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7:50 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Are KDOT And MoDOT Ready For Winter?

MoDOT trucks wait for plow attachments at the agency’s Lees Summit depot.
MoDOT trucks wait for plow attachments at the agency’s Lees Summit depot.
Credit Dan Verbeck / KCUR

Kansas City area drivers have had 8 months—to the day—to forget what it’s like to drive through 12 inches of snow falling in a single day. That February 21, mammoth fall was followed by an identical one four days later.

So, as we gear up for winter again, how ready are the metro Kansas City highway departments for 2013?

Drivers around here are probably going to remember snows that stranded them or slowed them down. Highway department plow drivers remember and so does Bill Mahoney. He’s head accident investigator for the Kansas City Police Department and was on those storm-clogged highways last year. He knows effective plowing is vital.

“If they get icy or there’s snow building up on them, it gets slick we can have some real catastrophic crashes out there," says Mahoney. "Can’t say enough about what a great job these crews do, keeping the roadways open and then once they’re open de-icing them, coming back and dropping salt and sand down.”

As he scuffs a boot through a mass of snow salt in a storage dome, Steve Porter of MoCOT says 36,000 tons are on hand for MoDOT to use in the Kansas City district, 3,000 more than used last year.

“You’ll see for about a six or eight hour period, trucks just lined up loading trucks up getting them ready. Making sure the plows are on and snug and tight and the blades are tight,” he says.

Kansas metro district for the region has 13,000 tons of salt, far fewer than the Missouri district. And the Kansas District has more miles to plow than last year because of new highway expansion.

Highway funds are tighter this year in both Missouri and Kansas. Fuel taxes bring in less, and fewer people bought cars and trucks during the recession so there was less sales tax collected to pay for highway work.

“So the combination of buying fewer vehicles and more efficient vehicles, in particular the hybrids and electric cars that are going to be the future, that’s going to diminish the kind of revenue stream we’ve been using to fund all the operations,” says Porter.

Kim Qualls of KDOT says good changes are coming, but as a result the budget suffers.

"where are we going to get it? Because the traffic’s not going to go away,” she says.

Yet, the Kansas City, Mo., side has 18 more plow operators moved into the snow job this year, six more trucks to push or pull plows. In addition, there is the option of shifting snow blowers from St. Joseph and St Louis to Kansas City, if need be. 

Kim Qualls also says social media is playing a larger role in helping them prepare. They watch weather updates from regions that are hit by storms first.

"There are certain weather patterns that happen every year with us. And seeing what’s happening there really helps us to prepare what’s going to potentially go on here,” she says.

"Here” is Missouri and Kansas, where state line is the point plows stop and turn around when the snow hits.

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