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| 3 min read | from the Washtenaw County Road Commission |

Photo: WCRC

The Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) is responsible for winter maintenance on 1,649 miles of county roads and 598 lane-miles of state highways and expressways. Winter maintenance activities include applying salt and sand, as well as plowing snow on roadways and shoulders. With few exceptions, WCRC conducts winter maintenance on public roads located outside of cities and village limits. Cities and villages provide winter maintenance with their own workforces.

Fast Facts:

  • WCRC performs winter maintenance activities in accordance with a priority system based on traffic volumes, location and road classification (paved, unpaved).
  • WCRC can easily spend $3 million annually for winter maintenance, depending on the severity of weather conditions and the length of the winter season.
  • During a typical year, WCRC will provide between 50 to 75 days of winter maintenance services. The 2013/14 winter season required 103 days!
  • WCRC employs more than 60 certified, professional snowplow drivers and heavy equipment operators to help keep public roads clear during the winter.
  • WCRC may deploy up to 46 snow plows during a winter storm event.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the FAQs the WCRC receives regarding winter maintenance. The complete list can be viewed on their website.

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How does WCRC prioritize snow and ice removal?

Safety is the Washtenaw County Road Commission’s top priority and when a storm hits, WCRC crews begin their day early to keep roads as clear as possible. WCRC performs winter maintenance activities in accordance with the 2019-2020 Winter Maintenance Guidelines approved by the Board of County Road Commissioners.

WCRC’s Winter Maintenance Guidelines include a priority system for clearing snow and ice from roads that is based on traffic volumes, location and road classification (paved, unpaved).

Here’s a summary of our priorities during a storm:

  • Primary Routes: The most highly traveled roads in the county. When it’s snowing, WCRC crews focus all efforts to keep these clear for emergency vehicles and all travelers.
    • Examples: I-94, US-23, M-52, US-12, M-14, county paved roads…
  • Secondary Routes: Local roads like subdivision or gravel roads.
    • These will be cleared once the primary routes are cleared, if it starts to snow again, WCRC crews will leave these roads to go back to primary routes.

When will WCRC plow my subdivision or gravel road?

Road conditions, weather forecasts, timing and the severity of a storm can impact our ability to clear subdivision and gravel roads. After a major storm or back-to-back storms, subdivision and gravel roads in townships might not be cleared for a few days. We clear roads according to the priority system. Until the highways and paved roads are complete, we will not begin work on subdivisions or gravel roads.

Due to limited resources, WCRC does not expend overtime for winter maintenance on subdivision and gravel roads unless there are 4+ inches of snow, an ice storm, blowing/drifting snow, or as determined necessary by the Superintendents of Maintenance, with the concurrence of the Director of Operations.

Please note that WCRC only plows subdivision and gravel roads located in townships. Cities and villages have their own winter maintenance crews.

We pay property tax, why don’t we get better snow removal service?

The property tax you pay is used for your local and county government agencies and for schools, not day-to-day road maintenance. The local road millage tax that homeowners pay may only be used for road construction projects.

WCRC’s winter maintenance budget is funded solely by fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees collected by the State of Michigan. This income funds all day-to-day maintenance activities included traffic signals, signage, pavement markings, sweeping and both temporary and permanent road and bridge repairs. In late 2015, Governor Snyder approved a road funding package which increased fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. To learn more about road funding and how it works, visit our road funding FAQ page.

Why do bridges and overpasses freeze before the surface of the road?

While temperatures on the road surface drop, the heat underneath the road keeps it warm enough to prevent icing as temperatures drop below freezing. Bridges have no way to trap heat, so they continually lose heat and freeze shortly after temperatures hit the freezing point. If the air temperature falls below freezing, a bridge’s surface will likely be freezing too, causing rain and snow to freeze and stick to the road surface.

Why can’t salt be put on the roads and bridges before it snows?

Putting salt on road surfaces before snowfall is a waste of time and money as salt often bounces off the dry road during application. The portion that manages to land and stays on the road surface is subject to wind and will likely blow off the road before it can do its job.

Salt is most effective after the snow has accumulated and the temperature is 20° F or higher.  Under these conditions, the salt and snow will mix, which melts the snow into slush that can be plowed off the pavement. This melting action will occur within two hours, less if traffic is using the highway.

If the temperature is below 20° F, the salt will have difficulty melting the snow and ice, so other methods are used.  Abrasives are often put down for traction.  Salt brine can be added to enhance the ability to melt the ice and snow.  The road commission may change the mixture of salt and additives based on the ground temperature.

Is it legal to pass a snowplow?

There are no state laws that prohibit passing a snowplow, but passing a snowplow can be extremely dangerous. The Washtenaw County Road Commission recommends keeping a safe distance.

Snowplows may be equipped with wing plow blades that can extend anywhere between 2-10 feet beyond the width of the truck. This wing plow blade is often not seen because of the snow cloud being kicked up by the snowplow.  These wing plows can often weigh as much as a compact car.

Can the snowplow operator plow my driveway if I am elderly, disabled, or not physically able to shovel?

Unfortunately, the Washtenaw County Road Commission does not have the resources to plow the driveways of those who are unable to do so.  Our primary goal is to use the resources we have to provide safe and reliable roadways in the most efficient manner possible.  We encourage those who are not able to shovel to ask neighbors for assistance or hire a private snowplow service.

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