurs in the cycle of the day can make a lot of difference,"
in snowplowing results.