As we see faint rays of Spring hope on the horizon, it’s a good time to comment on the extraordinary work that is put in every winter by the road crews here in North Grenville.
Whether you drive to work, to shop, to school, or to medical appointments, winter is not a season you can really appreciate. Snowstorms, freezing rain, ice and snow drifts make the roads a hazardous place. But we have a team of people here in the municipality that make things much safer and convenient for all of us through the worst of the winter weather.
Karen Dunlop, Director Public Works, and Doug Scott, Roads Superintendent, have developed a system for ploughing, sanding and grading the municipal roads in an efficient and highly effective manner. There are more than 300 kms of roads in North Grenville that have to be taken care of by the Public Works road and maintenance crews twelve months of the year, but the winter months are especially demanding. Half of the roads are paved, the other half gravel, and it takes about six hours to plough the paved surfaces and possibly twice that for the gravel roads, so, in the event of a snowfall, the drivers are kept busy.
The crews work in a single shift that runs from 4 am to 8 pm, although drivers must have a clear eight hours rest between shifts, which can last for up to thirteen hours in really bad weather conditions. The regulations are laid down by the Province of Ontario, who describe Minimum Standards for road clearance and maintenance. It is the policy and practice of Doug and his team to exceed those standards, and residents of North Grenville can be confident that they do. There is a priority list of roads to be cleared, depending on the speed limit and traffic volumes usual on that road, so they are cleared in the most convenient way for commuters in the mornings.
Doug explains that the reason for the 4 am start is to make sure that the roads have been ploughed before people begin their morning commute to work or school. To make sure that the crews are ready when needed, Doug himself usually heads out some time after midnight, to check road conditions on a regular basis. If necessary, with serious storms for example, extra drivers can be brought in to cover the situation. Public Works checks a number of weather forecasts to know what to expect and what the demands on the roads will be during the winter months. Doug Scott is a fantastic asset to this community. Following in his father’s footsteps, he has spent his entire career getting to know every kilometre of road in this area, and this knowledge means the inspection process he undertakes is comprehensive. A lifetime of experience means Doug can often tell what the conditions are going to be that night, and where there is likely to be snow drifts and dangerous conditions. From one end of the municipality to the other, conditions can be radically different. “Conditions can be different from one end of the municipality to the other. It can be snowing on Smith Road, and raining at the same time on River Road”, he points out.
The road crews also have to take care of the urban streets in Kemptville and the hamlets, and there are smaller trucks and sidewalk ploughs that are used in dead end streets, the narrower streets, and municipal parking lots. There are two sidewalk ploughs based in Kemptville, and another one in Oxford Mills. The Municipality of North Grenville has a mechanic who maintains and repairs all their vehicles, to ensure that there is always a full fleet available for any circumstance.
The United Counties take care of county roads, and operate a double-shift schedule, so you’ll see Counties ploughs and trucks out on local roads too. They use salt on the roads, whereas the municipality uses sand, especially on gravel roads. Doug and Karen believe it works better than salt and causes less damage, meaning fewer repairs in the Spring.
Doug says that the biggest enemy for the road crews is freezing rain. Rather than have freezing rain on dry pavement, the crews will often let snow remain on the road when they know freezing rain is coming, as that makes it safer for drivers. Knowing how dangerous it can be to drive on snow-covered and ice-covered roads, it is easy to appreciate what it’s like to be the first out on the road after a storm. Drivers know their work, and know the requirements of safe driving in their ploughs. Although they may seem to be travelling fast, the ploughs have to keep below 40 kph or a buzzer sounds in the cab. Going faster can mean that the driver’s vision can be impeded by flying snow.
GPS units in the cabs of the vehicles let Doug know where each one is at any time, and also records the depth of snow being ploughed and where the ploughs have been at a given time. So anyone calling to ask where the ploughs are, can be told exactly when they were last at that address. They also record the speed the ploughs travel at throughout their shift. These people take a lot of the danger and inconvenience out of travelling in winter for the people of North Grenville. They deserve respect and deep gratitude for the long hours and expertise that goes into their work.