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December 5, 2012

City fleet and crew get ready for winter

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

Crews and equipment stand ready to battle Old Man Winter on city and county streets in Troy. 

By City Council direction, snow will be cleared off city streets within 24 hours after a snowfall of more than 4 inches ends.

To accomplish this — about 500 pieces of equipment, including 70 police vehicles, 36 vehicles and apparatuses, and 52 pieces of snow removal equipment have been given the once-over and are road-ready, said Tim Richnak, public works director.

“Government Fleet” magazine recognized the Troy Fleet Maintenance Division, under the direction of Superintendent Sam Lamerato, as an “Elite Fleet.” Public sector fleet organizations from across the county may enter the program. According to the “Government Fleet Magazine” website, the top fleets were chosen based on operational efficiency, significant savings and availability.

Also, the Troy fleet met Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program standards established by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the only municipality in Michigan to do so.

City snowplows are also equipped with tanks of liquid calcium chloride, which is applied to roadways when the temperature dips into the teens and single-digits, leaving road salt less effective, Richnak explained. “Public Works also recalibrates its equipment so salt can be applied appropriately and ensuring it is not wasted. Salt is the most expensive part of the snow and ice control process,” he said.

“We also met with the police shift commanders, who are our eyes and ears on the street, so they know to alert us to road conditions,” Richnak said.

Also, staff from the water and sewer divisions pitch in to help the street division when needed.

“We’re at the point where we’re waiting for the snow to fall,” Richnak said of the readiness of staff and equipment. City crews work 12 hours on, and then have 12 hours off.

The city has jurisdiction and maintains Coolidge, Rochester, Wattles, Square Lake and Stephenson. In October, the Troy City Council approved a $249,691 contract between the city and the Road Commission of Oakland County for the city to service nine roads in Troy that fall under county jurisdiction: Adams, Big Beaver, Crooks, Dequindre, John R, Livernois, Long Lake, Maple and South Boulevard. Historically, the city spends about $90,000 a year more than the county stipend, in order  to plow roads within 24 hours.

Richnak said that in some years, the city has spent less than the county stipend and in some years has spent nearly $300,000 more than the RCOC amount.

The annual city budget for snow and ice control is $1.89 million. This includes 15 budgeted full-time positions. The city pays $44.96 a ton for road salt. “We range from 6,000 to 12,000 tons per year, depending on the weather,” Richnak said. The council was scheduled to approve the purchase of liquid calcium chloride for just less than $26,000 at the Dec. 3 meeting.

In 2010, the council changed the 24-hour protocol to 72 hours, due to budget constraints. This caused outcry when some residents waited three days for streets to be plowed after a 9-inch snowfall on Feb. 20, 2011.

The RCOC maintains and plows I-75 and M-59 through an agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation. The RCOC classifies “critical priority” roads are those with more than 10,000 vehicles per day, per lane and “priority one” roads as those with 2,500-10,000 vehicles per day, per lane. Both freeways are classified as critical priority. 

Employing 147 full-time drivers and four part-time retiree drivers last year, the RCOC will have 123 full-time, 30 part-time and five part-time retirees as drivers this year.

Darryl Heid, RCOC highway maintenance director, said the hope is to keep people fresh and on the roads, since drivers are limited to 16-hour shifts for the maximum 106 salt routes throughout Oakland County. The RCOC oversees more than 2,700 miles of county roads, including subdivision and gravel roads. This includes 230 miles of mostly multi-lane state highways that equals more than 2,000 miles of one-lane pavement.

“Even with the addition of part-time staff, we still have less staff than we did three or four years ago,” Craig Bryson, RCOC public information officer, said.

The RCOC uses an average of 83,000 tons of salt per winter, but just 43,000-44,000 tons were used last winter. Those savings went toward the new equipment.

The city of Troy also spent three-quarters less money than usual last winter on plowing and salting city streets, and plowed those funds back into city projects, such as storm sewer clearing of rear yards and pavement repairs around catch basins, Richnak said.

Staff Writer Chris Jackett contributed to this report.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.