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Keeping Roads Safe During Snow Season

Snow season is back in Coconino County. After 2018 gave us one of the driest winters (and severe fire seasons) in recent memory, it’s great to be experiencing what we hope will continue to be a robust snow season.

We are off to a great start this winter. Coconino County Public Works started the season with a mid-October deployment and has since gone out almost a dozen times to help keep county roads open and passable during snow events. However, with snow seasons that routinely run from November through May and average about 110 inches, snow response presents some unique challenges for Public Works. 

First, the Public Works team is responsible for plowing more than 700 miles of gravel and paved roads across often isolated, heavily treed terrain. Elevation also plays a factor. At about 7,000 feet, our mile-and-a-half high county routinely throws extremely low temperatures at equipment and operators, which can hinder the performance of both. There are also the freeze/thaw cycles – the nation’s most severe – where snow melting and re-freezing wreaks havoc on asphalt.    

To help meet these challenges, Public Works developed a Snow Plan as a cost-effective protocol to maximize the department’s snow removal resources through strategic, scalable deployment to areas most impacted by snowfall. Appropriately dubbed “Right Place Right Time,” this Snow Plan works through a storm-by-storm consideration of weather, seasons and the locations of actual, plowable amounts of snow. The goal is to plow all county roads while maintaining a safe environment for our operators and the traveling public.

Although effective winter storm response is wholly contingent upon Public Works’ ability to direct resources where (and when) they are needed most, snow removal operations in Coconino County is a community effort. As such, it is crucial that residents and visitors alike drive for changing conditions and give operators enough room to work by staying back 100 feet during plowing and cindering operations.

It’s also very important that “snow players” respect the county’s Winter Parking Ordinance 2017-11, which prohibits parking along county maintained rights-of-way between Nov. 1 and April 1, and allows for the civil enforcement of parking restrictions either by citation (not less than a $200 fine) or towing or both.        

Whenever Public Works’ snow plows and graders deploy, it’s a good reminder of how Proposition 403, the County’s Road Maintenance Sales Tax, benefits our residents and visitors. Approved by 65 percent of county voters in November 2014, Prop. 403 has allowed Public Works to bolster its workforce and begin to replace plowing and road maintenance equipment that had greatly exceeded its service life. Without this funding, baseline services like snow plowing would have been reduced by up to 40 percent.         

Coconino County is a land of vast beauty where winter weather can be as diverse as the scenery. The people of Coconino County Public Works are dedicated to the maintenance of our roads, especially during the challenging months of snow season.

Please have fun, be safe and enjoy all that winter in our county has to offer! FBN

By Lucinda Andreani

Lucinda Andreani is the Coconino County deputy manager and Public Works director.

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