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Feb 15

Snow Plow Drivers: The Unsung Heroes of Winter

Posted on February 15, 2022 at 10:29 AM by Shelby Abner

We all know there are only two seasons in Indiana — winter and construction. Taking care of our roads doesn’t stop when the weather gets cold. Our Street Department works year-round to ensure our Brownsburg streets are clear and safe, even during a snowstorm. 

“If we know there’s snow coming overnight, [Assistant Superintendent Matt Griner] will stay up all night just to watch the weather and make sure we’re prepared,” said Equipment Operator Luke Albertson. “Sometimes we’ll get the call at 3 AM and it’s time to go to work.”

The Brownsburg Street Department is responsible for maintaining conditions on 250 miles of road within Brownsburg. With a fleet of 10, each street laborer has a route they drive when pre-treating or plowing roads during inclement weather. If the weather is particularly bad, staff from the Water Utilities, Development Services, and Parks Departments will plow as well.

“I’ve been doing this since 1998,” said Assistant Superintendent Matt Griner. “Winter is by far the most stressful season for us. I’d like to say this job turned me grey, but I was grey long before.”

Not all winter storms are the same, and conditions can vary across Town. Multiple weather conditions make it difficult to predict what treatment will work best on the roads. If rain comes before snow, pre-treatment won’t work as the salt will be washed away.

“People think the trucks are untouchable,” Luke said. “Ice is the most dangerous for us because the trucks slide on ice and they’re hard to turn. I remember a few years ago I was on Ronald Reagan, before it connected to 56th St., during a flash freeze. I saw a semi in the ditch and realized there was black ice. Then I slid off the road, cars after me slid off the road, police officers slid off the road, the person coming to get me out slid off the road- it was a mess.”

When the forecast calls for snow, anti-icing treatments begin. Before salt is loaded onto the trucks, it’s mixed with “beet juice”, an organic spray that helps salt stick to the roads better and lessens its corrosive properties. It takes about 8 hours for a team to make the salt road-ready.

Tractor Mixing Salt with "Beet Juice"

Each truck is loaded with 12 tons of salt, which generally lasts one full route. Routes typically take about 4 hours to complete, as trucks have to pass over streets multiple times to ensure each lane of traffic and center lanes are completed. With such large areas to cover and limited time, some trucks are outfitted with Opticom emitters, the same technology Police & Fire vehicles use, to change traffic lights green to ensure quick response times.

“If you finish your route early, you go and help someone else finish theirs,” Luke said. “People don’t realize the long hours we work during the winter. We have to be available around the clock, from December through March. We want to go home like everyone else, but we have to make sure the roads are safe first.”

Luke, who has been with the Town for over eight years, says driving a route requires patience and staying alert.

Luke Albertson in Snow Plow

“I drive from 56th Street to Ronald Reagan Parkway,” Luke said. “We have to drive back and forth slowly for the salt to spread properly, and it can get boring after so many years. Driving slowly also tends to make other drivers mad so, we have to watch for people trying to get around us in unsafe conditions.”

Luke warns that when you see a snowplow out working, it’s most important to stay back and give them space.

“When we’re driving, we have poor visibility,” Luke said. “There’s snow flying around, and we’re trying to concentrate on clearing the road. When people try to pass us, it’s usually at the wrong time; the road ahead of us probably isn’t clear.”

View from Snow Plow

“Clearing the roads is important, but we also want to stay safe,” said Street Laborer Ron Ramey. “Sometimes we’re working 24-hour days, but we still have to pay attention to people driving erratically, the road conditions, and mailboxes.”

Road treatment doesn’t begin when the snow starts to fall. Planning for the winter season starts in early spring. The department determines strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, staffing, truck maintenance, and orders over 16,000 tons of salt.

“We never know what kind of winter weather we’re going to get, and that’s what makes this job so interesting,” Matt said.

“We have a great and knowledgeable team,” said Superintendent Steve Finch. “Snow storms don’t just happen between 7 AM and 4 PM. No matter what time we call them in, they’re ready to go. That’s the kind of commitment you’re getting from the Street Department to make sure our roads are safe for residents.”

For more information about snow removal in Brownsburg visit www.brownsburg.org/211/Snow-Removal.