What’s a snowplow driver to do without snow?

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While the snow hasn’t exactly piled up in West Michigan so far this winter, the savings have for road commissions.

The Kent County Road Commission has spent $2 million less this year than it did by the same time last year, said Jerry Byrne, the agency’s deputy managing director of operations.

But what are snowplow operators to do without snow to plow?

On Friday, they were out fixing bent guardrails, taking some of the bump out of gravel roads and trimming trees — jobs often saved for the spring, summer and fall.

“What we’re doing here is we’re taking down dead trees and trees that are hazards leaning out over the road,” Byrne explained as crews cut down trees along Wilson Avenue SW in Walker. “It’s easier than when you’re trying to do it when it’s 90 degrees and the poison ivy’s going everywhere.”

The Kent County Road Commission spends about $11 million each winter to clear snow and spread salt on state and county roads.

“Overtime certainly is down and that’s part of a two-plus-million-dollars savings in winter maintenance as of right now,” Byrne said.

At the same time, the road commission has spent $500,000 more than usual on other jobs.

“More trees, more dead trees down, more guard rails fixed, more drainage issues taken care of,” Byrne listed.

He said he has seen plenty of winters like this in his 42 years at the road commission.

“It’s just up and down,” he said. “I can remember as being a driver having winters like this that every day we were out cutting trees just like we are today.”

But, he said, “the game’s not over. When we look at winter, we’re talking November through March, so we’re half or better over, but we’ve had 32 inches of snow, we normally get 75, so it’s not unusual to pick up some significant snowfalls in February and March.”

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