CRANBERRY TWP — When it snows in Cranberry — even if that word feels foreign this winter — the plows and salt trucks are always at the ready.
Adding to 14 truck routes and a 6,500-ton storage shed for salt, the township has a “nationally-recognized” plan for snow and ice control.
“People seek that plan out,” Public Works Director Jason Dailey said. “They always want us to send it to them because they want to use it for themselves.”
At its regular Township Manager’s Coffee and Conversation last week, Dailey discussed what goes into maintaining Cranberry’s 132 miles of public roads with a particular focus on keeping them snow- and ice-free.
Though it seems like a task that wouldn’t see much advancement over time, Dailey touted the technological improvements seen in newer trucks the township has. For example, one of the newer trucks not only has a side wing, allowing it to plow a wider path, it also has a laser guidance system that lets the driver see if the wing will encounter any obstacles.
Another area in which technology improved road clearing is in the application of salt. The Michigan Department of Transportation found in the 1970s that about a third of rock salt dropped on the road bounces or scatters off immediately. In many trucks now, the township uses an Epoke spreader, which pre-wets the salt.
“You’re using 30 percent less salt every time you send that Epoke,” said Bob Howland, streets manager in public works.
Cranberry also has the ability now to make salt brine in-house. Brine is about 23 percent salt and 77 percent water, and is frequently used in anti-icing operations, and only costs the township 8 cents per gallon to produce, according to Howland.
The anti-icing operations, Howland said, are an important part of winter operations. Because of that, the township spends time reviewing forecasts so it can place some type of measure on the road before it has a chance to freeze over. They keep an active eye on factors like dew point and temperature.
“Whenever dew point and the air temperature get within five points of each other, it’s going to be either raining or snowing,” Howland said.
Officials from PennDOT also discussed their wintertime operations in the township. Throughout the county, the state is responsible for 1,613 miles of roads, 139 miles of which are in Cranberry Township. Because Interstate 79 runs through the township, PennDOT has a rock salt stockpile shortly off the highway on Freedom Road, said Michael Mattis, Butler County manager for PennDOT.
For both Cranberry and PennDOT, it takes about two-and-a-half to three hours to fully plow and salt a full route. During heavy snow storms, though, the trucks will frequently pay more attention to major arterial and distributor roads before focusing on local streets.
Even then, it’s a major focus to maintain safety on all roads. Howland said he expects his drivers to bring their trucks — which cost around $250,000 each — back empty of salt every time they go out on a route.