Snowstorm after snowstorm taking toll on snowplows

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30 2013 3:35 p.m. MST

A plow operator clears a road in Farmington Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. It's a job that has put a lot of wear and tear on the vehicles. UDOT has spent more than $1.3 million so far on snow plow repairs, which is something they budget for.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

FARMINGTON — All the snow that the state has seen over the past few weeks is putting a lot of wear and tear on the snowplows.

Crews along the Wasatch Front are doing their best to keep the plows on the roads, but all that around-the-clock work takes a toll on the trucks.

"Being a relative newcomer to Utah, these are the winters I've heard about," said Kirk Schmalz, who has served as Davis County's director of public works for the past six years.

Schmalz said his trucks have worked every day over the past 2 ½ weeks. Even when it wasn't snowing, his drivers were busy putting salt down to keep the fog from freezing on the roads.

"The roads were slick (because of the fog)," Schmalz said. "In fact, sometimes they were even slicker than they would have been with just a snowfall."

With all that work, equipment is bound to fail. In Layton Monday, a plow truck caught fire after being overworked. Also on Monday, a plow broke off the mainframe of a truck, Schmalz said.

"We brought it in, welded it, and fixed it back on the truck and got it out there on the road again. But, yeah, they break," he said.

The Utah Department of Transportation has also spent a good amount of money on repairs to its trucks. So far this winter season, the state has spent more than $1.3 million on maintenance and repairs on its 510 plow trucks. The state also bought more than 2,600 plow blades for those trucks for a total of $850,000.

Knowing damage will occur and money will be needed to make repairs, snowplow agencies budget for such repairs. Schmalz said they also consider cycles of relentless snow, cold and foggy conditions normal for winter — even if the combination makes their work a bit more challenging.

While conditions are tough on the drivers as well as the equipment, Schmalz said his employees are up to the challenge.

"We count on those guys," he said. "They're the ones that make it all work."

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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