Unsung heroes: Plow drivers keep town from choking on snow
BRECKENRIDGE – James Phelps hops into the cab his Freightliner L80 snowplow and sander, lifts the blade slightly and rolls onto Main Street. With a deft, gentle touch, the plow cuts into the layer of snow caked on the road from the early December storm. The snow skims of easily and swirls out of the blade’s barrel in floury stream, adding to the ever-growing berm along the curb.Phelps, the wiry and energetic manager of the town’s road and parks crew, has his job cut out for him this year. Snowfall so far is near record levels and the word is out among skiers. Summit County has some of the best conditions in the country right now. Bookings are up at lodges in the town, and the combination of more cars and more snow means bigger challenges for the fully staffed and funded department.”I can’t remember a season that started out like this,” Phelps says. “This season to date, we’ve already removed more snow than through the end of December last year. And it’s early season. This isn’t going to melt anytime soon. This snow will be here in March,” he says, describing the task of maintaining 53 miles of roads in the town. The truck rumbles up the steep grade of Ski Hill Road toward the Peak 8 base area, the blade gliding along with an occasional thump. “We’ve had some pretty light winters recently,” Phelps says, explaining that many recently arrived residents haven’t seen this kind of early season snow and may have unrealistic expectations as to how quickly a particular street gets cleared.Working 24-7, the plows concentrate first on the main collector streets – Boreas Pass Road, Park Avenue, Tiger Road and Ski Hill Road, to name a few, Phelps says, as the blade of his truck makes a clean sweep around one of Ski Hill’s tight hairpins, spraying snow over the guardrail.Along with the roads, the parks division also has about 17 miles of sidewalk to clear.”I just saw Doc P.J. riding his bike up here this morning,” Phelps says, referring to a well-known local resident. “He doesn’t miss too many days, even when it’s snowy,” he says, explaining that the crews work hard at ensuring that pedestrian and bicycle access.
It’s a critical job that prevents the town from literally choking on the very stuff that fuels its winter economy.As Phelps heads up into Breckenridge Highlands, he points out one of the trouble spots, where a row of construction vehicles is parked along both sides of the road. “That can have an impact on service,” he says. “The thing that’s not widely understood is if the roads are clogged with contractor vehicles some areas might miss the chance to get plowed. Some residential areas are only plowed once in a 24-hour cycle, he adds.The emphasis is on outreach and education, as Phelps asks residents to comply with town rules on parking to help the snow-clearing operation to go smoothly. Phelps says he’ll occasionally visit at construction sites to remind builders that they need to provide on-site parking for workers to keep the roadways clear for the plows.And he says snow that falls on private property needs to remain there. If it’s pushed out in the road it ends up as berm in the neighbor’s driveway, he explains.Tooling down out of the Highlands, it’s obvious Phelps has been doing this at some level for quite some time – since 1986, to be exact, when he started out as a seasonal plow driver, working nights so he’d have time to ski. The blade once again skims smoothly within a few inches of the guardrail, snow sloughing up and away from the plow and down the embankment.The plows work as teams, with the one truck scraping the center of the road to keep the snow from ridging up in the middle. Another plow follows and pushes that berm to the side, where it’s later removed by snowblowers and dump trucks.”There’s a synchronicity among the drivers,” Phelps says, explaining that the crews know exactly in which order to drive the designated routes for maximum efficiency.Phelps said he’s happy to take calls from residents or visitors with snowplowing questions at (970) 453-3181.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or a firstname.lastname@example.org.* Be patient. The town’s main priorities begin with bus routes and commercial routes/areas, then residential areas. * Observe “No Parking 2 a.m. 6 a.m.” signs. During the late night and early morning hours crews plow and haul away snow from commercial areas, including parking lots and side streets. Unless otherwise posted, parking is prohibited on town roads.* Be a good neighbor. It is unlawful to push or plow your snow into the roadway. Homeowners and residents are responsible for maintaining their own driveways and parking areas. Your snow must be disposed of on your own property. Disposing of snow in roadways will only affect your neighbor. This code will be enforced, and fines may apply.* Landscaping in the right-of-way. Each street in town has a right-of-way of 50 feet, which gives an area of 5 to 10 feet from the edge of the roadway for plowing, road maintenance, and drainage. If you choose to maintain landscaping up to the roadway, the town is not responsible for any damage that may occur in the right-of-way due to plowing and snow removal operations.Frequently asked questions:
Q: Why can’t the snowplow driver change the angle of the blade to avoid plowing snow into my driveway?A: Driveway maintenance (snow removal, cleaning, etc.) remains the responsibility of the property owner. The response time to relocate the plow blade angle makes it infeasible to try and blade snow away from driveways.Q: After I have cleaned my driveway, the town snowplow plows snow back onto my driveway or walks. Who is responsible for clearing the snow? A: The property owner or resident is responsible for clearing their driveway. Driveways are only an easement onto town roads and the responsibility of the property owner.Q: How come my road isn’t plowed … everyone else’s road is plowed? A: Roads are plowed on a priority basis dependent on weather conditions. Priority routes may have to be plowed 3 or 4 times before less priority roads are started. The town maintains over 53 miles of roadway and after a snowstorm some areas may not receive service until later in the afternoon.
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