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ODOT maintenance crews rise to the winter challenge

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ODOT maintenance crews throughout the Rogue Valley use different tools – plowing, chemicals and sanding materials – to stay ahead of the winter weather. For example, crews apply chemicals and sanding material on hills, curves, structures, and known trouble spots. Chemicals are used both as an anti-icer, before the storm to help prevent ice from forming on the road surface, and as a deicer, after the storm to help break the bond between ice and the road surface.

The Siskiyou Pass presents a unique challenge. When a storm hits Southern Oregon, the highest priority is the ten-mile stretch of Siskiyou Pass on Interstate 5, due to its importance as a regional freight route and its high traffic volumes.

Crew schedules are adjusted to provide 24-hour coverage during the winter to keep employees fresh and ready to respond to any storm, day or night.

“When a snowstorm hits the mountain passes our crews are ready for the challenge,” said ODOT District Manager Jerry Marmon. “Keeping I-5 open is our first priority.”

ODOT maintains other mountain passes in Southern Oregon at lower levels of service than the Siskiyou Pass. The Sexton and Smith Passes on I-5 in Josephine County are equal priority to the Siskiyous, however those mountain passes are at significantly lower elevations and do not see the same frequency of winter storms.

The Siskiyou Pass is Oregon’s only mountain pass where all-weather or studded tires cannot be substituted for chains.

“Because of the grades, the traffic and the experience of drivers on Siskiyou Pass, we go to a higher standard of traction devices,” Marmon said. “When we say chains are required on the Siskiyous, every vehicle has to chain up except vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive.”

Ill-equipped for winter travel
Storm-related delays and short-term closures on the Siskiyou Pass are a common occurrence. However, motorists are often caught ill-equipped to travel over the I-5 mountain pass.

“One of the biggest errors we see is people unprepared for winter conditions and a long wait in their car,” ODOT Maintenance Manager Everett Carroll said. Carroll manages the Ashland Maintenance crew, which is responsible for the Siskiyou Pass.

“We’ve seen people in shorts and tennis shoes,” Carroll said. “They have no gloves and no flashlight, but they’re bent over in the snow trying to chain up.”

In addition to pre-trip recommendations for winter travel, ODOT recommends motorists use these tips before traveling over the Siskiyou Pass:

• Dress warmly. Leave the Hawaiian T-shirt at home. It may be warm in your car, but you’ll miss your winter coat should you need to chain up. Carry an extra blanket and spare clothing in your vehicle.

• Fuel up. ODOT maintenance crews work hard to reopen I-5 during a winter storm, but it is not unusual for motorists to spend an hour or more waiting for the road to clear. Keep your tank full and ensure you’ll have plenty of gas to keep your car (and heater) running.

• Stay equipped. At a minimum, carry tire chains, a working flashlight and drinking water. Make your wait more bearable by taking along a pair of gloves, a cell phone and some snacks.

• Find relief. Don’t find yourself stuck in a snowstorm wishing you had ordered the small coffee instead. Nature calls, and loudly, when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Warmer facilities are abundant in Ashland, so make a final stop before heading south over Siskiyou Pass.

ODOT encourages drivers to prepare their vehicles for winter driving conditions and drive with extra caution. Before traveling to areas that may have hazardous conditions, make sure your vehicle is ready:

• Ensure the heater and defroster work properly.

• Test all lights. Carry spare light bulbs.

• Use antifreeze that works to -25°F; check and fill washer and other fluids and make sure hoses aren’t loose or brittle.

• Keep wipers clean and in good condition; fill the windshield washer tank.

• Make certain your battery is fully charged (also check battery age and make sure cables are not loose or corroded).

• Ensure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated for best traction, including your spare.

• Carry chains or use traction tires in winter.

• Keep an automotive safety kit in your vehicle.

If you travel with an infant or baby, pack extra food, warm clothes and blankets, toys and games, and extra diapers, just in case. Remember to use your child safety seat properly.

Before leaving, tell a family member or friend of your planned route and when you anticipate arriving. Keep them updated on any major route or arrival changes.

Your vehicle should be stocked with the following:
• Rechargeable flashlight
• Cell phone and car adaptor
• Extra food and water
• Flares
• Tools: jack, lug wrench, shovel
• Road maps
• Blanket/sleeping bag(s)
• Extra warm clothes, boots, hat and gloves
• First aid kit
• Pocket knife
• Matches or lighter
• Battery jumper cables
• Ice scraper and snow brush
• Paper towels
• Extra washer fluid
• Chains or traction tires
• A full fuel tank

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