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Highway department ready for winter weather

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha County Division of Highways crews have started practice runs and equipment inspections to prepare for this winter's annual snow removal and ice control season.

The Department of Transportation has budgeted $56 million to combat winter driving conditions over the next six months. That's down slightly from the $57.7 million that was budgeted last year.

On Thursday morning, transportation department inspectors visited the Division of Highways' maintenance facility in Elkview to inspect and make sure the division's snowplows and equipment were ready to be used in the field.

"It's kind of like test day," transportation department spokeswoman Carrie Bly said.

"Basically you have a guy out with the clipboard looking at the trucks inspecting all of the equipment," Bly said. "That comes down to making sure all the plows are working right, and everything's working mechanically, the controls are all working and the lights are all functioning."

Inspectors have gone to several locations across the highways division's District 1 - which covers Kanawha, Boone, Clay, Putnam and Mason counties - to conduct routine inspections this week.

Once the inspections are complete, workers drive the trucks on the routes they'll be assigned to clear once winter weather hits the region.

Transportation officials invited the media to watch the inspections in Elkview Thursday morning to help give the public a chance to see the preparation that goes into the division's snow removal and ice control season.

The event didn't go exactly as planned.

"It's funny, we had all the news crews out there and they were ready to shoot video of our snow trucks, and on the first truck, when they turned on the spreader, it didn't work," Bly said.

"But, you know, that's exactly why we do this now," she said. "We don't want to get into the middle of a blizzard and then find out the lights or the spreader is not working on one of the trucks."

The Division of Highways is coming off a relatively light snow removal season last year.

According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, the Kanawha Valley received only 11.7 inches of snow last winter. The area received more than three times that amount - 37.1 inches - the year before.

As a result, the division was able to roll over nearly $30 million in unspent winter weather funds to do regular road maintenance over the summer.

But the division is not expecting that history to repeat itself this year.

"We expect it to be the typical West Virginia winter that we're used to," Bly said. "We don't expect it to be as mild as last year."

She said officials plan to meet with National Weather Service meteorologists in the coming weeks to discuss their forecasts for the winter.

They are also consulting other weather forecasting services to get a range of predictions. That includes the Farmer's Almanac, which Bly said is predicting three big winter storms this year.

Should those storms become a reality, highways crews will have plenty of supplies to de-ice roads.

"Statewide, we have 185,000 tons of salt in stock to work with this year," Bly said.

That includes about 100,000 tons that went unused last year.

The state buys between 250,000 and 300,000 tons of salt each year. With the leftover amount from last year, officials expect to buy another 100,000 tons before the winter season is over.

Crews in the northern part of the state also will use brine - basically water mixed with road salt - to pre-treat roads in the northern and central portions of the state this winter.

The brine is applied before snow falls and prevents snow from freezing to the roads.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.



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