County, City, CDOT plan for snow season
With winter just around the corner, La Plata County, the City of Durango and the Colorado Department of Transportation are working together to keep area residents informed of snow removal operations throughout La Plata County. Labor shortages for plow drivers are affecting all three entities and snow removal will be prioritized within each jurisdiction.
Working with the county’s Office of Emergency Management, local governments will communicate with county school districts and Fort Lewis College to assess the situation and if needed, announce closures and/or delays as early in the day as possible to minimize the impact of work-school conflicts for parents.
The following details each entity’s 2021-22 snow removal operations and best practices:
La Plata County
- During the winter months, snow removal is the primary responsibility of the La Plata County Road and Bridge Department. To keep more than 600 miles of county roads clear, County Road and Bridge crews drive in excess of 1,500 miles for every winter snow storm. (This does not include CDOT state highways including 160, 550, 140, 151 and 172 or any roads within municipalities or private roads.) Particularly during heavy snow storms, this can be a daunting task.
- For snow removal and maintenance purposes, the County is divided into four districts, each with its own Road and Bridge crew or “team.” County roads in the 100s are in District I, county roads in the 200s are in District II, county roads in the 300s are in District III and county roads in the 500s are in District V. During the winter months, Road & Bridge teams are working or on call for work seven days a week.
- The main county roads are vital to public safety and the smooth flow of traffic and therefore receive priority maintenance; these roads include County Roads 240, 501, 141, 210 and 310/318. During winter storms many of our high-traffic paved roads are plowed and sanded several times a day as conditions require. Gravel roads served by motor graders are generally plowed once per day. Low-volume roads are not plowed until major roadways have been cleared.
- The county road right-of-way averages 30 feet from the centerline of the roadway. This area is needed for snow storage, drainage and signage. At times it is necessary to plow snow well off the road into the right-of-way to make room for the next storm. Homeowners and residents should be cautious about landscaping and placing objects in the right-of-way (such as mailboxes and trash containers), which could be damaged by snowplows. While snowplow drivers are careful to avoid contact with items in the right-of-way whenever possible, citizens are solely responsible for any damage which may result to mailboxes, trash containers or other items which are located in the County right-of-way and obstruct snowplows. This is both a safety and efficiency issue: plowing roads takes longer when snowplow drivers must work around obstructions. The Road and Bridge Department can suggest a mailbox post design that allows adequate clearance for snowplow wings.
- Homeowners and residents are responsible for maintaining their own driveways and parking areas but in doing so should avoid plowing or blowing snow onto county roads. Winter snow compounds parking problems for all; however, citizens must be aware that it is unlawful to park on county roads and county rights-of-way if the parked vehicle obstructs snow removal activities. Cars parked or abandoned on the roadway and in rights-of-way make it nearly impossible to adequately clear snow from roads; therefore, parked or abandoned cars which are an obstruction to County snowplows may be towed at the owner’s expense.
- If you’d like to join the La Plata County team as a snow plow driver, please apply at https://www.co.laplata.co.us/departments/human_resources/current_job_announcements.php.
City of Durango
- The City of Durango is responsible for plowing 164 lane miles of roads within the city limits and removing snow from 55 city blocks in the Main Street commercial area. The city provides 24-hour snow plowing during storm events in seven zones.
- A shortage of snowplow drivers will affect how quickly the city is able to clear and remove snow from city streets this winter. The city will prioritize plowing to major roadways and access to fire stations, hospitals and other emergency facilities. When snow is clear from those areas, snowplows will proceed to collector streets and school bus routes, residential streets and cul-de-sacs. Alleys will be plowed last.
- Residents are asked not to park on snow routes – streets important for safe travel – when there are two or more inches of snowfall. Snow routes, marked with signs, need to be clear of vehicles to allow for snowplow operations. Vehicles may be towed if they are not moved when snow routes are enacted. Find more information and a map of snow routes at org/Snow
- When possible, snowplow drivers will try to prevent blocking driveways with large amounts of snow, but this can be difficult in a large snowfall event. Residents are encouraged to wait until the plow has been through their street before cleaning their driveway and mailbox area. If there is more snowfall, plows may have to make multiple passes on a road. It is against city code to deposit snow from driveways and private property into city streets.
- City code requires owners/occupants of homes and businesses to keep sidewalks adjoining or abutting their properties clear of ice and snow. Clear sidewalks are important for the safety of pedestrians, individuals using mobility devices and students walking to school. To report a violation to Code Enforcement, call (970) 375-4930 or make a report online
- Individuals interested in becoming a streets operator/snowplow driver for the city can learn more about the job and apply at org/Jobs
Colorado Department of Transportation
- When winter storms are approaching, CDOT maintenance crews are on standby. If conditions warrant before a storm, crews may apply liquid or solid de-icing products to the roadway which prevents snow and ice from bonding and freezing to the surface. This also makes it easier for plows to clear the highways of snow.
- Once the storm actually hits, patrols are mobilized and placed on 24-hour operations—typically on rotating 12-hour shifts with half the crew members on each patrol out at any given time. Some shifts may overlap to keep coverage consistent. This coverage remains in place until normal or dry road conditions are reached.
- CDOT maintains U.S. and state highways only. Municipal crews plow city streets and alleys. County crews plow county roads.
- CDOT prioritizes routes to keep clear — crews focus on highways within city and town limits of Durango, Bayfield and Ignacio as well as important arterial routes like U.S. 550 between Silverton and Durango.
- CDOT recently launched a new platform for its org website, as well as a new mobile app, COtrip Planner. The online resources are greatly beneficial when traveling throughout Colorado and offer features like webcams, travel alerts, construction areas, and winter information.
- CDOT is always looking for new talent! The maintenance division hires both permanent and seasonal full-time and part-time snowplow drivers and road maintenance workers to plow and maintain roads. Search for openings and apply online at ly/CDOTcareers.
General Tips for Winter Driving
Motorists should exercise caution around snowplows. Do not follow the plow too closely and avoid driving in the snowplow operator’s “blind spots” on the sides of the plow. Remember, not only are snowplow operators responsible for operating a very large piece of machinery, they are also negotiating the same snowy, icy roadway that you are traveling. If you pass a snowplow, make sure you have adequate time and space to pass safely.
Take the following precautions to ensure that you arrive at your destination safely:
- Allow more travel time on winter roads.
- Reduce your speed. Poor visibility, icy corners and heavy traffic may make it necessary for drivers to slow down.
- Prepare your vehicle properly, especially for mountain driving. Windshield wipers and tires should be checked and replaced as necessary. Inadequate visibility and poor traction are the cause of many accidents.
- Take a little extra time to clear the snow from your windshield and lights before driving. Make it easy for yourself to see and for others to see you.
- Keep a few emergency provisions in the trunk of your car, such as a small shovel, flashlight, blanket or sleeping bag, and snacks.
- Be a patient and courteous driver.