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UDOT ready for big storm — and ensuing price tag

By Jed Boal | Posted - Dec 17th, 2012 @ 10:43pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — As the latest winter storm moved into northern Utah Monday evening, state snow plow drivers geared up for an even more potent punch overnight.

With few big storms this winter, the Utah Department of Transportation has saved money on plowing. That's a good thing, because a storm like this one could ring up nearly $1 million in snow removal.

Across the state, as snowflakes started to fly, plow drivers loaded up with salt and brine solution and hit the road.

"We look forward to a good storm," said Ryan Ellsworth, roadway operations manager for UDOT.

Ellsworth get rolling with around 500 other state plow drivers, and most will work all night.

"The morning commute could be a little bit mess, but we're going to have people out all night to make sure that doesn't happen," he said.

UDOT is expecting a half inch of snow an hour, so they pre-treated the roads to accelerate the melting.

"We just get on top of it early and run all night," explained Lee Nitchman, a UDOT district maintenance engineer.

Many drivers will start after midnight, when the brunt of the storm arrives.

"It's a hard job. Guys sacrifice: they change their sleep cycles, they come out in the middle of the night, they come out on holidays," Nitchman said. "But we live for it. We thrive on it."

So far this winter, the state has caught a break on plowing costs. Through Dec. 15, UDOT spent nearly $4.3 million on snow removal — about two-thirds of what the agency had spent this time last year, and about half of the cost from two years ago.

"Granted, though, it is early in the season," Nitchman said. "March is typically the heaviest time for snow in the state of Utah."

A statewide storm can cost $1 million to clear, depending on how much salt UDOT needs to use and the overtime hours put in by drivers. Salt is 40 percent of the snow-removal budget, and the workforce can be as much as 40 percent too.

Monday night, the workforce was focused on safe travel.

"We want to get out and make sure the roads are safe for our families, (and) for everybody," Ellsworth said.

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