On the streets and behind the scenes with the City of Asheville snow crews

Despite two weekend winter storms and persistent sub-freezing temperatures, most streets in Asheville were open at the beginning of this week thanks to the constant attention of a roving fleet of snowplows and salt trucks.

On Tuesday, City of Asheville Public Works employees continued round-the-clock routes spreading a sand and salt mixture over approximately 500 miles of city owned and DOT-maintained roads, making sure that not only drivers but also emergency response vehicles could navigate Asheville’s streets.

Meanwhile, crews at the city’s Fleet Maintenance garage pulled similar shifts making repairs and keeping the fleet rolling.

With the exception of two satellite stations in Skyland and Candler, all City of Asheville plow and spreader truck routes originate at a mammoth shed on South Charlotte Street that holds 1,600 tons of salt and sand. When dispersed behind trucks and plows, the mix provides a blend of traction and thawing effect, Assistant Director of Public Works David Foster explains. When temperatures drop into the 20’s the trucks can add a spray of magnesium chloride, which reacts with the salt and allows it to work at lower temperatures.

The fleet of 18 trucks is operated by drivers from the city’s Streets and Stormwater Services divisions, working in 12-hour shifts. Foster estimates the team can distribute 25 to 50 tons of the mixture a day, beginning before a storm hits and continuing, sometimes for days, until roads have dried.

The city is also trying a new salt-brine system: a tank truck sprays a liquid mix on the roads, and as the liquid evaporates, it leaves behind a sheen of salt coating the road surface and preventing snow from building.

Driver Jennifer Mazza, who typically operates a street sweeper, covers a route through downtown and the neighborhoods around Martin Luther King Drive. On Monday, she said most of the roads were in good shape, but some less-travelled and steep streets remained slick. Asheville has the distinction of having many narrow, steep and winding roads in an urban setting, making it challenging to get trucks through. Downshifting and slowly making her way down one such street, Mazza noted noted that drivers won’t skip the difficult roads.

“You have to get it. That’s pretty much the motto. Nothing’s too steep,” she says.

In the Fleet Maintenance garage, mechanics made repairs from changing radiators to hydraulic lines. The constant routes are hard on the vehicles, says Fleet Manager Mark Stevens, as is the corrosive effect of the salt they disperse, making the need for repairs almost a given. “They are in and out of here every day,” Stevens says.

Getting trucks through tight roads requires the help of motorists. Drivers in residential areas are asked to park as close to the curb as possible so trucks can get through.

Knowing when a plow will service a street is a big concern of residents during and after a snow event. Priorities for plows are based on the volume of a street’s traffic flow and its connectivity, and streets are broken down into three categories to determine the order in which they will be addressed: primary, secondary and tertiary. This winter, the city’s Information Technology Services designed a Snowmapper application to mapAsheville that shows residents how their street is classified.

In the case of severe weather events, updates and information can be found at www.ashevillenc.gov, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cityofasheville, and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cityofasheville.