Penfield Roadways: Managing Snow and Ice

To date, the 2020/21 winter season has been pretty mild. In a typical season our region sees an average snowfall of 99.5 inches. As of January 7, we’ve had just 12.6 inches of snow compared to last year at this time when we stood at 44 inches. While this lack of snow has given the Department of Public Works time to work on many winter projects, we all know the snow and ice will come—and when it does, we are ready to shift to plowing mode and focus on clearing roadways throughout the town.

Every winter when the snow starts to fall our phone starts ringing with calls from residents who want to know when and where we will plow and salt. We are asked: Where are the plows? When will you plow my street? How do you decide when to send out the plows?

Here’s an overview: The DPW performs snow and ice control operations on roughly 290 lane miles of town roads plus another 200 lane miles of state and county roads for which the Town is reimbursed annually. Together, these hundreds of lane miles are grouped into 18 town-wide plow routes. Routes are prioritized to provide the greatest benefit to travelers and emergency services. The highest priority roads are main thoroughfares like Routes 441, 250, Browncroft Blvd./Atlantic Ave., Empire Blvd., then secondary roads like Five Mile Line Road, Panorama Trail, Creek Street, and Plank Road, followed by subdivisions. Each route takes approximately four hours to complete. That’s why when we experience an extremely high snowfall rate it can be hours before the plows come around for another pass.

A number of factors—including current conditions, snow fall rate, weather forecast, ambient temperature, ground temperature, time of day or night, and day of the week—play a role in our decision-making process for managing snow and ice on roadways and sidewalks.

The DPW is in winter mode from November through April each year. Winter parking rules are in effect, snow fences are up, the salt barn is stocked, trucks are outfitted for snow and ice, and plow routes are established. Dispatchers work 24/7 monitoring phone reports, local and national weather forecasts, and road conditions. They share reports with Highway Department foremen who use that information, along with all weather and road condition data, to make decisions on deploying plows.

DPW foremen determine when to initiate plow runs, how many trucks to send out, where to send them, whether we need to plow and/or salt, and the rate at which salt should be spread on roads.

While no two weather events are ever the same, our foremen use the following general guidelines to determine when and how to deploy plows:

  • Typically, if it snows overnight, we call in 18 plow truck operators between 2:30 and 3:00 am in an effort to have the roads plowed and safe for morning traffic. Foremen are also keeping an eye on the roads throughout weekdays in case crews need to be pulled from job sites to switch over to plowing roads.
  • In the evening and on weekends, depending on the time and road conditions, foremen make a judgment call whether to send out plows on an 18-truck run or a 9-truck run. An 18-truck run includes plowing all town, county, and state roads whereas a 9-truck run would only include plowing the main town roads (no subdivisions), county, and state roads.

Any time Town trucks have their plows down and are scraping snow and ice from main roads, they are also salting. Within subdivisions, plow operators typically salt hills, curves, and intersections, or what we call “HCI.”

The standard application rate of salt is 250 lbs. per lane mile, roughly equivalent to five 5-gallon buckets. This rate is subject to change based on the patrolling foreman’s observations and weather conditions. On a majority of the roads east of NYS Rte. 250, sand is often mixed with the salt to help provide traction because there is less traffic to help work the salt into the ice to assist in the melting process. All Town trucks use modern GPS speedometer-regulated salter control technology to ensure material is being applied evenly on road surfaces.

While a specific accumulation or depth of snow is not the sole determining factor as to when plow trucks are deployed, snow depth does determine if and when sidewalk tractors should clear sidewalks along main roads. When about two or more inches of snow covers sidewalks, four tractors with V-plows are sent out to clear individual routes for pedestrians. No salt is applied on sidewalks.

Please help to ensure everyone stays safe by driving appropriately for conditions; clear all snow and ice off of your vehicle to maintain visibility, be patient, and give plow trucks plenty of room to clear the roads. Trucks may need to stop and backup and drivers can’t always see everything behind them. Never try to pass a plow truck as it is both dangerous and illegal. Also, snow plow rules are in effect in the Town of Penfield from November 15 through April 1. This means no parking is allowed on all roads and highways between 2:00 AM and 7:00 AM to allow highway crews to safely and effectively maintain roads.

Town plow operators will do their best to make sure the roads are as safe as possible but need assistance and cooperation from everyone else on the road.