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Oakland County

December 5, 2012

Multi-lane spreaders to assist in snow, ice removal this winter

RCOC takes on 31 more part-time drivers to balance loss of 24 full-timers

By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
One of the grader trucks scoops up a pile of salt. The RCOC used about 43,500 tons of salt last winter, compared with the average of 83,000 tons.

OAKLAND COUNTY — The Road Commission for Oakland County is ready for when colder temperatures bring some solid white precipitation.

Thanks to savings due to last winter’s unusually warm weather, the RCOC was able to purchase five new multi-functional spreaders that will allow certain trucks to spread salt and liquid brine across three lanes at a time, as opposed to the one and a half lanes that the other 130 salt trucks will be limited to. There are also 19 grader-plows. All 154 vehicles are never used at once.

“The big thing is with the current spreaders, once they’re set, they’re set,” said
Darryl Heid, RCOC highway maintenance director. “On these, you can change it from squirting two lanes to the left to two lanes to the right on the fly.”

Of the five new units, two will be based out of the Southfield garage, which is one of six RCOC garages. Other multi-functional spreaders will be based out of the Milford, Waterford and Troy garages.

“It should be much more efficient,” said Craig Bryson, RCOC public information officer. “It also allows us just to spray the brine and not the salt. That delays the formation of ice. (Brine) is naturally occurring salt water that we pump out of the ground. The brine does work at a little bit lower temperatures than the salt.”

“It actually stops that bonding from occurring so the snow comes off a lot easier when we go through,” Heid said of the brine.

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, but there were also several other changes behind the scenes.

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.

“Those were opened up through retirements and attrition,” Heid said. “We actually tested these people for their driving skills.”

Heid 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 multilane state highway that is equal to 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,” Bryson said.

Bryson said the RCOC employed 556 people as a whole in 2007, but are down to 400 now. The RCOC staff was reduced by more than 28 percent in the past five years, while the Highway Maintenance Department experienced nearly a 35 percent cut as a result of continued reductions in state-collected road funding.

Additionally, revenue is down 5 percent within the past 10 years and expenses are up across the board.

Heid said the cost of salt was about $23 per ton in 2001, but is $46.51 per ton now. Bryson said the petroleum-based pothole patching material and steel prices for equipment are both up as much as 300-400 percent, as well.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can with the resources we have available,” Bryson said.

Additionally, the trucks, many of which are 12-14 years old, get just four to six miles per gallon. By comparison, a 2012 Ford Fiesta sedan gets an average of 33 mpg and a 2010 Hummer sports utility vehicle gets an average of 14 mpg, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Some of them are probably in the shop right now,” Heid said. “It’s old. Being able to replace the equipment is one of the concerns we have. Some people may not think that’s old, but it is when you consider the conditions they work under.”

Bryson said fuel costs are about $2.5 million for the current fiscal year, which is about 2 percent of the RCOC’s $103.1 million total budget.

The RCOC classifies critical-priority roads as 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. Priority-two and priority-three roads have less traffic. About 400 pounds of salt are planned for use on each two-lane mile of pavement this winter.

For more information on the RCOC, visit www.rcocweb.org.