CINCINNATI — The Tri-State’s first snow of the season brings concerns about keeping streets clear, and the impact COVID-19 could have for the people keeping our streets safe to drive.
One major factor helping overnight crews into the morning: fewer people are on the road as they stay home during the pandemic. According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the volume of vehicles on the road is down 15% since June.
The season’s first snowfall is expected to bring little accumulation but freezing temperatures may create slick spots for drivers. Cincinnati has an arsenal designed to tackle roadblocks like snow and ice, including about 25,000 tons of salt on hand and a fleet of 70 plow drivers.
Jarrod Bolden, the city’s traffic and road operations superintendent, said every winter presents a fluid situation. Workers for these agencies are used to an ever-changing landscape, but COVID-19 presents a new challenge.
“Keeping our employees safe as well is definitely a priority to us. (Coronavirus is) something that we can't run from,” Bolden said. “We're just like everybody else.”
That's why state transportation agencies in Ohio and Kentucky are facing potential problems head-on.
“We've been maintaining a ‘one worker per vehicle’ rule throughout ODOT, and again that's just an effort to try to minimize the chance that we'll have any spread of COVID amongst our forces,” said Matt Bruning with the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Snow plowing is an inherently solitary job, and Ohio plow drivers usually spend about 12 hours a shift in the truck by themselves.
“So it’s a very socially distanced job already,” Bruning said. “But we’ve been doing other things in the garages – keeping our distance from our coworkers, wearing masks, washing hands often, taking temperatures.”
Bruning said the rule has been successful so far, but the department has contingency plans in place should there be a higher than usual instance at one of their garages.
Nancy Wood with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said they’re also taking extra steps to stop any spread between drivers in its tracks.
“After they're done with their routes, they'll sanitize and clean for the next driver to use that truck,” Wood said.
Should the virus force drivers to stay home, Wood said there's a plan in place.
“Our priority routes are our number one focus, if we don't have the available drivers or trucks to be out ... We have a lot of contractors as well. We have 130 trucks available,” she said.
ODOT, KTC and Cincinnati's Traffic and Road superintendent said they're ready as any agency can be for bad weather and life's storms.
“We don't think we'll be in a situation where we'll go through our resources, but we're definitely prepared,” Bolden said.
The biggest piece of advice for overnight is something we've all heard all year: stay home if you can.