Osceola County Road Commission prepared for winter

HERSEY — Luke Houlton is not a weatherman, nor does he claim to be.

However, the manager of the Osceola County Road Commission says when the snow starts to fly — and it will — the drivers and staff at the road commission are prepared to do their job.

“We don’t really know what to expect this year,” he said. “I’ve heard that we might have a cold winter and I’ve heard that it will be a dry winter.

“We prepare for every winter basically the same way. We don’t do it based on what the Farmer’s Almanac says or the National Weather Service says. Every winter we prep for our 16 plow trucks for their 16 beats around the county with winter operation sanders and wing plows.”

Houlton said 10 of the department’s 16 trucks already are outfitted with the equipment for sanding the roads when the white stuff starts to fall.

“We don’t spread salt, just sand with a little bit of salt mixed in,” he said. “We have no state trunkline, leaving only the county road system we are responsible for.”

Currently, Houlton said the road commission is taking advantage of the nice weather, as the six other trucks are being used as dump trucks to work on a ditch project.

“We won’t have wing plows on any of trucks until after winter arrives and the shoulders are frozen,” he said. “Those take about a day to be fitted on the truck.”

Right now, Houlton and his staff are playing the waiting game.

“When it appears winter has set in, we’ll change our hours of operation from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to start at 6 a.m.” he said. “That will get the guys out there a little bit sooner and ahead of the schools.”

While there are no major funding concerns heading into winter, the road commission manager is looking forward to the first of the year.

“That’s when that transportation funding package will finally kick in,” he said, speaking of legislation approved in 2015 to help with Michigan roads. “The fuel tax and registration fees will be going up.

“However, budget-wise for this fiscal year, we expect to be within budget. Every day it doesn’t snow is a day we could be plowing, but we’re not. That will make it easier on our fuel budget.”

Houlton advises drivers to be ready for another Michigan winter.

“The big thing is being prepared,” he said. “The first snows are the most difficult to drive through. It also takes a little bit of time to get re-acclimated to driving on slippery roads.

“People should have good tires on their vehicles and they should be at the recommended pressure. If and when we get snow storms, drivers should plan ahead by leaving early and taking their time to get to their destination.”