Here comes winter

State and local officials prepare to keep roads clear

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   With everything from wooly worms to the Farmer's Almanac predicting a severe winter season, state and local governments are preparing to keep roads clear and motorists moving this winter season.
   The Tennessee Department of Transportation budgeted more than $13 million for winter weather needs during the 2003-2004 winter season -- a $5 million increase compared to what was spent last winter. Total costs to keep state highways clear exceeded $8.6 million last winter, according to TDOT.
   The first day of winter was Monday. However, snowfall struck the region last week with several inches of snow reported on Roan Mountain and in the mountains of Western North Carolina creating treacherous conditions for motorists across Northeast Tennessee.
   In all of the Region One area of East Tennessee, which includes 24 counties, TDOT crews maintain about 8,070 lane-miles of roadways on state routes and interstates. At the beginning of the winter season, TDOT has about 61,000 tons of salt available for use in Region One. Approximately 10,000 tons are stored in bins located in Knox County. TDOT reports having 2,227 tons of salt and 7,500 tons of salt brine on hand for use to clear state highways in Carter County.
   The responsibility of clearing streets and county roads falls to local governments. Elizabethton's city government purchased 600 tons of rock salt in September with an option to buy an additional 300 tons from a low bidder in preparation for the coming winter. Severe winter weather exhausted the city's salt supply and forced city officials to purchase an additional $23,000 of rock salt before the season was over. Elizabethton's maximum estimated expenditure for this season is $42,048 if all 900 tons are used.
   The city government is part of a nine-member consortium including East Tennessee State University and several upstate municipal governments that purchase rock salt in bulk. The city of Knoxville acts as a contracting agent for the consortium.
   When TDOT'S Region One headquarters is notified of pending bad weather, the Knoxville Regional Garage, the floating maintenance crews, and the maintenance crews from all impacted counties are put on alert. That includes 372 people, 205 salt-spreading dump trucks and 83 salt-brine trucks. The regional headquarters also sports 213 snowplows available for use.
   Brine truck tanks are filled and immediately begin spreading brine on state routes and interstates. The brine solution consists of mixture of water and salt that is loaded into distributor trucks and spread on the highways.
   After the brine is applied, TDOT crews begin salting and plowing. Salt trucks cover the most traveled routes in urban areas first. The brine solution itself costs about 4 cents a gallon. Knox County crews keep approximately 50,000 gallons of this mixture stored and ready to distribute, according to TDOT.
   Every TDOT regional operation also uses a new environmentally friendly truck wash that filters the water used to wash salt distribution vehicles in a way that eliminates salt and oil runoff pollution to the environment.
   TDOT also has 27 new Roadway Weather Information System (RWIS) stations positioned around the state this season. Installed on bridges across Tennessee during 2003, the RWIS stations monitor a variety of weather related factors including air temperature, dew-point information, wind speed/direction, precipitation type and rate, and asphalt temperatures.
   This system is designed to alert TDOT maintenance supervisors when freezing conditions are eminent. The RWIS became fully functional Dec. 1. The closest RWIS in East Tennessee is located at Interstate 75 and Pleasant Ridge Road in Knoxville.