MnDOT snow plows prepare ahead of winter storm

By KBJR News 1

February 20, 2014 Updated Feb 20, 2014 at 7:39 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - From potholes to water main breaks, this winter's death grip on the Northland has been a tough one to watch for Duluth Mayor Don Ness.

"At this point there's very little area for that snow to go, and yet we need to clear the snow, and people are tired of it. They're tired of having to shovel out their driveway once again. [But] we're all in this together," Mayor Ness said.

"The Duluth crew has been running around the clock, [working] two 12 hour shifts since Monday removing snow to make room for the snow we're about to start plowing," said Patrick Huston, operations engineer for MnDOT District 1.

At the MNDoT District 1 Pike Lake station Thursday afternoon, city and county plow teams were fine-tuning their fleet to join the 88 other District 1 snowplows that will be covering 1,600 miles of state road from Pine City to the Canadian border.

To save taxpayer money, and to keep those roads as slush-free as possible, Operations Engineer Patrick Huston says salt and other ice-melting chemicals won't be applied to until the end of the blizzard is hours in sight.

"If you think about a twin-axle truck going down the road, it's $1,000 worth of salt in it. We don't want to be dumping that down onto the snow, having the next plow truck behind it plowing it right off the highway."

To figure out when to salt, among other things, plow operators like Robert Cheetham have an arsenal of tools in their truck cab, including weather-predictive GPS.

"That helps us prepare for what we want to do to our roads, and how we're going to treat those roads when this weather system comes in," said MnDOT Transportation Generalist, Robert Cheetham.

The newest tool District 1: the Tow Plow.

Think of it as an extra set of hands for a snowplow, with virtually all of the snow-removal features, and at a quarter of the cost for an already strained county plow budget.

"These are in the ballpark of $90,000. A twin-axel, fully-outfitted plow truck is running over a quarter of a million dollars right now. These don't replace a plow truck-they're a supplement to it."

While the tow plow won't be used tonight, or tomorrow, Huston hopes to have it on the roads before the end of this winter.
It'll stay North of Duluth, on Highway 53, for a while.

The hope is to have it eventually running in the city.

Billy Wagness