County snow removal priorities and practices

Snow and ice removal operations are considered a core program vital to the welfare of the county.  The basic philosophy governing the county’s snow and ice program is to provide road maintenance services to residents and travelers in La Plata County so they can experience reasonably safe driving conditions during winter months.


GENERAL

During the winter months, snow removal is the primary responsibility of the La Plata County Road and Bridge Department.  To keep over 600 miles of county roads clear, County Road and Bridge crews drive in excess of 1,500 miles for every winter snow storm.  (This does not include state highways, such as 160, 550, 140, 172, and 151, roads within municipalities or private roads.)  

 For snow removal and road maintenance purposes, the County is divided into four districts, each with its own Road and Bridge crew or “team.”  County roads in the 100s are in District I, 200s are in District II, 300s are in District III and 500s are in District V.  During the winter months, Road & Bridge teams are working or on call for work seven days a week.

PLANNING

As required by La Plata County Code Section 42-94, and by resolution, the Board of County Commissioners annually adopts a County Road Maintenance Map.  The County Road Maintenance Map designates the level of service to be provided for each road.  The various levels of service include snow removal under normal operating conditions and are identified below:

Summer and Winter Maintenance (plowed the same day): These include both Arterial Service and Local Service roads as designated in the annual Highway User Tax Fund  report.  This level of road is plowed to accommodate roads considered primary to the system, school bus and mail routes.

Summer and Winter Maintenance (plowed after same day roads):  These roads are typically designated as Local Service Roads within the HUTF Report and may only provide access to residents.

Summer Maintenance Only:  These roads are typically designated as Local Service Roads within the HUTF Report.  Roads identified by the County for summer maintenance services only are not school bus or mail routes and in most cases do not serve residents.  However, on occasion, these roads will provide access to residents but to date the road has not been formally adopted by the County for a change in service level.

Forest Service (summer and winter maintained):  Typically include roads designated as Local Service Roads within the HUTF Report.  The summer and winter maintained status usually indicates these roads are either a school bus route, mail route, have full time residents or all three.

Forest Service (summer maintenance only): Typically include roads designated as Local Service Roads within the HUTF Report and owned by the Forest Service.  County maintenance levels are established through the Road Maintenance Schedule “A” Agreement with the United States Forest Service.

Third Party Maintained: County roads maintained by a third party including snow removal.

Non-Maintained: County roads designated in the HUTF Report as non-maintained.  These roads typically have never been improved (usually no base or surface gravel), are currently not in use and have not been formally adopted by the County for a change in service level.

Snow Removal Road Classification & Priority System:

Level One:  Indicates the road will be plowed to maintain continuous all weather access within the maximum capabilities of the County.  These roads are considered arterial to the road system, school bus and mail routes, provide connectivity to municipalities and in some cases State and US Highways.

Level Two:  Indicates the road will be plowed to provide reasonable all weather access.  These roads are considered collector roads to the road system, school bus and mail routes.  Every attempt will be made to plow these roads the same day as the storm.

Depending on storm intensity, storm duration, equipment failure or other storm emergencies, snow removal of roads with a classification of Level Two may be delayed or suspended to provide the required resources to meet the objective of plowing Level One Roads. 

Level Three:  Indicates the road will be plowed to provide reasonable all weather access.  These roads are not a school bus route, or mail route, and may provide access to residents.  Every attempt will be made to plow these roads the same day as the storm.

Depending on storm intensity, storm duration, equipment failure or other storm emergencies, snow removal of roads with a classification of Level Three will be the first roads identified to either delay or suspend snow removal efforts in order to provide the required resources to meet the objective of plowing Level One and Two Roads. 

Level Four:  Are roads with a Summer and Winter Maintenance (plowed after all other roads) defined service level formally adopted by the County. 

Level Five:  Are non-maintained roads which will not be plowed.

Operational Classifications:

Normal Operating Conditions:  winter storm weather which can be managed by normal or slightly modified operations within the discretion of the Road and Bridge District Team Leader.

Serious Operating Conditions: hazardous conditions beyond normal (glare ice, whiteout, high winds, ice storm and extreme avalanche danger).  Serious conditions may also be the result of work force sickness, equipment failure or snow plow accident.  Serious conditions require the coordination of the Road and Bridge Superintendent and Team Leader.

Extreme Operating Conditions (potential emergency): possibility of, or inability to keep up with the storm due to weather, extended operations, emergency situation (i.e., major traffic accident, school closure(s), power outage or road closures.  Extreme conditions require the coordination of Public Works Director, Road and Bridge Superintendent and Team Leader.

Stated Emergency:  Office of Emergency Management (OEM) or County Manager states emergency conditions that threaten to, or are impacting safety and resources of La Plata County.

Declared Disaster:   Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) declares State of Disaster which will shift command of resources to a Coordination Team (Sheriff, OEM, Public Works Director and Superintendent), which may be located at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

In the case of a Stated Emergency or Declared Disaster, operations may be directed by the Sheriff or OEM through an Incident Command System for the better good of the community.  Public Works Director, Road and Bridge Superintendent or designee shall be part of the Incident Command to ensure coordinated response.  Operations will be guided by La Plata County Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).

SNOW REMOVAL OPERATIONS

Storm Warning Notification:  In advance of a storm, the county with the aide of weather forecasting (i.e., EWARN from the National Weather Service, Grand Junction CO, The Weather Channel and/or the internet) will notify employees of an upcoming event.  

Scheduling:  A storms intensity, duration, temperature, traffic conditions and time of day effect the time needed to plow a route.  Roads may not be plowed or sanded consistently at the same time throughout the winter or the storm due to these variables.

Plowing operations of paved roads will commence as soon as snow begins to accumulate on the road surface.  Gravel roads will be plowed after the accumulation of four (4) inches of snow.  In cases where the storm begins late in the evening, after all school busses and peak rush hour, plowing of gravel roads may be delayed until early in the morning.    

After the storm sets in and plowing is scheduled daily, plows and graders will be dispatched from their assigned District maintenance shop with the objective of getting to the furthest point on their route prior to the first school bus.  In some cases, this means only one travel lane of the road will be plowed. Plowing operations of both paved and gravel roads will continue throughout the storm. 

Plowing:  As a general rule, gravel roads will be plowed once in a twenty-four (24) hour period.  Snow will be moved from the center line of the road to the shoulder, including intersections. On subsequent passes, second lanes and turn lanes will be plowed.  Widening of roads will begin when the traveled roadway has been plowed and sanded (paved roads) or plowed (gravel roads).

Plowing of other facilities, i.e., transfer station access, park and ride areas, and school bus turnarounds will be scheduled during the storm.  Timing of the plowing will be on a case by case basis.

Blizzard Conditions:  Blizzard conditions may warrant suspending plow operations for the safety of the driver and traveling public,.  These conditions will, in most likelihood, change a storm’s operational classification to Serious, Extreme or even an Emergency. 

Road Closures:  During a storm, any occurrence (i.e., drifting, snow avalanche, downed tree, traffic accident) may cause a road to be closed.  

Sanding:   Normal sanding of roads, in general, includes hills, curves, bridges and intersections.  Continuous sanding will be done only when it is necessary in order to provide a reasonably safe driving surface.  During heavy snowfall, roads will not be sanded to avoid sand being immediately covered.  Intersections with heavy traffic during the peak rush hour may be an exception to sanding during the storm.  Sanding operations are typically restricted to routes plowed by trucks, which in a few cases include gravel roads. 

Use of De–Icing Agents:  Liquid de-icing is typically applied only after the first snow fall begins and at an ambient temperature greater than 19 Degrees Fahrenheit.   Use of solid de-icing agents may be used to boost melting of, or to impede the buildup of snow pack and aid vehicle traction.  

Towing Private Vehicles:  The Road and Bridge Department is authorized by the Sheriff’s Office to request towing of vehicles interfering with snow removal from county roads.   Providing the vehicle is NOT a threat to the safety of the traveling public and depending on the severity of the event, prior to calling a tow, the county may try to contact the owner.