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The real question: Is winter ready for MDOT?

LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan's fall colors aren't even in their full brilliance, and that telltale chill already is in the air. Winter's first snow is on its way. With almost 10,000 miles of state highways to clear, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is ready to greet the snowy season with a full fleet of plow trucks and contract counties.

"We're going to be just fine," said Mark Geib, administrator for MDOT's Transportation Systems Management and Operations Division. "We have highly trained people, we have the material we need, our equipment has been inspected and is ready to go. We're in good shape."

Whether it's the wing plows, tow plows, or salt trucks, MDOT's winter fleet is at the ready. In addition to the 330 plow trucks MDOT operates, it contracts with 63 counties to maintain state highways, bringing the total number plows to closer to 1,300 statewide. While MDOT relies on direct forces to plow about 25 percent of its state roads, the other 75 percent are plowed by county forces paid by the state for their services.

For this winter, the state has budgeted around $25 million for salt. There is 450,000 tons of salt filling storage barns around the state.

MDOT also is expanding a program started last winter and will be applying liquid salt to three trunklines: M-43 in Grand Ledge, M-20 in Mt. Pleasant, and M-66 in Montcalm County. The liquid is a 23 percent salt solution sprayed instead of spreading rock salt. It's been used for a few years in other states, and MDOT is examining the efficiency of the practice for expanded use statewide in the future.

The salt solution will work faster than rock salt but also has a shorter working period. The liquid stays where it's sprayed, eliminating the "bounce and scatter" of spreading rock salt, which results in some waste. The liquid program also reduces the amount of salt being introduced into the environment. MDOT will continue to expand the liquid use as best practices are learned and the needed equipment is acquired.

The final and most important pieces of MDOT's winter maintenance operations, the brave people who pilot the plow trucks, also are falling into place. Full-time MDOT maintenance workers are at the ready, with seasonal operators currently being interviewed and hired. Many seasonal plow operators work in construction during the warmer months and return to MDOT each year when that work halts for the winter. Many of those seasonal operators still are working on active projects; their return is anticipated in the coming weeks, plenty of time to fortify MDOT's plow operator well before the heaviest of Michigan's winter weather is expected.

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