NORWALK, Conn. – Road pavement temperature is just one of the things Norwalk Department of Public Works supervisors have on their mind when they send snow plows out to clear Norwalk roads.
Dew point is also a factor. Ambient air temperature is calculated. The level of expected precipitation – how wet is it going to be – is checked.
Technological advances have brought Norwalk a long way in the past decade, from when the basic question was, “Well, how much is it going to snow?” to the kind of computerized tracking of snow plows that may soon allow residents to look on the Internet and see when the snow plow is coming, DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns said.
Burns was speaking Wednesday at a press conference organized by Mayor Harry Rilling, who said he was “truly, truly impressed” when he went out with a snowplow driver in the last storm, a ride-along he called an “awakening experience.”
The level of technology involved is “so sophisticated,” he said. Driver Mike Rosso was very committed to the job, Rilling said. “He knew exactly what he needed to do.”
Rosso’s time in the plow is carefully monitored, Burns said, as the geographic information system (GIS) reports how fast the trucks are going and how much salt is being dispensed. Supervisors have iPads or iPhones. “While they are in the field they know where the trucks are, how they are doing,” she said.
“I think Norwalk is a trend setter, in terms of GPS (Global Positioning System),” acting DPW Superintendent of Operations Chris Torre said. “Wilton has asked us to come and speak to them.”
When Rosso comes back from his route he gets in line with all the other snowplows; they are weighed to determine how much snow removal products they have gone through, Burns said. This allows supervisors to analyze what’s happening and adjust accordingly. If a truck is throwing too much product they can have it checked, she said.
It’s Rosso’s route, and Rosso’s route only. There is one truck on each of Norwalk’s 26 plow routes, dividing 625 lane miles equally. Drivers work one 16-hour shift. They don’t go home – if they did they might not be able to get back.
A two- to four-hour break outside the truck is mandatory after those 16 hours. Sleeping is done on cots at the DPW center, Torre said. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the sofa.
Again, there’s computer monitoring – although a detailed plan is laid out before the storm, it’s constantly updated in reaction to data received.
“We adjust our breaks, “ he said. “We’re constantly trying to improve our performance.”
The city has not used sand since 2006 or 2007, Burns said. It was basically useless – eight or nine cars go over it and it no longer offers the minimal traction that it had, she said.
“We’re living with a legacy of storm drainage issues,” she said, as the sand washed into the storm drains.
Checking out the ambient air temperatures and road pavement temperatures allows the city to choose which product might be used, Burns said. If it’s higher than 25 degrees it’s typically rock salt, the cheapest option. There is also Magic Salt, which has a coating of sugar molasses. That stops it from diluting as quickly as it could, Torre said. Dilution is also the reason the precipitation level is checked.
The treated salt is either green or brown, stemming from agricultural additives, they said. “You use less material because it stays on the lane longer versus bouncing to the curb,” Torre said.
There are wet options. Roads are treated before a storm, although not too far in advance because car traffic will wear it down. There’s only one reason the products are colored.
“People want to see something on the road and that we’re out there,” Torre said.
Drivers are told by the computers in their trucks what programs to use in accordance with the products being dispensed, they said.
“Not only do you need to be a mechanic, you need to be an IT guy,” Burns said. “That part of our operation has evolved so much.”
They’ve come a long way from when she started 10 years ago, Burns said, when the fleet of trucks was so old one of the duties was scraping the rust off them.
The result is less overtime being paid out, they said. It used to take 16 hours to clean up after a snow storm, they said. Now it takes 8 to 10.
Rilling said he got two complaints after the last storm. He called DPW and they were resolved in five minutes, he said.
“We kicked butt during NEMO,” Burns said. “We basically had everything done the day afterwards. We could have had schools open on Monday but we didn’t because the teachers couldn’t get here from the other towns.”