The Rutherford Report—Plows Keep Mountain Roads Open

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Plows Keep Mountain Roads Open

(This Rutherford Report article was published in January 2018. In light of the snowfall so far this year and the snow yet to come, it's being republished to provide information about how mountain roads are plowed.)

Every winter, San Bernardino County Public Works inspects equipment and formulate plans to prepare for snowy weather.

In dry years, it seems like a waste of time.

But then there are years like 2008. During that year, Public Works plowed more than twice the amount of roadway it normally does—about 2,000 lane miles compared to 820 lane miles. That’s because the snow level dropped so far crews were clearing roads down into the High Desert.

Public Works is responsible for clearing snow from County maintained roads. Caltrans plows all of the state highways and I-15 in Cajon Pass when needed. Not including the interstate, Caltrans plows snow from 192 miles of roadway.

The County Department of Special Districts is responsible for plowing roads that fall under its authority (82 miles of roadway need plowing). Property owners who live on unmaintained roads often ban together to create road districts. The owners agree to pay a little extra on their property taxes to have their roads plowed and maintained.

County crews start clearing roads after about two inches of snow has fallen. That’s partly because plowing with less snow can burn up plow blades and cause even more road damage that plows typically cause. Snow gauges at the Public Works yards in the mountains allow staff to determine when to start plowing.

Crews begin plowing heavily travelled primary roads first. Some of the roads that fall in this category include Lake Gregory Road, Grass Valley Road, and Green Valley Lake Road. After that, crews focus on secondary roads, such as Bowl Road and Shady Lane in Crestline or West Shore Road and Birchwood Drive in Lake Arrowhead.

Click here view a map of the snowplow routes.

Click here to learn more about the County's snowplowing operations.

Local roads are the last to get plowed, and if the snow is really heavy, crews may have to re-plow the primary roads they just finished before moving on to neighborhood streets.

Fallen trees and debris often delay snowplows, but the biggest delays are caused by people parking in the roadway. Plow operators have to contact the California Highway Patrol to have the vehicles towed, which can take several hours or more.

“When is my road going to be plowed?” is probably the most often asked question during winter weather, but Public Works also gets a lot of questions about the berms its plow operators leave behind.

Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to leave openings at every driveway when you’re trying to clear snow from in front of thousands of homes and businesses in the shortest amount of time possible. The County explored using snow gates, which let plow operators leave a gap by pulling a lever as they drive, but the devices would have slowed down the already cumbersome snow removal process. Public Works was also concerned about the effectiveness of the devices on narrow mountain roadways.

Public Works advises residents to contact one of the many private contractors in the mountain communities if they are unable to remove the berms themselves.

In order to avoid frustration, the County asks residents to wait until the snowplow does two passes before clearing berms from their driveways.

While snowplows can make mountains roads passable, drivers should still use tire chains when required. Those who don’t chain up often end up stuck on the shoulder where they’re in the way of snowplows.
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