PORTLAND, Ore. -- Hours before sunrise Thursday morning, plows were zig-zagging across the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Sylvan maintenance yard.
The workers on board, typically one to a truck, were in the midst of a shift change, which means gearing up for yet another 12-hour shift clearing layers of snow, ice and slush from US-26, I-405 and other state-maintained highways.
Bob Rake, manager of ODOT transportation maintenance, had already spent hours scouring those routes.
“The past two hours of my shift, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, just stopping and checking on cars that were abandoned and make sure there’s nobody actually inside the car,” he said. “Once I made the tour of the section and made sure that the abandoned cars were not occupied, I could actually relax a little bit, making sure no one was going to freeze to death.”
Crews with ODOT, headquartered at any of five maintenance yards in the Portland metro area, have been working 12 hours on and 12 hours off since before the first round of snow and ice moved in Sunday night.
They used salt on only a few choice stretches, including US 26 from I-405 to 217 and the Fremont and Marquam bridges.
Elsewhere, they used magnesium chloride and plows to try and prevent normally crowded highways from turning into ice-coated, stand-still traffic jams.
The work was made easier, said Rake, by drivers who seemed abnormally prepared.
“This storm, compared to the last couple storms… I think a lot of people got an education,” he said. “More and more people I think are prepared, have chains and actually know how to put them on. I encountered that a lot last year, where people had chains so they thought they were prepared, but they had no idea how to put them on.”
That said, he did point out another consistent frustration with drivers bent on traveling extreme winter weather.
“First time you’re running plow, there’s so much going on just with the size and the traffic all around you,” he said. “We get five to seven plows lined up. People stagger across and work the snow from the left shoulder to the right, plow to plow. And a lot of times, you’ll get someone who’s impatient, and they actually try to pass the plow or cut between them, and that’s very dangerous.”
By 6 a.m. Thursday, Rake was back out in a plow, clearing dingy, days-old snow from the eastbound shoulder of Highway 26.
Cars whizzed by, as he cruised slowly and steadily at 35 mph.
“Basically as this melts off, we’re trying to open up the catch basins, so the snow will melt, and the water will run off, so it doesn’t refreeze,” he said.