Royal Oak Department of Public Services and Recreation Director Aaron Filipski stands beside the city’s salt dome, which holds an estimated 3,400 tons of salt, Nov. 15.

Royal Oak Department of Public Services and Recreation Director Aaron Filipski stands beside the city’s salt dome, which holds an estimated 3,400 tons of salt, Nov. 15.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik


Royal Oak prepares for winter road maintenance

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published December 10, 2021

 An Oakland County Road Commission truck is filled with salt before heading out on the road. The Road Commission recently reviewed its winter maintenance procedures ahead of the winter season.

An Oakland County Road Commission truck is filled with salt before heading out on the road. The Road Commission recently reviewed its winter maintenance procedures ahead of the winter season.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

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ROYAL OAK — The city of Royal Oak is ready for winter road maintenance, whatever conditions Mother Nature decides to serve this season.

Royal Oak Department of Public Service and Recreation Director Aaron Filipski said the city buys its sodium chloride in bulk and typically works with a state cooperative contract that gives a price for local municipalities.

As salt is used, he said, the city tops off its salt dome, which he estimated to hold 3,400 tons of salt.

“Usually by the end of winter, we are full again,” Filipski said. “Last year, we used 11,000 tons (of salt), which sounds like a lot, but it varies depending on the type of winter. (That number) is about average, I would say.”

He added that the city also sells its salt to the Royal Oak Schools district, which stores and uses the salt it purchases for its facilities.

As for roads the city of Royal Oak is responsible for maintaining, Filipski said the city has a policy to plow and salt hills, curves and intersections, but not all sections of residential roads.

“(We salt where motorists) have to slow down, stop or change direction,” he said. “Some cities salt (all portions of roads they are responsible for) as a matter of policy. We don’t because it’s corrosive to concrete, and also the runoff from melted briny water eventually makes its way to the lakes, and that’s not ideal either.”

Filipski said Royal Oak works in conjunction with Oakland County and the state of Michigan to ensure coverage of all roads. While the county generally maintains roadways under state jurisdiction, he said the city does maintain some county roads, such as 12 Mile Road, for which it gets reimbursed by the county.

“We budget every year and do our best guess to assume price increases. Like anything else, salt is a commodity that goes up and down (in price), but we’re usually thinking in advance a year out,” he said.

In recent years, Filipski said, metro Detroit has been hit with some ice and snowstorms, but with rises in temperatures, local municipalities have seen a drop in snow accumulation.

Oakland County Road Commission Public Information Officer Craig Bryson said the county’s team of snowplow drivers and other staff recently reviewed safety practices for experienced and new drivers, with an emphasis on following procedures.

“Safety is the biggest thing we spend the most time on, but we also talk a lot about the winter vehicle maintenance activities,” Bryson said in a prior interview. “The drivers are responsible for … the pre-trip checklist to make sure everything is in good functioning order when they go out and when they come back in at the end of their shift and make sure everything is good.”

County drivers are responsible for changing the blades on the snowplows, searching for leaks in the hydraulic hoses, cleaning out the salt spreaders and double-checking that the lights work. Another important safety check is to make sure beds of dump trucks are lowered to prevent accidents.

“There have certainly been cases in our agency and other agencies where (drivers are) tired, they’re at the end of a 16-hour shift and they forgot to put the dump bed down and pull out of the salt dome or garage and smash through the garage door, or worse,” Bryson said. “There have been cases where the drivers have hit overpasses on the freeway if they forget to put the bed down.”

The Oakland County Road Commission recently hired 17 new full-time drivers for the upcoming winter season. It is still looking to hire 10 more full-time and 20 part-time drivers to help out. Darryl Heid, director of highway maintenance, said the county is at 85%-90% staff level for a full workforce.

“The numbers are up from years past after the recession,” Heid said in a prior interview. “It’s one thing the Road Commission drivers really pride themselves on: winter maintenance. They work the long shifts and they always make sure everything’s covered.”

Finding drivers has been challenging with the COVID-19 labor shortages, as well as a significant increase in the number of truck driver jobs from other entities, such as Amazon, Bryson said.

“It’s a challenging market for truck drivers and road maintenance laborers,” he said.

For more information, call the Royal Oak Department of Public Services at (248) 246-3300 or the Oakland County Road Commission at (248) 858-4804.

No one from the Clawson Department of Public Works responded to a request for comment by press time.

Staff Writer Mike Koury contributed to this report.

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