The Role Of Public Works: Snow Removal


Why Wasn’t My Street Plowed? And Other Common Questions

From a department operations center in Annapolis, workers log emergency calls on computer screens and a backup generator stands at the ready. No, the Bureau of Highways employees are not preparing for a nuclear blast or a hurricane; they are combating snowstorms of more than 4 inches.

The operations center is just one example of how county and state officials have worked to make the snow removal process more efficient while simultaneously cutting down on environmental harm. The Bureau of Highways, a division of the Department of Public Works, is responsible for maintaining the county’s 6,715 roads. Annapolis City, Fort Meade and private communities clear their own streets.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is responsible for clearing state routes and interstates.

To clear all those streets, the county utilizes a fleet of 72 dump trucks and 84 other pieces of equipment — from road graders to skid steer leaders and backhoes — which are used primarily in the event of severe conditions. Another 150 pieces of equipment are contractor-owned.

Alex Baquie, chief of road operations for Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works, said that a season of storm events can cost the county anywhere between $1 million and $15 million. That $15 million expenditure came in 2009-2010 when the county accumulated 77 inches of snow, Baquie said.

“We brought on 100 pieces of equipment, from bobcats to farm tractors, simply to plow snow,” Baquie said. “There is a point at which even our single-axel dump trucks can’t push it anymore.”

In the event of a storm, crews begin with arterial and connector roads then community streets, dead-ends and cul-de-sacs. Main roads are plowed to bare pavement whereas residential roads are made “passable,” which means they are snow-covered in some cases but with one accessible travel lane for front-wheel drive vehicles.

Salt can scatter off the pavement when placed before a storm, so the bureau prefers to use salt after an inch of snow accumulation and when the temperature is 27 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. With lower temperatures, salt will not melt snow and ice.

What can people do to make sure their roads are cleared quickly? “If they have off-street parking, they should move vehicles off the road along with any trash bins or recycling,” Baquie said.

Having issues with your street? During storms with less than 4 inches of accumulation, contact 410-222-6120 (Pasadena, Severna Park, and Millersville if north of West Benfield Road) or 410-222-7940 (Millersville if south of West Benfield Road, and Arnold).

For more information on the snow removal process, residents can consult the county webpage, which has a winter travel guide and Q&A section. Go to, click “Department of Public Works,” “Bureau of Highways” and “Snow Information.”

SHA Credits Improved Technology

Like Public Works, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) works to clear roads quickly while having a minimal environmental footprint. As part of its Anne Arundel County operations, SHA has shops in Glen Burnie and Annapolis.

“With SHA, there’s an expectation that you’ve got to get the snow before it hits the ground so people can get where they need to be,” said Charlie Gischlar, media relations manager for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “We try to hit the sweet spot where there are clear and passable lanes while not using too much salt.”

As part of its pre-treatment strategy, SHA sprays salt brine on roads and bridges to prevent snow and ice from bonding on surfaces. Because the solution is 27 percent salt and 73 percent water, it does less damage to the environment.

“Salt is corrosive by nature,” Gischlar said. “It does run off.”

For sensitive areas, such as roads located near reservoirs, the administration only uses salt brine. One such spot is Route 10 from Ritchie Highway to Interstate 695.

SHA is cutting down on expenditures and using less salt, and it’s also making use of technology. This winter, SHA unveiled infrared weather sensors.

“Back in the day, we had what we called ‘hockey pucks’ and they had to be embedded in the pavement,” Gischlar said. “They did the same thing, but they took a beating because every day they were getting run over by hundreds of thousands of cars. This infrared is cutting-edge technology. You can look at the temperature of the pavement and the air, and the moisture on the ground, and we can see where to strategically employ.”

To watch live camera feeds of state roads and get timely updates on road conditions, visit Follow along on Twitter @MDSHA or find the “Maryland State Highway Administration” for more updates.


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