The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) is ramping up its efforts to prepare its fleet for winter.
The RCOC is trying some new approaches to winter road maintenance this year. It has hired 30 part-time, temporary snowplow/salt-truck drivers to bolster its shrinking full-time staff, and has purchased new equipment expected to improve winter road maintenance efficiency.
The new equipment, known as multi-functional spreaders, slide into the back of traditional dump trucks used for salting and plowing. The spreaders, which cost about $8,000 each, provide the capability to spread salt over three road lanes at one time while also more efficiently mixing liquid brine (salt water) with rock salt that improves the efficiency of the salting operation and reduces the amount of salt needed. They can also spray liquid brine alone.
The RCOC was able to purchase five bulk spreader units with some of the money left over as a result of the mild winter last year.
This year marks the first time ever in history that the RCOC has hired temporary, part-time employees to augment its full-time driver staff, according to RCOC Board of Road Commissioners Chairman Eric Wilson.
“Our full-time staff numbers have dropped so much in recent years that we simply didn’t have enough staff to provide the level of service the public deserves,” Wilson said. “This is a cost-effective way to maintain that level of service.”
Wilson added that the agency has rehired four retired plow drivers on a part-time basis. The road commission has reduced its staff by more than 28 percent overall and nearly 35 percent with the Highway Maintenance Department over the last five years due to continued reductions in state-collected road funding.
While the addition of the temporary, part-time workers and retirees should help to mitigate staff reductions, aging equipment is still a challenge.
“We have more than a $20 million equipment deficit,” said RCOC Board of Road Commissioners Vice Chairman Greg Jamian, who explained that is the dollar value of RCOC equipment — mostly in the form of the large trucks used for salting and plowing — that should be replaced immediately, but which the RCOC cannot currently afford to replace.
“Many of our trucks have reached or exceeded the point where they should be replaced. That means many are going to break down more often this winter than in the past,” Jamian added. “And when they break down, it will frequently take longer to fix because the problems will be more severe.”
However, all RCOC trucks have been inspected to prevent breakdowns and are ready to plow forward until such a time when road funding is increased and the agency can purchase new trucks.