Schafer discusses snow, ice removal

BETHESDA — Dave Schafer, Belmont County manager for the Ohio Department of Highways, spoke to the Bethesda-Belmont-Morristown Rotary Club about winter preparedness for local roads and the many responsibilities of his department.

Belmont County is a part of ODOT’s District 11, which encompasses seven counties in eastern Ohio. The district’s stated mission is “to provide the easy movement of people and goods from place to place.” The entire district is responsible for 3,300 lane miles of roads and more than 1,000 bridges.

According to Schafer, the Belmont County staff is responsible for 706 lane miles and 213 bridges, which is the largest amount in the district.

“Just a little trivia, but there are 300 culverts on (Ohio) 148 from (Ohio) 800 down to Powhatan,” Schafer said. “In essence, it is a very intense drainage structure. Drainage is huge. Without drainage you don’t have pavements. If one of them isn’t working it affects the integrity of the road.”

Schafer noted that although last year’s winter was relatively mild, his department’s cost for equipment, labor and material for snow and ice management was $975,000. He said snow and ice readiness and removal is the department’s “signature” program, and his staff works hard to make sure all the county’s 23 trucks are ready at all times.

“It just seems unbelievable that so much effort goes in to snow and ice even in such a mild winter,” Schafer said.

“We have 700 miles of responsibility that falls under snow and ice maintenance, mowing, pavement preparation and guardrail maintenance. We have over 800,000 lineal feet of guardrail in the county. Every time there is a wreck and there is guardrail damage, we’ve got to go out and repair it. That is probably the most labor intensive thing we do.”

He said road salt prices for the state this year are $49.53 a ton; therefore each 10-ton truck is loaded with $500 worth of salt when it goes out to battle ice and snow. Two years ago, the same salt was $97 per ton.

“Back in 1967 in this county, salt was $12.96 per ton. The biggest part of the state has one salt supplier, and I am very fortunate that Belmont Mills delivers all my salt. I have never had delays on getting salt — I call them and they come the next day,” Schafer said.

This year, ODOT invested $75 million in 39 projects across the county with the largest ones being: $13 million for resurfacing on Interstate 70 from just west of Mall Road to east of exit 220; $19.5 million for major construction at I-70 for the U.S. 40 and Ohio 331 interchange; and $10.3 million for new construction for Belmont County Road 29 — Commons Mall Crossing, or the 1.66-mile mall connector project.

“Seventy-five million dollars in one county is a lot of money in construction. Next to the three major cities in Ohio, we are right behind them,” Schafer noted. “We’ve got the fourth largest network in interstate traffic in the nation that comes through Belmont County. It is unbelievable the volume of traffic. One wreck, we’ve got an 8- to 10-mile traffic backup.”

Last Wednesday, for example, traffic was detoured from I-70 east at exit 215 to allow for an accident scene at exit 216 to be cleared. Eastbound traffic was backed up from exit 215 to exit 208 for several hours.

Schafer said there are many other duties that his department has responsibility for that many people do not realize, such as clearing away dead animals from the roads, picking up trash and being on call with the Ohio State Highway Patrol when traffic fatalities occur.

“I can’t stand to have any dead animals on the road. We don’t leave them lay if we are aware of them. You factor all that in, it is a pretty vast maintenance department with many responsibilities. We also have prisoners pick up 70-80 bags of trash every day on our highways, and we pay to fund the guard that supervises the prisoners,” Schafer noted. “They go from one end to the other and turn around to go back and still get that volume of trash. I can’t imagine that people are rolling their window down and throwing stuff out, but it is real. I can’t get them (the inmates) to the two-lanes (more rural roads). We want to make sure all the roads are clean and mowed, but it is quite an effort.”

Schafer said the department is never lacking in things to do and that he has great employees to get everything done.

“I’ve got a great staff, wonderful employees. We are only as good as the people around us,” he said. “I am blessed to say I have good people.”