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Winter Driving

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All hands are on deck for ODOT this winter along the Interstate 5 corridor in southern Oregon, including the “Tasmanian Devil” and “Bulldog”.

These are pet names we’ve given to the short, stubby-looking pusher trucks that can make the difference between keeping the interstate open to traffic or clogged for hours.

“Pusher Trucks are one of the few tools we have that no one else has along the I-5 corridor,” said ODOT Assistant Manager Jeremiah Griffin.

Griffin said the pusher trucks, this one called Bulldog on the Siskiyous, are a versatile tool that keeps the summits open.

The pusher trucks are just one of the tools ODOT uses to keep the interstate open on the Oregon side.  Caltrans picks up the rest to Redding.  It’s a partnership renewed before each season in meetings in Ashland and Mt. Shasta; a time to place faces with names and phone numbers – with the ultimate goal of building relationships. When the snow falls, communication and coordination – and those built relationships – are as valuable as cinder, plows, deicer and salt to keep the pass open to traffic.

“We manage I-5 as a corridor with California because there are times when we may have to close the pass for them on the Oregon side, or the same may hold true on the California side,” said ODOT District Manager Jerry Marmon. “The idea is to ensure the public is stopped where they have access to available services – fuel, food and a warm motel room.”

Communication is Key

That communication and preparation extends to the public. Far too often, drivers approach the passes in winter conditions without being fully ready.   They either don’t know the forecast or don’t have their vehicles, or themselves, prepared for winter travel.

“Time and again, we see people not carrying chains, not knowing how to put them on or even not having the proper clothing to get down into the wet slop without getting cold and soaking wet,” said Ashland Maintenance Manager Bob Harshman.

The driving public needs to take an assessment of their vehicles before winter travel. (See page 16 for that checklist.)

Also critical are the agency communication tools: Tripcheck.com, Oregon DOT Twitter, Facebook pages and in California, Quickmap.dot.ca.gov.  Calling 511 still works for those who need to dial up the conditions.

However, not all locations along the interstate, especially north of Grants Pass, have reliable cell service. Last year, when heavy snow fell in blizzard conditions on Smith, Stage and Sexton Summits, intermittent blind spots made it difficult to communicate with travelers stuck behind jackknifed vehicles.  Some took to Twitter to ask ODOT when they could expect to get moving again.  It wasn’t in minutes, but hours.

One Twitter user said he had not looked at the weather forecast, nor did he have chains. He asked ‘What will become of me?’

“That is not a question we want to see or hear,” said ODOT Public Affairs Representative Gary Leaming.

“Fortunately, we encouraged him to check with his neighbors who were better prepared and helped him dig out once we were able to remove the jack-knifed trucks.”

“In today’s media environment, it’s critical we use traditional and new media to get our messages out to the public – and that includes helpful videos on the Oregon DOT YouTube site,” said Marmon.

Maintenance practices

Winter maintenance practices include plowing, sanding and applying winter anti-icing liquid and finally, salt. Crews use snowplows and truck-mounted push plows to clear snow, and they use frame-mounted tailgate sanders, deicer trucks and spreaders to sand and salt roadways.

For example, crews apply deicer (magnesium chloride) and sanding material (cinder) on hills, curves, bridges and known trouble spots. The deicer is used 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.

On Siskiyou Summit and the summits north of Grants Pass, the pusher trucks – as noted earlier – are invaluable for pushing and straightening stalled or jackknifed commercial tractor-trailers that can close down all lanes in a moment.

“We can’t stop the snow, but we can try to prevent it from bonding onto our highways,” said Marmon. “We are constantly improving efficiencies and equipment that allow our maintenance crews to focus on more areas during winter storms.”

Both Bulldog and Tasmanian Devil will be at the ready again this winter.

Their drivers will be on the CB again as they bump up against stalled trucks to help them “Grab some gears, get going…”

 

Ride along with a pusher truck and experience what it’s like to keep traffic moving on the southern Oregon I-5 passes – Visit www.youtu.be/_lsiDQG-5Aw

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