MUNCIE, Indiana – The next few weeks will feel more like January than November in Delaware County, according to the National Weather Service.
The good part of this is that Muncie Street Department and County Highway Department superintendents say they’re ready to handle winter rainfall on the streets and roads.
Snow should arrive in Delaware County late Tuesday morning, said Cody Moore, a weather forecaster with NWS in Indianapolis.
Intermittent snow shows, which could marginally increase expected Tuesday, could also fall. Further precipitation is possible into the weekend when temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing.
Moore said the roads and streets had cooled sufficiently since last Saturday’s snowfall that the snow would now cling to the sidewalk and make for smooth surfaces to drive on.
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Delaware County road master Tommie Humbert and Muncie road master Adam Leach said their salt barns were full and plows had been fitted to trucks.
“Our gear is better than ever,” Leach said of the city’s fleet taking to the streets this year.
The city received five new single-axle vehicles this year. Aging trucks were retired, leaving the city with one more truck than in recent years. In all, Muncie has 16 plows and uses pure salt to prepare the road before and during snowfall to clear the roads.
Humbert said he also has 16 trucks loaded with plows and grinders ready to go on 1,600 lane miles of road in the county. His department uses a salt-sand mixture on the roadways. The county ordered three new tandem dump trucks last year but hasn’t received them yet. Meanwhile, the county and crew will use the older equipment.
He said there are many drivers, including some who have recently been hired and are already vital to the Highway Authority’s operations thanks to their work ethic. But it’s not always easy to get supplies.
“We were lagging behind on everything,” Humbert said of the ongoing impact of the pandemic. And inflation has pushed up material prices for his department.
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“We expected them to be higher,” he said. “But they are much, much higher.”
While Leach has his trucks, he still needs to hire three truck drivers. The jobs are paying $17.89 an hour this year, and $18.25 per hour as of January. A Class B commercial driver’s license is required for the position.
Truck drivers for the city’s highway department also work as laborers and make up a large part of the road repair crew, he said. Over the past year, the Roads Authority began establishing a paving team and completed its first neighborhood paving project. The city bought its first paving machine and other equipment for its fledgling operation that summer.
Leach said the crew’s expertise keeps getting better. In the past, the city has relied on construction companies and the help of utility companies to complete its paving work.
In preparation for Tuesday, Leach said he and his supervisors would actually drive the streets and identify slippery areas and determine what response is needed where. A similar practice also takes place among the superiors of the road traffic authority. Targets for the attention of both crews start with slippery surfaces like bridges and overpasses.
Actual plowing can be difficult, especially in tight areas and places with heavy traffic. Both Leach and Humbert said they value their experienced plow drivers who have turned the skill into an art.
Humbert noted that unlike those plowing in cities and on highways, his drivers often have to learn to plow without streetlights, move around in the dark, and lay down snow. Leach said the city’s plow drivers had to traverse narrow areas.
“Sometimes the only place the snow can be dropped is around a parked car,” he said.
But plow drivers try to avoid blocking parked vehicles and work with the public as much as possible, he said. And Humbert said his drivers are also keeping an eye on residents they know have special needs, such as those who must retain access to county roads for home nurses.
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The remainder of November could be unusually busy for departments as unseasonably cold weather is expected for the next few weeks, Moore said, making any precipitation likely on the frozen variety.