Snowplow drivers battle elements and tailgaters

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This week’s subfreezing temperatures combined with several inches of snow have resulted in intermittent shutdowns of the interstates and closings of businesses and schools. Meanwhile, snowplow drivers are working around the clock scraping the roads.

In Kent County, plow drivers are putting in long days doing the so far endless job of keep the streets and highways clear.

The cold temperatures don’t present any real problems for those massive, heavy-duty trucks.

“These trucks are made to run, scrape snow at 30 or scrape snow at –10,” said Kent County Road Commission Director of Operations Jerry Byrne, who started as a plow truck driver more than 40 years ago.

On days like Wednesday, there are 90 trucks on the road during the day and 35 at night. They work 12 and sometime 14 hours and will continue that routine as long as they have to.  

“We need to kind of balance how long we want to keep these men and women on the road for their own safety we need to get them home, get them eight hours sleep, or at least six hours sleep and bring them back,” Byrne said.

24 Hour News 8 rode along with plow driver Erik Bitely Wednesday night as he cleared the interstate on-ramps around downtown Grand Rapids.

“It’s a lot of time away from the home and the families but we go into it knowing that this my job, this is what we do,” Bitely said.

The cold keeps road salt and chemicals from melting the snow and ice, meaning crews have turned to sand for now.

“If we can’t truly improve the pavement, we’re not dumping a bunch of salt on there and making it worse,” said Byrne. “When we start to de-ice, we’re going to hit it as hard as we can. Right now we’re thinking, based on the forecast, mid-day Friday.”

Even when the chemicals are laid down, it can take 30 minutes or more for them to be effective, meaning the road directly behind a plow is not less hazardous.

“If they (other drivers) think tailgating us is the best spot to be, it’s not. We’ve had too many trucks hit over the past three days,” Byrne said. “We’re going 25 and they’re going 60 and all of a sudden there we are and they’ve rear-ended three or four of these trucks of the past three days.”

Byrne said this year, no one has been hurt, but that could easily change.

“Just give us the space we need to get the job done and hopefully we can get you to and from your destination safely,” Bitely said.

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