HELENA — At the Montana Department of Transportation’s central shop in Helena, crews fabricate the snowplows that help keep the state’s highways clear throughout the winter. This winter, they’ve also been making repairs to some plow trucks that have been damaged on the roads.
Walt Kerttula, MDT’s equipment bureau chief, says 17 of the department’s roughly 600 plows have been hit while on the roads this season, including 10 on the interstates.
“On average, we get 24 of our plows hit every year,” he said. “This year, 17 is getting close to that average already.”
Every time someone crashes into a plow, it has to be taken out of service anywhere from a day to two weeks for checks and repairs. The average cost of the damage is $3,000.
Kerttula isn’t aware of any injuries linked to plow-vehicle collisions this winter, but he says they can happen.
“There’s a safety aspect there for both the traveling public and for our plow drivers, and then there’s just the financial hit that the department takes whenever that happens,” he said.
If someone crashes into the heavy front plow, it doesn’t usually need major repairs. However, Kerttula said many of the accidents are rear-end hits on plows, which can do more significant damage.
“People may come through a snow cloud or be going too fast, can’t stop, so they’ll hit our sander chute typically, where our sand comes out,” he said. “Also, we have our deicing units – we have two tanks here on each side that contain liquid deicer. When any of this gets damaged, now our plows can’t sand, they can’t put deicer on the road.”
MDT is asking drivers to take steps to stay safe on the roads and help plow drivers do their jobs:
- Avoid driving through a snow cloud created by a plow, which can reduce visibility to near zero.
- Slow down and maintain a safe distance from a plow.
- Wait to pass a plow. Drivers should pull over to allow traffic by when it’s safe to do so.
“It’s important that everybody be safe,” said Kerttula. “And that’s what the drivers are out there to do, to keep everybody safe and keep everybody on the road and able to travel.”
Kerttula says MDT is planning to start outfitting some of its plow trucks with green flashing rear lights, to make them more visible on the road.