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What it takes to move the snow: More than 450 trucks, and that’s just in Bangor

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
A city plow truck finishes removing the white stuff on Forest Avenue in Bangor on a snowy morning in March 2011.
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — While the the late October snowstorm caught more than a few people in Maine — and even some municipal road maintenance agencies — by surprise, Wednesday’s storm did not.

Local and state crews were fully staffed, ready and “blades down” when snowflakes began to accumulate into snow cover, making road travel slippery and precarious, public works officials said.

“We have more than 350 plows available statewide and they’re all in constant rotation,” said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation. “The first snowfall started accumulating around 12:15 a.m. in Augusta and southern areas, and trucks started going out at that time.”

The snowfall arrived later in Penobscot County as crews from Bangor and Orono rolled out around 5:30 a.m.

“I think we had the salt truck drivers come in around 1 or 2 a.m. and everyone else was out by 6:30 a.m.,” said Bangor Public Works Director Dana Wardwell. “We have 26 trucks total, but we’re down one because one was sold at auction and the new one hasn’t been delivered yet.”

Orono Public Works Director Rob Yerxa had downed six cups of coffee by 3:30 p.m.

“We take a break when we can get one,” Yerxa said with a chuckle. “I think this started between 4 and 5, and we were out about 5:30.”

“This is real wet, sticky snow, so it’s been a bit messy,” he added. “We’ve had our share of a few accidents. We’ll clean up and then sand and salt it as it gets colder later on.”

Wardwell said his crews have been active and the number of accidents seemed to be about the same or slightly less for a storm of this size.

Orono utilizes four large plow trucks, two 1-ton plows and three pickup truck plows with a nine-man rotation as the town mechanic takes a turn to give the other drivers regular breaks.

Maine DOT was in catch-up mode by midafternoon.

“It started lightening up in the southern counties like York and Cumberland around 3. We have a lot of it done, but there’s still more to do,” said Talbot. “Even when it’s completely moved out, we’ll be paying a lot of attention to black ice with a hard freeze and much lower temperatures overnight.”

Talbot said the MDOT breaks the state into five regions: Region 1 is York County, Region 2 is Cumberland, Region 3 is Oxford, Region 4 is the Kennebec County-Augusta area, and Region 5 is everything else, from the northernmost tip of Aroostook County down to Rockland.

MDOT has 203 mainline dump truck plows, 29 road graders, 101 front-end loaders and/or backhoes, 155 1-ton trucks, and 107 trailers. The state also utilizes 275 “patrol” vehicles that are used as spotters to radio trouble spots back to dispatch centers.

Region 5 has 52 big plows, eight graders, 21 backhoes, 26 1-tons, and 24 trailers.

“We also have a number of temporary winter satellite camps set up for the winter in addition to the permanent ones where we store salt and other materials,” Talbot said. “And we coordinate constantly with state police on trouble spots and accidents.”

Maine DOT no longer uses sand. Magnesium chloride, which melts more ice and snow in smaller amounts than regular rock salt, is the preferred melting substance.

Both Wardwell and Yerxa said they were caught a bit off guard by the Oct. 29 storm that dumped record amounts on Maine and 6 inches of snow on Bangor.

“We got caught a little bit on that one. It’s just a matter of sliding the salt bodies in on the dump trucks,” Wardwell said. “We put most of them on in October, and they were all ready to go as of the first of November.”

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