By Anisah Abdullah
Right after Labor Day, Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro began preparing his town’s equipment for winter. He made sure that all of the 250 pieces of equipment were checked, serviced and, if necessary, repaired in order to clear any snow that falls on his town roads.
His highway department is only one of over 80 state, county, town or village departments on Long Island that maintain roads. These agencies have been preparing for months to make sure they have enough resources to effectively remove anticipated snow and ice this winter season.
“The highway department is an integral gear in the public safety machine,” Losquadro said. “If we don’t get roads open, the police can’t respond to a call for an emergency, the ambulance can’t get through to help someone who’s sick.”
Brookhaven has the third largest highway department in New York, behind the New York State and New York City Departments of Transportation, Losquadro said. It is comprised of 3,400 lane miles of road, which is calculated by adding the lengths of every lane on a road.
The state department (NYSDOT), which is responsible for maintaining almost all state roads, has 313 vehicles and nearly 40,000 tons of road salt reserved this year to clear 4,020 lane miles on Long Island, according to a Winter Resource Availability document from the state department.
With winter right around the corner and snow anticipated to fall any day now, department officials are prepared to send their workers and equipment out into the wintry landscape.
Brookhaven’s storage barns are currently fully stocked with nearly 20,000 tons of road salt, Losquadro said. The Suffolk County storage units are stocked to capacity as well, Gilbert Anderson, the commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, said, adding that he expects to use all of it this winter.
Counties and towns have their own equipment, but they also rely on equipment from outside local vendors hired to aid in snow removal. This year, Suffolk County’s public works department only has around 70 vendors compared to the 100 vendors they had last year, Anderson said.
“With the past few years of storms, a lot of contractors are starting to think twice about putting their equipment through the snow season because it really does beat up equipment pretty bad,” Anderson said. “If you’re a landscaper and you’re just doing this for side money, you’re taking a chance of possibly ruining the equipment you need for your normal livelihood.”
He added that this decrease in resources and manpower is his biggest concern because it means that it will take longer for Suffolk County roads to be sufficiently cleared of snow and ice.
Deer Park resident Luke Malinowski said that he hopes snow on his path to work will be cleared quickly this winter. He recently began a full-time job in Suffolk County, and it takes him one hour to drive there from his home in Nassau County. He said he is worried that snow this winter will worsen his commute with a longer drive and more reckless drivers.
“People drive bad as it is now, and when there’s snow it’s probably gonna get much worse,” Malinowski said.
The rate and amount of snow during any given snowfall can vary, as can the amount of resources available, so there is no precise way to determine how quickly roads will get cleared.
“I have a goal, especially in severe storms, that six hours after the last flake stops flying, I want every road in the town passable,” Losquadro said of the town roads in Brookhaven.
“Traffic permitting, NYSDOT’s Long Island Region is staffed and equipped for 2 hour beats on most roadways,” Ed Hearn, the state department’s assistant to the Long Island regional director, said in an email. A beat is an area allocated to a set of snow removal workers who are responsible for clearing it. “However, some roadways (e.g., I495) are staffed for 1 hour beats or less if additional resources are deployed to the Region.”
Fios1 News Meteorologist Joe Cioffi said he forecasts an average winter in terms of snowfall and temperature this year with 30 to 35 inches of snow spread over the December-to-March timeframe. An average yearly snowfall on Long Island is 37 inches, based on annual snowfalls since 1990. However, it can be very difficult to predict long-term weather patterns, he said.
“Anything with weather is always very ability-based,” Cioffi said. “All it takes sometimes is one big storm that could kind of skew off all those numbers.”
Although an average winter is predicted, highway department officials do not find predictions to be necessarily helpful. Losquadro said that he prepares for the worst, and Anderson shared similar feelings.
“I‘ve given up predicting, to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “Every year seems to be a little different. You could have a year where you get hammered with 36 inches of snow, and you could have another year where you have these little freezing rain storms where you still have to go out there and maybe don’t have to push snow, but you’ve gotta salt, and you’ve gotta make sure the roads are safe for people to drive, and it could cost you equally as much.”
Applying road salt is a necessary step when removing snow and ice. It prevents the snow and ice from sticking to the pavement, thus allowing plows to easily peel the snow off the roads, Wilfrid Nixon, the Vice President of Science and the Environment at the Salt Institute, said.
“When we’re using road salt properly, we’re reducing the accident rate by 88%,” Nixon said. “It’s a huge reduction.”
While there are obvious benefits to salt application, the chloride in the salt has harmful effects on the environment, like on small marine life, he added.
“On one hand, yes we put road salt into the environment, on the other hand, if we don’t, we’re gonna see more crashes and negative impacts from them, and more fuel use and things like that,” Nixon said. “So those have to be weighed.”
Suffolk County Snow Removal NY, a Brookhaven-based small business, chooses to use calcium chloride instead of road salt, also known as rock salt, co-owner Diane Williams said.
“Rock salt is really harsh on concrete,” Williams said. “So people’s stoops and walkways, it could damage them really bad. That’s the stuff that the town puts down on the streets. Definitely calcium is better for residential applications, but a lot of people don’t know that.”
Highway and public works departments across the nation are implementing new technology to more sustainably apply road salt in order to reduce its environmental footprint, Nixon said. Brookhaven’s department is one of them. In an effort to better allocate its resources this year, the department installed GPS units in all vehicles to track their locations, Losquadro said. The department also recently gained access to traffic cameras to view road conditions in real time.
“It’s very helpful from an emergency management standpoint of how we allocate the resources we have,” Losquadro said. “It allows us to be much more efficient.”
Although Long Island has yet to experience a snowfall this winter, it is only a matter of time before residents begin to see snow removal vehicles active on the roads.