The storage bins are full of salt and sand. The trucks are primed for duty. Considering the budget crunch that has shackled the state for a couple of years now, Kansas Department of Transportation crews are about as ready as they can be for winter.
“We are not going to be able to do it as comprehensively as we used to,” KDOT spokesman Tom Hein said. “It will require a wise use of the resources. “But we’re not going to be out there as bare-bones as we were last year.”
State crews did the bare minimum in treating and cleaning icy and snowy roads and streets last winter, Hein said.
“I’m sure travelers noticed,” he said.
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Last winter’s maintenance was affected by a variety of issues, Hein said: staffing shortages, higher diesel fuel prices and increased demand for salt. This season should be better, Hein said, but it still won’t be where he — and drivers — would prefer it to be.
“We certainly don’t have full crews on deck for winter this year,” Hein said. “We’ve got 24 trucks in the metro area, and that means we may not have a person in every truck. There may be trucks sitting idle because we simply don’t have enough people.
“We’d like to be out there in full force, but obviously we won’t be able to have a person in every truck at all times during the storm.”
KDOT crews maintain the state highway system. In the Wichita area, that means most of Kellogg, as well as I-135, I-235, K-96, K-42, K-254 and K-15.
Maintenance crews are ready to begin treating streets and highways with brine on Fridays in the event wintry weather moves in over the weekend, Hein said.
A team of six trucks informally dubbed the “frost patrol” checks elevated surfaces before the morning commute every weekday morning and sprays brine on them if conditions could allow them to ice over.
“They’re kind of watchdogs,” Hein said. “They know which bridges tend to be the troublesome ones. They’ll get out there and treat them” before the morning rush.”
The briny solution can help prevent ice from forming for about a week, he said.
If there is a chance of wintry precipitation over the weekend, crews spray brine on roads and highways — unless rain is part of the forecast.
Rain would just wash the brine away, Hein said, so applying it at those times would be useless.