Everett Carroll hopes not to meet you this winter.
Carroll manages the Ashland crew, 31 permanent and seasonal maintenance specialists responsible for keeping Interstate 5 open on the Siskiyou Pass. In winter, the crew’s schedule transitions into 24-hour coverage to cope with the colder temperature and its creations — hail, ice, snow, sleet and slush — as well as motorists unprepared to travel over the highest mountain pass on I-5 from Canada to Mexico.
“Every winter, I meet drivers stuck in the snow, trying to chain up but dressed like they’re on a beach vacation,” said Carroll. “The Siskiyou Pass is no place for shorts and open-toe shoes. You need to come prepared.”
Snowstorms aren’t particular. That is why the section of I-5 from the California border to Exit 11 south of Ashland is challenging. Weather conditions change rapidly. Carroll
said it’s not uncommon for a snowstorm to close the interstate on the California side of the mountain pass while road conditions remain dry and clear near Ashland.
“You never know what to expect, so you have to expect everything,” said Carroll.
The agency’s announcement earlier this year to expand salt use in the Rogue Valley (see pages 14-15) received a lot of media attention and public interest. However, salt isn’t the only tool in the agency’s winter maintenance toolbox. Salt complements a variety of resources ODOT maintenance crews use to combat the effects of winter. For example, crews apply chemicals and sanding material on hills, curves, structures, and known trouble spots. Chemicals are used both as an anti-icer, before the storm to help prevent ice from forming on the road surface, and as a deicer, after the storm to help break the bond between ice and the road surface.
“We can’t stop the snow but we can prevent it from bonding onto our roads,” said ODOT District 8 Manager Jerry Marmon. “We’re constantly improving efficiencies and equipment that allow our maintenance crews to focus on more areas during winter storms.”
Winter maintenance practices include plowing, sanding and applying winter anti-icing liquid and salt. Crews use snowplows and truck-mounted push plows to clear snow; frame-mounted tailgate sanders, deicer trucks and spreaders to sand and salt roadways; and motor graders to cut snow pack. On the Siskiyou Pass, pusher trucks — equipped with counter weights over the rear axle for better traction and a thick rubber nose over the front bumper — are called in to push and straighten out stalled or jackknifed big rigs (commercial tractor-trailers) that can close down all lanes in a moment.
Like the Ashland crew, ODOT maintenance crews based in Central Point, Grants Pass and Prospect adjust their winter schedules to provide 24-hour coverage on state highways throughout the Rogue Valley. ODOT has 14 maintenance districts within five regions across the state.
“District and region lines disappear when assistance is needed,” said Marmon. “We sent equipment and personnel to Portland several times over the last couple of years to help with some of the big storms the area experienced.
“Equipment breaks down. Crews need backup coverage. We couldn’t do it without help.”
I-5 travelers should come prepared to navigate over Oregon’s five highest mountain passes — Siskiyou (4,310 feet above sea level), Sexton (1,956 feet), Smith Hill (1,730 feet), Stage Road (1,830 feet) and Canyon Creek (2,020 feet).
“Our success is tied to the public’s ability to slow down and drive safely in winter conditions,” said Marmon. “You can’t expect to travel over these mountains in winter without encountering adverse conditions. Even experienced drivers need patience. However, if you’re prepared, you’ll stay warm and safe in your vehicle. Don’t take chances. Prepare for the worst.”
ODOT encourages drivers to prepare their vehicles for winter driving conditions and drive with extra caution. Before traveling to areas that may have hazardous conditions, make sure your vehicle is ready:
• Ensure the heater and defroster work properly.
• Test all lights. Carry spare light bulbs.
• Use antifreeze that works to -25°F; check and fill washer and other fluids and make sure hoses aren’t loose or brittle.
• Keep wipers clean and in good condition; fill the windshield washer tank.
• Make certain your battery is fully charged (also check battery age and make sure cables are not loose or corroded).
• Ensure your tires are in good condition and properly inflated for best traction, including your spare.
• Carry chains or use traction tires in winter.
• Keep an automotive safety kit in your vehicle.
If you travel with a child, pack extra food, warm clothes and blankets, toys and games, and extra diapers, just in case. Remember to use your child safety seat properly. Before leaving, tell a family member or friend of your planned route and when you anticipate arriving. Keep them updated on any major route or arrival changes.
Expanding Rock Salt Use
Expanded use of rock salt in the Rogue Valley follows a five-year pilot project on the Siskiyou Pass and 120 miles on U.S. 95 in southeast Oregon between Nevada and Idaho, neighboring states already using rock salt on their highways. California uses rock salt to reduce snowpack buildup.
The Siskiyou Pass was chosen because it is the highest elevation (4,310 feet) on the Interstate 5 corridor. During winter, chain restrictions, traffic delays and temporary road closures regularly occur. Due to the elevation and length of the Siskiyou Pass, road and weather conditions can change rapidly.
“Rock salt has helped us decrease Siskiyou Pass chain restrictions by 50 percent and temporary holds by 75 percent,” said ODOT District Manager Jerry Marmon. “The pilot’s success combined with last winter’s success in the Willamette Valley and Portland metro area during the hardest storms proved salt can
be another valuable resource for our
Rock salt reduces the freezing point of water, leading to melting and preventing icy build-up.
This winter, ODOT will expand salt applications on Interstate 5 through Josephine and Douglas counties to Canyonville. The agency constructed a rock salt storage shed in Hugo for the purpose. ODOT partnered with Caltrans to use its salt shed located in Hilt, California during the pilot. That arrangement will continue.
The expanded use of rock salt in eastern Oregon includes Interstate 84 between Idaho and Boardman, Interstate 82 near Hermiston and Oregon 395, 207, 730, 331 and 11. During severe winter storms, salt may be applied to other state highways as needed.
ODOT previously avoided rock salt due to its corrosive effect on asphalt, bridges and vehicles, and concerns about runoff into soil and streams. The five-year pilot also assessed environmental impacts to nearby stream and soils in coordination with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Fish and Wildlife and other agencies.
“Compared with states in the Midwest, Washington, California and now Oregon use a fraction of the salt applied in colder states,” said Marmon. “We’ve learned best practices from Caltrans and we will continue to monitor salt use closely.”