MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) - As the snowy season approaches, county road commissions are getting ready to clear the roads. Many are adding extra wing plows to trucks to do the job more efficiently.
But those new, larger plows are causing counties to urge drivers to pay more attention.
The wing plows, which stick out into the roadway, are twice as efficient as a regular plow underneath the truck, and that's why road commissions like Muskegon County's are outfitting more of their trucks with them.
But at the same time, counties want drivers to beware.
Soon you'll be sharing the road with the massive snow plows: Big trucks made even bigger by the wing plows.
"This truck could have a plow, a scraper and a wing all at once," explained Muskegon County Road Commission Maintenance Supervisor Laurie Peterson.
Advantageously, trucks with wing plows can remove snow from nearly two lanes at once, making for one pass down a road instead of two.
That efficiency is important to road commissions. The Muskegon County Road Commission has seen its budget shrink 5% per year over the past four winters.
Peterson said the commission's budget is derived from a portion of the 19-cent gas tax and vehicle registrations. But with people driving more efficient vehicles, the gas tax money has remained flat while operating costs continue to rise.
"Because we are so low on our drivers now, we had to come up with an innovative way of cutting costs and still plowing as many roads as we did 20, 30, 40 years ago," said Peterson.
With all blades down, the trucks can kick up a cloud of snow, decreasing visibility for cars following too close. And drivers should remember that the plow drivers can't see them, either.
"They have to really concentrate and keep everything straight," said Peterson.
Most wing plows are fitted on the right, so drivers are warned not to pass on that side and, of course, to slow down and leave plenty of distance between you and the truck.
Muskegon County is fitting half of its fleet of 50 with the wing plows, which cut down snow and overtime.
"It's like two trucks working instead of one," said Peterson.
The county is down to around 41 drivers, but still has to cover 1,400 miles of roads. Expressways like U.S. 31 are priorities, then come M-roads, side streets and subdivisions.
Muskegon County saved around $700,000 last year because of the mild winter, but all that money went into patching potholes this summer.
Kent County has purchased nine more wing plows, bringing its total to 35 -- about one third of its fleet.
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