Crews work around the clock to keep traffic moving despite storm

by: JAIME VALDEZ - A snow plow operated by Tigard Public Works employee Cale Brown clears snow along Southwest 68th Avenue in Tigard.Vance Walker was ready for whatever Mother Nature had to throw his way.

When the region was blanketed with a thick layer of snow and ice last weekend, Walker and the rest of the city of Tigard’s snow plowers took to the streets.

Walker, the city’s street supervisor, is responsible for maintaining Tigard roads.

Working 12-hour shifts from Thursday to Monday, the seven members of the team worked around the clock to keep the roads clear and safe for drivers.

Winter Storm Orion dumped as much as 6 to 8 inches of snow by Saturday, topped with a thick coat of freezing rain.

“This weather event was very dynamic, and it changed a lot,” Walker said. “Thankfully when it started to thaw out on Sunday, it thawed quickly.”

Tigard’s work crews had been prepared for the storm since Feb. 4. But no matter how ready his men were for the task ahead, there was still a lot of work to do to keep the roads as safe as possible.

“When we get a weather event like this, it’s all we can do to keep up,” Walker said.

As snow turned to ice, conditions became treacherous, but Walker said that given the city’s limited equipment, things went as smoothly as possible.

“All those (snowplow operators) were rock stars,” Walker said.

Hard but enjoyable work

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard Public Works employee Cale Brown sprays de-icer on the windshield of a snow plow he operated during his shift on Friday. Crews have been working around the clock in freezing conditions to make sure roads are safe.When the team wasn’t plowing, Walker’s crew used lulls in the storm to lay down sand and gravel on the roads to give motorists additional traction.

The storm was reminiscent of the major snow storm the city experienced in December 2008. That storm blanketed the city in 14 inches of snow.

“Thinking back to that big storm back in 2008, we had a totally different fleet of equipment,” he said. “If we had this same equipment back then, we could have done things much better.”

Snow plow driver Cale Brown said crews were able to keep the roads clear despite the sometimes dangerous conditions.

“Of course, there are some people out there who are just morons,” he said as he prepared to plow Southwest 68th Avenue. “I asked one guy, ‘What are you doing out here?’ and he said he was getting soda. Really? You knew this was coming, you couldn’t have done that the other day?”

Walker said he isn’t sure how many miles of road crews plowed over the five days, but said that the city went through more than 200 yards of sand, and 2,400 gallons of de-icing agent.

“It’s hard work, but in a way it’s enjoyable,” Walker said. “We do try to have fun, as hard as it is and being sleep deprived.”

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard Public Works employee Cale Brown uses a zip tie to cinch down the chains on a snow plow he operates. More snow is expected into Saturday, and snow plows will be working around the clock to keep roads as clear as possible.

City, county and state roads, too

Although roads like Pacific Highway and Hall Boulevard run through town, they are technically owned and maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation. But Walker’s crew plowed those as well, he said.

“When the need is there, we’ll do it,” he said. “ODOT can’t respond sometimes — they’re busy plowing I-5 and 205.”

Whether it’s their responsibility or not, Walker said, if they have the time, they will make sure to get those roads clear.

“The average citizen honestly doesn’t know what roads are maintained by (whom),” he said. “All they know is, ‘I’m in the city, and I can’t go anywhere.’ We find ourselves going the extra mile and doing those things.”

Washington County also maintains roads within the city, including Bull Mountain Road, Beef Bend Road, Barrows Road and Southwest 150th Avenue.

The priority list for streets is determined by a map city officials put together years ago, as well as emergency calls from the police department, which relays traffic crashes and other trouble spots to workers, Walker said.

Walker said city-owned streets are taken care of first, then they tackle those maintained by other agencies.

“When your two busiest roads in town are owned by ODOT, and they have much larger priorities, you do what you have to do,” he said.

Small setup, big impact

Tigard pulls in workers from across the city to help keep streets clear during major snow events.

During this storm, snow plow operators included street maintenance technicians, parks employees and an employee from the water division.

“We have more people than pieces of equipment,” Walker said. “In fact, people come to me when they hear about a storm. They say, ‘We’re ready if you need me.’”

In a region that sees little snow during the year, the city maintains a small collection of snow-fighting equipment.

Two trucks are used for de-icing roads as well as a small plow attached to another pickup, which crews use for clearing city parking lots. The city also has three dump trucks that can be converted to snow plows.

“Those are our heavy hitters out there right now,” he said on Friday afternoon. “Those are the ones that are really making some progress.”

And normally, Walker said, that’s enough.

“For the typical one- or two-day events, that’s all we ever need,” Walker said. “When you look at the big picture, that’s what we get a lot of. Storms like this are a rarity.”

Walker said buying additional snow plows would be premature, given how few snow storms blow through the area.

“Folks ask why we don’t have more equipment, but it’s really expensive, and people don’t want to be spending money on these pieces of equipment just to have them sit, literally, for years before the next storm,” he said.

But as the snow continued to fall, Walker said he dreamed of having an additional plow.

“Man, with this storm, I’d like to have another truck,” he said.

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