By Joseph Robertia
Many Kenai Peninsula residents have experienced it at one time or another. Several inches of snow fall overnight, making the morning drive to work arduous, to say the least. During the commute one question runs through the mind over and over again:
“When will this mess get plowed?”
While the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Maintenance and Operations division, has worked hard over the years to plow winter roads in a timely manner, it now will be able to be even more efficient at snow removal due to new equipment.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve production and reduce cost, and this will definitely allow us to do more with less,” said Carl High, DOT peninsula district superintendent.
The piece of equipment High is referring to is a new tow plow, which was deployed in Soldotna recently. While utilized in 17 of the Lower 48 states and Canada, this is the first tow plow to be used in Alaska.
“We’re excited about the addition,” High said. “We got it a few weeks back and did the training on it last week. We ran it a few times and it went great, so we’ll put it into service from here on out.”
The tow plow, High explained, is basically a trailer with two steerable axles that has a 26-foot moldboard attached to the right side. When the blade is lowered and the trailer is articulated to approximately 30 degrees, it clears a 13-foot-wide path, which is in addition to the 11-foot-wide path cleared by the truck towing it, more than doubling production, yet with only a 30 percent increase in fuel costs and no increase in labor.
“In places like the Kenai-Soldotna urbans, the Sterling urbans, and other four- to five-lane areas, we can now do one pass down and back. With the single trucks we’d have to make four to five rounds,” High said.
Being able to get full cover over most road surfaces will increase DOT efficiency dramatically, according to High, and not just on main roads like the Sterling Highway, Kalifornsky Beach Road or the Kenai Spur Highway.
“By allowing us to clear out mainlines quicker with the tow plow, we can also use the single trucks to get to secondary and tertiary roads more quickly,” he said. “It should also be a useful tool at the airports.”
High said that the only problem has been the misconception by some people who’ve heard about the tow plow but haven’t seen it in operation. Some apparently were concerned the piece of equipment would take up the entire roadway, making dangerous conditions for drivers who encountered it.
“We really want to get the word out there that this will not impede oncoming traffic. It does one side of the road at a time and will be used at low-traffic times, like the middle of the night,” he said.
In addition to its plowing, the tow plow is designed to be a multifunctional piece of
equipment. The unit is also set up with two 1,000-gallon tanks, spray bars and controls for delivering liquefied anti- and de-icing chemicals, according to High. DOT will be injecting a corrosion inhibitor into the salt brine, which will drastically reduce corrosive effects.
“(The chemicals) keep the snow and ice pack from bonding to the road,” he said. “With the tow plow able to do this now, it’ll free up another piece of equipment. We’ll be able to send the other distributor truck in town to Homer, so once again we’re getting more bang for our bucks.”