It’s snow easy task: what snow days are like for plow operators
Jan 31, 2017 02:26PM
By Travis Barton
During and after snow storms, snow plows clear roads for safer driving conditions. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
If you must drive, what’s the best thing to see after a snowstorm? A snow plow.
Recent heavy snowfalls have reminded residents of dangerous driving conditions and the relief in seeing a big plow move the snow aside for safe driving. Snow plows clear over 300 center-lane miles of city roads during a storm.
“We go out, plow and salt…hit the main roads first” for the heavy traffic and emergency response vehicles, said Justin Begay. Begay is a crew lead who drives a snow plow during the winter.
West Valley City has two 14-person crews who operate snow plows in 12-hour shifts. These groups are practically on call all winter long in case of a heavy storm.
“Usually on a Thursday before we leave work they’ll put us on standby, but we’re most likely always on call during the winter,” Begay said. “If they call you, you come in even if they don’t put you on call.”
For 15 years Begay has been driving snow plows through West Valley. His shift runs from noon to midnight starting with the main roads, or primary roads, before moving onto the secondary roads.
“We hit the main roads first, but these last couple storms it’s been so cold that everything just ices over,” Begay said.
Those main roads include heavily trafficked paths such as 4800 West, 3200 West, 4100 South and 3100 South. Other roads like Bangerter Highway and 3500 South are state routes and therefore plowed by state employees.
After sweeping their secondary roads, snow plow drivers will then make their way through the neighborhoods. On the weekends, if the snowfall exceeds four inches in the neighborhoods, then drivers will not pass through them.
While the days are long and sleep patterns are disrupted, Begay said the difficulties have more to do with the roads than the long hours. For example, residents shoveling snow onto the road will make properly clearing the road more difficult.
“Everything freezes, by the time we get to it, it’s rock solid. Just straight up ice,” Begay said.
There is also the common issue of cars parked in the street, Begay said.
“We deal with a lot of cars on our neighborhood roads—in the circles and cul-de-sacs and all that—but we have a difficult time squeezing our plows in between there,” Begay said.
He noted they’ve had to skip some areas and come back later due to cars parked away from the gutter making it too difficult to sweep through.
The process of clearing the roads requires the plows to drive slowly. Begay said it takes them a little longer, especially when the snow is wet, but it is meant to keep them from damaging mailboxes or cars.
Begay said he receives a mixture of reactions from residents while he plows roads.
“There are times when we get the finger or people yell at us, and there are times when people bring us drinks or snacks and thank us,” Begay said. “It’s about half and half, it goes both ways.”
One West Valley City resident said she’s been very satisfied with the snow plows this winter.
“The storms have been pretty bad so it’s nice to have them out there…helps keep us safe,” she said.