By Val Lopez and Jeff Williford
Special to The Messenger
AUSTIN – It all begins when the weather is still warm and balmy. Well before the winter season, TxDOT staff across the state begin to prepare for snow and ice.
Preparations include equipment maintenance, training sessions and replenishing the stock of salt, strategically placed throughout the state.
“Texas does have nine strategic salt pile locations,” said Matthew Heinze, TxDOT maintenance section manager. “These nine locations are in areas where they have higher salt use and they can be used by other districts. When we start looking at longer duration events—if it’s going to be longer than a week or so, we may need to tap into those strategic salt reserves.”
TxDOT also stockpiles sand, chemical de-icers and liquid brine well before winter arrives.
Just as important is preparing personnel throughout the state. Crews conduct winter weather operations training and update plans for winter weather operations. All this happens well before the first frost touches Texas highways.
And then TxDOT watches the forecasts.
“We are always monitoring the weather,” Heinze said. “We are getting daily weather updates from the National Weather Service.”
The prediction of winter weather spurs action. Many districts will pre-treat highways with brine. Brine, a salt and water mixture, can be applied several days ahead of an event. The goal is to prevent ice bonding to the roadway surface.
Once winter weather hits, TxDOT crews go into 24/7 mode and continually monitor roadways.
Bridges, overpasses, and other elevated structures are most vulnerable to icing, so crews place additional emphasis on these areas. Salt, sand and chemical de-icers are all tools in the toolbox that TxDOT crews use to keep roadways as clear as possible.
Crews also use plows to push snow and ice off roadways and continue winter weather operations until the weather clears.
And just as TxDOT crews work tirelessly around the clock during inclement weather, TxDOT asks drivers to do their part to stay safe. Driving in inclement weather is strongly discouraged.
If motorists must travel, TxDOT reminds drivers of the following safety tips:
- Please give TxDOT vehicles space to work. Don’t follow too closely, don’t try and pass working roadway equipment, and remember- don’t crowd the plow.
- Stay aware of weather conditions, as they can change rapidly.
- Give yourself additional time to reach your destination.
- Be considerate and share the road with others.
- Drive to conditions, wear your seat belt at all times, and don’t use cruise control.
- Reduce your speed and increase the traveling distance between your vehicle and others on the road.
- Drive with your headlights on day and night to increase visibility.
- Carry an emergency kit (with food, water, blankets, etc.) in your vehicle.
- Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full in case of unexpected delays.
- Give extra space to vehicles that may be parked on the side of the road.
If you find yourself in a skid, stay calm and keep both hands on the wheel. Take your foot off the gas, look where you want to go and then steer in that direction.
Move over a lane when possible or slow down if you see a vehicle with flashing lights on, such as a tow truck, law enforcement vehicle, emergency vehicle, or TxDOT vehicle.
Motorists are advised to keep informed of conditions which can change quickly. Follow local weather forecasts and check highway road conditions at www.drivetexas.org or by calling TxDOT’s Travel Information Line at 1-800-452-9292.