The winter season and the challenges that nature presents are a part of life in the Inland Northwest. The Maintenance team at the Washington State Department of Transportation/Eastern Region meets that challenge with staff and equipment in an effort to keep the area state highways open and as safe as possible.
However, the most important snow and ice safety component is you. You have the responsibility to take extra care during the winter months. Slow down, don’t follow too closely, anticipate stops, give yourself extra time, and be prepared for adverse driving conditions.
WSDOT Winter Roadway Condition Goals
Snow and ice control efforts are a balancing act between the forces of nature, available staff, and equipment. All of this costs money. Snow and ice control is the largest expense in the annual Region Maintenance budget.
To make the most efficient and economical use of our resources, the Department has prioritized all state highway sections and assigned a level of service goal. Of course, achieving these goals is very dependent on the severity of the winter weather.
Highway sections have been ranked using traffic volumes, number of steep grades, curves, and other criteria in order to determine the snow and ice control strategy noted in the chart below and the corresponding map.
In the chart below the number 1 items are done prior to the weather event. Item 2 is done during the weather event, and item 3 is after the weather event.
The chart, and an explanation of the roadway treatment strategy is also available as a pdf file (992k).
The Winter Treatment Level Map above shows the level of service for Eastern Region roadways. Purple is Level 1, Blue is Level 2, Green is Level 3, and Orange is Level 4. There are no level 5 roadways (seasonal closure) in the Eastern Region.
Equipment on the Roads
The mainstay of our fleet: the truck-mounted plow/sander combination.
Liquid anti-Icer chemical application. In the Eastern Region either magnesium chloride, calcium chloride or salt brine.
A truck plow with a “wing” blade mounted to the side. NEVER PASS A SNOWPLOW ON THE SHOULDER! There may be a wing blade that you can’t see.
A snow blower. These are used for mountain passes and to clear severely drifted highways.
Chemicals and Sand
In past years, the primary winter traction aid used on state highways was sand. Now, liquid chemicals have become an important component in the snow and ice control program. In addition, rock salt and salt brine have returned as a tool for highway maintenance crews. All of these products have advantages and disadvantages, but the safety aspect of these chemicals cannot be overlooked.
The Department is using less traction sand than it did in the past. Although sand is still used it has several disadvantages: Sand cannot be applied to a dry highway in anticipation of a storm-it just blows off as a result of vehicle traffic. Sand is pulverized into dust, and during warmer weather creates pollution concerns in many communities. The abrasive qualities of sand act like sandpaper and can remove highway paint markings, plus the flying sand particles can damage vehicle paint and glass.
Over the past few years, the Department has used liquid anti-icing chemicals in its snow and ice control program. Liquid chemicals such as magnesium chloride are used prior to storm events to keep snow from bonding to the roadway, as a de-icing chemical to melt snow and ice after it has fallen, and as a pre-wetting agent to help keep sand from blowing off the roadway. A disadvantage of these liquid chemicals is the possibility of corrosion on some metals. Although less corrosive than salt, magnesium chloride, like any snow melting chemical, can corrode some metals if left on vehicles for extended periods.
The WSDOT also uses salt and liquid salt brine in its snow and ice program. The advantage of salt is its cost and snow melting capabilities. Of course, salt can cause corrosion in some metals.
Protect your investment-wash your car or truck frequently in the winter
Either salt or magnesium chloride, if left on unprotected metal, can cause some damage to vehicles. As a precaution, it’s good advice to wash your car during the winter months. Many commercial or self-serve car washes are located in our region. Sometimes, during warmer days, it’s possible to wash your vehicles at home.
Winter Driving Tips
- Clear snow and ice from all windows before you drive.
- Pay attention. Don’t try to out-drive the conditions.
- Leave plenty of room for stopping.
- Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows. Stay back at least 200 feet and don’t pass on the shoulder. Remember, the road behind the plow is better than the road in front of it.
- Know the current conditions. Call 5-1-1 or (800)695-ROAD for traveler information.
- Don’t get overconfident in your 4x4 vehicle or with studded tires.
- Watch out for slippery bridge decks, even when the rest of the road is in good condition.
- Don’t use cruise control.
- Look farther ahead in traffic than you normally do.
Don’t follow too closely. Slow down!
Plus, here's a link to our 2011-2012 Winter Driving Guide.