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Highway Department details Winter Road Maintenance Operations

Nov 27, 2019 12:46PM ● By Editor
From the Cook County Highway Department - November 27, 2019

With the advent of each Minnesota snow season comes the concern about access to school, work and business during snow and ice events. The safety and convenience of the traveling public is a priority for the Cook County Highway Department. The goal of the highway department is to have all county roads passable within a reasonable amount of time after a snowfall has stopped, while taking into account economic resources and the safety of the public and plow operators.

While the Cook County Highway Department focuses on keeping the roads as clear and safe as possible within the constraints outlined in our Winter Road Maintenance Policy, drivers should be aware that State Statute 169.14, Subdivision 1, outlines that "no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions. Every driver is responsible for becoming and remaining aware of the actual and potential hazards then existing on the highway and must use due care in operating a vehicle."

The following highlights Cook County's Winter Road Maintenance program:

Route Prioritization
The highway department prioritizes winter work on county roads based on traffic volumes and logical routing of traffic. Primary roads and school bus routes will be plowed as soon as possible after an event, subject to some of the caveats described below. Secondary roads (which in general have lower traffic volumes) will be plowed once all primary and school bus routes have been opened; most often this means plowing of secondary roads will occur on the second day after a snow/ice event.

Highway Department Resources, Strategies and Safety Considerations:
The Cook County Highway Department has 12 snow removal vehicles and 12 operators; therefore, coverage time is limited to eight hours/weekday on low traffic volume roads and up to 12 hours/weekday on a very few high traffic volumes roads. Operator duty shifts are generally limited to a maximum of 12 hours per day for safety reasons; therefore, most routes will not have coverage between 4 pm and 4 a.m.

On weekdays, plows may be dispatched between 4 and 7 a.m., or when snow and drifting conditions stop or allow for reasonable accomplishments to be made. Operations will be halted if the highway engineer determines that services are too hazardous or if reasonable accomplishment cannot be made.

Weekends and holidays will receive a reduced level of service due to the limited resources available. As able, plows may be dispatched between 6 and 9 a.m. on the weekend or after a snowfall has stopped.

During a winter storm or blizzard conditions, consideration will be given to visibility, extended forecast and temperatures that would make operations hazardous or not cost effective. Due to decreased visibility and safety concerns, snowplow crews will not be dispatched at night on most roads except for true emergency calls upon request from emergency response officials.

The highway department will respond to emergencies as quickly as possible. The public can call law enforcement at 387-3030 outside of normal business hours, but this in no way means a plow will be dispatched. Every consideration will be given to providing motorists with the best possible travel conditions in every situation based on the weather forecast and available funding, manpower and equipment.

Generally, the clearing of roads will consist of four phases:
1. Open the Road. Clean one lane in each direction. Typically plow and wing are used.
2. Sand/Salt County Roadways. A seven to 10 percent salt to sand mixture is used for regular sanding. More salt may be used in problem areas. At temperatures below 20°F, salt use will be limited, as it becomes ineffective at lower temperatures. In general, the Highway Department will sand/salt the following sections of county roads:

  1.  Compacted Snow - Primary road: curves, hills, bridges and stop intersections.
  2.  Ice and Freezing Rain - Primary road: curves, hills, bridges and stop intersections.
  3.  Bare Pavement - At the discretion of the Highway Department or by the direction of the County Board.
  4.  Secondary Roads - Stop intersections and sanding only in extreme emergencies.

3. Widen Lanes to Edge of Shoulders.
4. Clean Up. Cut down banks to improve visibility, cut ice, sand/salt as appropriate, and remove ice and slush off roadway after salt and sun have been allowed to work.

Calendar Parking
The Grand Marais City Council enacted a calendar parking ordinance in the fall of 2019 to assist the city and county in clearing snow on streets within city limits.

Under the ordinance, calendar parking is in effect from November 15 to April 15 annually. The ordinance requires that vehicles on residential streets park on the odd side of the street on odd days (e.g., the 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc.) and on the even side of the street on even days (e.g., the 2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) between the hours of midnight and 5:00 p.m. Calendar parking is not enforced between 5:00 p.m. and midnight to allow time for residents and visitors to move their vehicles before the following day.

In the downtown zone, on-street parking is prohibited on both sides of the streets between Lake Superior and Highway 61 from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. daily. The downtown zone includes Broadway Ave., 1st Ave. W., 2nd Ave. W., Wisconsin St., and 1st St.

Questions or concerns regarding snow removal and/or road conditions should be directed to the Cook County Highway Department at 387-3014.

Emergencies may be reported to the Cook County Sheriff's Office at 387-3030.

Snowplow route map can be viewed at the Cook County Highway Department.

These are GENERAL guidelines used by the Cook County Highway Department. Each decision to mobilize the snowplow crews is a judgment call based on weather conditions, experience and available resources.
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