Never on thin ice
In a city that gets very little snow, the goal is to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature deals out.
Layton Lamb gets little respect for patching potholes or fixing sidewalks. He gets all sorts of accolades, however, for scraping the ½ inch of ice that coats the streets of Charlotte, N.C., during an ice storm.
Lamb, a superintendent in the city's street maintenance division, is tasked with handling the 5½ inches of snow the city averages each year. Over the past three years, the amount of snow and ice has been negligible. Before that, however, the city saw about five years of record snow and ice. So the team has to prepare for whatever may be thrown at them.
Responsible for about 4500 lane miles, Lamb and his crew of 250 employees shifts into high gear when a storm hits. “We'll go to two 12-hour shifts, day and night,” he says. “We operate 35 salt spreaders with an operator and laborer in each truck. We also have the support staff of brine makers, loader operators, supervisors, dispatchers, computer support, and time-and-material trackers.” He pulls workers from their regular duties and re-assigns them to storm duty as needed.
Although the city's 610,000 residents expect the department to plow residential streets, they're cleared only when 8 or more inches hit the area. The street maintenance division salts about 1500 lane miles of major roads. “In extreme conditions, we have contractors with motor graders and loaders to assist with the plowing operation,” says Lamb. The city has exercised this private plowing option only twice in the past 16 years.
“We experienced a very minor storm yesterday,” says Lamb in early February. “We only received about 2 inches of snow, and had some minor icing on our bridges.”
Pre-wetting with salt brine has saved local motorists from a lot of accidents, though the number of storms in which the city can apply brine is limited. If it rains instead of snows, the brine washes away. The city recently installed a new salt brine system manufactured by Reed Systems, Ellenville, N.Y., for $70,000, which is part of a new, $9.5 million maintenance facility.