Winter’s toll on the road surfaces

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Just as we’ve all grown weary of Old Man Winter, our area highway departments are doing all they can to keep on top of the snow and ice and make the roads safe for travel.

Woodstock Highway Superintendent Mike Reynolds said it’s been a struggle this year.

“It’s been a pretty heavy-duty winter,” he said. “It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had this much snow.”


Reynolds’ review of his department’s records found the town dealt with 34 storms so far this year compared to 21 all last winter. It’s considered a storm any time his crew has to go out and treat the roads no matter how much accumulation.

According to AccuWeather, about 30 inches of snow fell on Woodstock in February alone. That’s nearly equal to last winter’s total snowfall.

While it may have been one of the warmest Januarys on record overall, this is the year many on the East Coast became very familiar with the meteorological phenomenon known as a polar vortex. This strong circulating low-pressure system brings frigid air from the Arctic Circle into the U.S. and strengthens storms. At times, it extended into much of the Southeast.

One of the biggest challenges of a severe winter like this is the highway departments’ ability to keep enough salt and sand on hand.

Usually as early as August, departments need to tell their suppliers how much salt they’re going to need for the coming winter, says Jimmy Fugel, Town of Olive highway superintendent. Fugel said he typically orders about 1000 tons of salt to treat the 70 miles of town roads.

“The last couple of years, I’ve had 300 tons left over,” he said. This year, Fugel only ordered 700 tons because if that surplus. If you order too much, storage becomes a big problem, so it’s a balancing act, he explained.

Reynolds said Woodstock was not in trouble on this account. “We’re not in dire straits just yet,” he said. But he also said sometimes they’ll get an order of salt in, mix it with sand and two days later, it’s been spread on the roads already. And they’re getting to the bottom of the town’s sand piles. “We’ve seen sand that hasn’t been seen since 2004,” Reynolds said. “We haven’t gotten to a point where we haven’t been able to get salt at all.”

Reynolds said he’s down to about 25 percent of his sand and salt supply. As long as milder weather comes, that supply should hold out.

“Right now we’re looking pretty good,” he said. “We’re on the downside of winter.” Hopefully, those are not famous last words.


OT saps budgets

Overtime is another big issue as storms don’t follow a normal work schedule. To date, Olive has spent $44,000 compared to $33,000 last winter. Fugel wasn’t as optimistic as Woodstock’s Reynolds. “But the winter ain’t over yet,” he said.

As bad as this winter has seemed, though, Fugel said he’s seen worse in his 13 years as superintendent.

Reynolds noted that the geography of Woodstock, like the mountain towns of Olive and Shandaken, poses its own challenges.

“Sometimes you’ll have an elevational situation. You could have rain down in town and you could have a foot of snow up in the mountains.”

Reynolds and his staff maintain a fleet of 12 trucks, each with their own route, to tackle the weather that batters the 78 miles of Woodstock roads. Additionally, the town keeps a couple spare trucks at the ready to deal with occasional breakdowns. “It’s a bit just keeping all the wheels turning,” he said.


Potholes and cold patch

Salt, sand and snow removal aren’t the only challenges a severe winter poses. Those potholes can do a number on your car’s undercarriage. Water seeps into the asphalt and freezes, especially in the extreme cold weather this winter. In warmer temperatures, that ice thaws and undermines the asphalt. Gaping, often jagged holes can be the result. That was quite evident during a mild spell late last month as some area roads have closely resembled the surface of the moon.

Area highway crews keep a supply of asphalt patch material on hand and get to those holes as they can.

“That’s always an issue,” Fugel said. “We’ve been cold patching on and off.”

Perhaps weary highway crews can rest easy for a bit. The National Weather Service in Albany reports there is no significant snowfall in the forecast, at least for the next handful of days.