Ingham Road Department promotes safety, tackles icy roads

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A snowy day, where there is a yellow construction vehicle scooping the salt up to place in a salt truck.

Lea Mitchell

The Ingham County salt truck refilling station in Mason.

Cold winters lead to snowy days and those lead to slippery roads, which call for help from the Ingham County Road Department.

The road department manages 1,253 miles of roads and said its mission is to make sure citizens feel safe driving and that the roads are kept up. They put salt out, plow primary and residential roads, and do pothole patching.

“First and foremost, we want to make the road conditions as safe as possible, so everyone can continue their daily activities safely,” said William (Bill) Conklin, managing director of the road department.

White male with brown suit and button down shirt sits at a table with folded hands for picture

Lea Mitchell

Bill Conklin, managing director of the Ingham County Road Department

Roads in Michigan have a great amount of weather distress. When it snows, the moisture under the roads freezes, causing ice to expand. The expanded ice results in cracks and potholes. The process of melting and freezing continues throughout much of the year.

More than 15,000 tons of salt is used every year, according to the Ingham County Road Department, and each salt truck holds about 12 tons of salt. Salt trucks are typically out before people wake up and rush hour begins. In some cases, drivers put the salt down before the storm and other times they put it down as it is occurring. A normal day for a driver starts at 5 a.m. and in heavier situations, 4 a.m.

Kellie Knauff, a worker for the department, said “it is a pleasure working for the department because she is helping with people’s safety.”
Knauff advises all drivers to be cautious and drive defensively. She added to give yourself extra time from going to each place.

Michigan salt trucks plow with a unique blade because the snow isn’t as thick as other cold states such as Minnesota, South Dakota and Alaska. Michigan salt trucks have the blade that sweeps the snow off the road in the center mound which is located under the truck. The other states have their blade on the side of the truck for a better removal process.

“We are going to add a wing blade to the plow trucks to have an even better clearing of the roads soon,” Conklin said.

Each driver is commercially licensed and is in training for about 12 months prior to their first road duty. Drivers learn what to do in all seasons.

“In summer, they learn how to do road maintenance, in the fall they are doing drainage and gravel preparation, in winter the plowing, and spring they patch roads,” he said.

“Believe it or not, the summer is actually our busiest time of the year because we are recycling pavement and resurfacing it,” Conklin said.

Lansing resident Linda Johnson said she is grateful for what the department does. She said she has heard complaints about residential roads not being plowed in other areas, but in her community the side roads are plowed very quickly.

“When I used to stay in Bingham Township, the side roads up to my apartment were rarely plowed. I would have my friend use a shovel to plow and it wasn’t fun at all. It would be a mission to wake up early before work and then drive. It was just a slippery mess,” Johnson said.

The use of salt on roads is controversial. Environmentalists and scientists have researched the salt effects and said it is contaminating groundwater.

Conklin said, “We need to protect our environment and keep people safe at the same time. This is why we use our salt economically, because we don’t need our fish dying away because of acting carelessly,” Conklin said.

Conklin advises drivers to, “slow down and allow greater stopping and following distance. Make sure you don’t drive too fast for the weather conditions because that is how many rear ends occur.”

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