Crews, equipment stand ready to battle winter in Troy

 Jason Adler drives a snowplow for the city of Troy in 2014 in the parking lot of Fire Station 3, on Big Beaver Road.

Jason Adler drives a snowplow for the city of Troy in 2014 in the parking lot of Fire Station 3, on Big Beaver Road.

File photo by Deb Jacques


By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published November 7, 2017

 A loader truck breaks up road salt so it may be poured onto a conveyor belt and stored in the salt dome at the Troy Department of Public Works.

A loader truck breaks up road salt so it may be poured onto a conveyor belt and stored in the salt dome at the Troy Department of Public Works.

File photo by Deb Jacques

TROY — City crews had to stay focused on battling Old Man Winter when they worked to get equipment ready at the beginning of September and through the long, warm fall.

“We will definitely be ready,” said Brian Varney, fleet operations manager for the city of Troy. Troy operates and maintains 125 pieces of snow equipment, including 50 trucks. 

“Our guys have pretty good eyes,” Varney said. “They know what they’re looking for, know what failures to possibly expect.” 

He noted that there were no major equipment failures last year. 

Since 2001, the city has serviced all county roads for snow and ice control — the county maintains Interstate 75 and M-59. 

As part of the consent agenda Sept. 11, the Troy City Council unanimously approved an agreement with Oakland County in which the county will pay Troy $285,756 for winter maintenance of Long Lake, John R, Big Beaver, Crooks, Livernois, Maple, South Boulevard, Dequindre and Adams roads, a 2 percent increase from last year’s stipend.

Kurt Bovensiep, Troy public works director, explained in information supplied to the council that over the last 16 years, the city has spent an average of $101,768 more annually clearing county roads than what the county has provided. 

“It is evident that this agreement is beneficial to the residents, businesses and traveling public concerning the level and timeliness of service,” Bovensiep stated. 

The 2017-18 city budget for snow and ice control on all roadways is $1.8 million. 

The city aims to clear roadways of snow and ice of over 4 inches within 24 hours after snow stops falling. 

“We’re on them right away,” said Michael Pihaylic, city operation manager of streets and drains. 

City crews will likely mix up the standard formula of liquid calcium chloride, or brine, which causes road salt to be more effective at temperatures lower than 20 degrees, with typical road salt.

Pihaylic said that due to the mild winter last year, 17 million pounds of road salt are already stored in the city salt dome. 

The city will pay between $31.46 and $32.01 per ton for road salt this year due to a cooperative purchasing agreement, a reduction from previous years, when it was priced as high as $76.61 per ton in 2015 and $41.23 per ton last year. 

With 18 truck drivers, Pihaylic said, the Public Works Department relies on staff members from other city departments who have been trained to handle the plows — bringing it to a total of 52 people who can hit the streets to clear roadways of snow and ice after a snowstorm. 

“Everyone trained is out there,” he said. 

The fleet includes five trucks with laser-guided wing plows. The wing plows extend from the right side of the truck and are retracted when not in use. They can expand the width of plowing by 6 feet, enabling trucks to plow a roadway lane and the shoulder at the same time.

At a cost of $2,900 each, lasers shoot a beam out in front of the truck on the road and help to identify obstructions in the roadway. 

“They can predict where the plow will be before it gets there and eliminate property damage,” Varney said, as in the case of mailboxes.

A couple of trucks have green lighting, which makes them more visible to motorists, said Varney. 

The Road Commission for Oakland County is hiring part-time temporary snowplow/salt truck drivers to augment its full-time staff. The agency plans to hire 35 to 40 temporary drivers.

“The part-time temporary winter help is a great way to ensure we provide the service that Oakland County residents deserve,” Road Commission Chairman Eric Wilson said in a prepared statement. 

“With the part-time workers, we expect to have approximately 170 snowplow drivers available this winter.”

The Road Commission is also continuing to update its fleet of snowplows/salt trucks. 

“We are methodically working toward replacing an aging fleet of trucks,” commission Vice Chairman Greg Jamian said in a prepared statement. “Nonetheless, we are ready to take on the winter.”

He noted that the Road Commission has purchased 47 new snowplow trucks since 2013 and expects to replace 12 more trucks each year going forward.

The Road Commission also maintains 230 miles of mostly multilane state highways on behalf of the Michigan Department of Transportation, including I-75, Interstate 696, Interstate 96, M-59, Telegraph Road and Woodward Avenue, among others. These 230 miles of mainly freeway roads are the equivalent of 1,500-plus miles of one-lane pavement.

The Road Commission uses an average of 64,000 tons of salt per winter and will spend $32 per ton for salt this year, down from the price of $58 paid last year. 

“Slow down and give us some room,” Pihaylic said. “If you ask any snowplow driver, they’ll say, please give us room to work.” 

Varney credits the entire staff, including administrators and technicians in the fleet division, for the efficiency of operations.