By Friday night there could be 3-5 inches of new snow blanketing the Brainerd area, and snowplows will be out in force to clear roadways.
How roads will be snowplowed depends upon location.
In Brainerd, Baxter and Crow Wing County there is no bare pavement policy, meaning some roads will be left with areas of compacted snow and ice after the snowplows have been through.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, however, has a bare driving lanes policy that states all driving lanes will be cleared of snow and ice between the outer edges of the wheel paths and have less than an inch of accumulation on the center of the roadway.
The differences between the government entities is product and cost. When plowing snow, Brainerd and Crow Wing County use a mixture of about 90 percent sand and 10 percent salt on the roadway. Main sanding objectives include intersections, curves, hills, railroad crossings and other hazardous areas.
"We certainly make every effort to achieve some bare pavement on all our roads," said Crow Wing County Highway Engineer Duane Blanck. "Bare pavement is really achieved by the use of chemicals."
MnDOT uses a mixture mostly made up of salt and also a brine chemical to remove ice from roadways. The goal is to clear the roadways from shoulder to shoulder.
"We work out there pretty much until we have bare pavement," said Jenny Seelen, public affairs coordinator at MnDOT's Baxter office.
For the city of Brainerd, it's all about cost, said Brainerd City Engineer Jeff Hulsether. The city's annual budget calls for about $3,000-$4,000 for sand and $10,000-$12,000 for salt.
"And we usually spend all of that," Hulsether said. "A dry road policy would have a major impact on our snow removal budget."
MnDOT safety tips
Slow down and stay behind the snowplows. Drivers should allow at least five car lengths between their vehicles and snowplows. The road behind the plow will be the safest place to drive.
Be particularly aware of black ice conditions on surfaces such as bridge decks and entrance and exit ramps.
Turn on headlights and turn off cruise control settings.
Never drive into a snow cloud.
Test the road surface frequently throughout your trip by tapping your brakes. Black ice is invisible and may be present in some areas, but not others.
Motorists can obtain timely weather and road condition reports by calling 511 or logging onto www.511mn.org.
Another reason salt is mixed in with sand is to keep the sand piles from freezing and to help the sand stick to roadways.
Blanck said cost isn't a factor in why his department hasn't switched to mainly salt. He cited possible environmental impact as many of the county's roads drain into lakes. He figured the cost for using pure salt or salt and sand mixed would be about the same.
Like MnDOT, Baxter uses straight salt on residential roads, with salt obtained by MnDOT through a cooperative agreement. Baxter Public Works Director Trevor Walter said salt is applied within 200 feet of intersections and down centerlines once roads get more ice covered.
However, Baxter's commercial and industrial roads are plowed and sanded by Anderson Brothers. And because MnDOT won't supply a private contractor with salt, Anderson Brothers does Baxter's roads with a sand and salt mix similar to Brainerd and Crow Wing County.
Walter said the main complaints he receives are that plowing and laying down of salt aren't happening fast enough in some neighborhoods. He noted Baxter has three vehicles for plowing and one truck to throw salt, and that truck is often times pulled from its route to salt intersections. He said additional equipment and salt storage facilities have been budgeted.
Hulsether said he's gotten both positive and negative comments on Brainerd's snow removal system.
"That's life in Minnesota," Hulsether said. "We're going to have snow on the roads and people have to drive according to the conditions."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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