The Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) is responsible for winter maintenance on 1,649 miles of county roads and 598 lane-miles of state highways and expressways. Winter maintenance activities include applying salt and sand, as well as plowing snow on roadways and shoulders. With few exceptions, WCRC conducts winter maintenance on public roads located outside of cities and village limits. Cities and villages provide winter maintenance with their own workforces.

Fast Facts:

  • WCRC performs winter maintenance activities in accordance with a priority system based on traffic volumes, location and road classification (paved, unpaved).
  • WCRC can easily spend $3 million annually for winter maintenance, depending on the severity of weather conditions and the length of the winter season.
  • During a typical year, WCRC will provide between 50 to 75 days of winter maintenance services.
  • WCRC may deploy up to 46 snow plows during a winter storm event.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does WCRC prioritize snow and ice removal?

Safety is the Washtenaw County Road Commission’s top priority and when a storm hits, WCRC crews begin their day early to keep roads as clear as possible. WCRC performs winter maintenance activities in accordance with the 2020-2021 Winter Maintenance Guidelines approved by the Washtenaw County Board of County Road Commissioners.

WCRC’s Winter Maintenance Guidelines include a priority system for clearing snow and ice from roads that is based on traffic volumes, location and road classification (paved, unpaved).

Here’s a summary of our priorities during a storm:

  • Primary Routes: The most highly traveled roads in the county. When it’s snowing, WCRC crews focus all efforts to keep these clear for emergency vehicles and all travelers.
    • Examples: I-94, US-23, M-52, US-12, M-14, county paved roads…
  • Secondary Routes: Local roads like subdivision or gravel roads.
    • These will be cleared once the primary routes are cleared, if it starts to snow again, WCRC crews will leave these roads to go back to primary routes.

 

graphic describing snow plowing priorities

When will WCRC plow my subdivision or gravel road?

After a major storm or back-to-back storms, subdivision and gravel roads might not be cleared for a few days due to road conditions, timing and the severity of the storm.

Per 2020-2021 Winter Maintenance Guidelines, WCRC clears roads according to the priority system. WCRC will focus its efforts on highways and main paved roads before addressing subdivision or gravel roads. Please note that WCRC only plows subdivision and gravel roads located in townships. Cities and villages have their own winter maintenance crews.

A WCRC truck knocked down my mailbox, will you fix it?

Mailboxes can be knocked down by WCRC trucks when they plow snow. WCRC’s procedure is to replace mailboxes that have been hit by a snow plow. However, WCRC will not repair or replace a mailbox if it was broken by the sheer force of the snow coming off the plow blade. Please call (734) 761-1500 to report. Click here to learn more about mailboxes.

Residents should prepare mailboxes for winter by tightening screws and ensuring the post and receptacle are secure enough to endure large amounts of thrown snow. If the mailbox moves when shaken, it may not withstand standard snow removal operations and should be repaired or replaced before winter.

Why do snow plows block my driveway with snow when they clear the road?

WCRC’s priority is the safety of the traveling public which means that sometimes snow is pushed into driveways during plowing operations. While plow crews try to minimize the amount of snow that gets plowed into driveways during a storm, it is the responsibility of the property owner to clear their driveway opening.

This can be the case in cul-de-sacs since they are a very challenging feature to plow.   Cul-de-sacs without islands contain even more area which needs to be plowed and, as a result, even more snow has to be moved to the side.

We understand this can be very frustrating. To minimize extra work, WCRC recommends that you shovel to the right side of your driveway (see graphic below). Shoveling an area large enough to hold the snow coming off a plow blade may help reduce the need for a “second shovel.”

We cannot pick up the plow blade every time we pass a driveway; it is impractical and our drivers would never finish clearing the roads due to the sheer number of driveways in the county.

We pay property tax, why don't we get better snow removal service?

WCRC’s winter maintenance budget is funded solely by fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees collected by the State of Michigan. This income funds all day-to-day maintenance activities including snow plowing and salting.

The property tax you pay is used for your local and county government agencies and for schools, not day-to-day road maintenance. The local road millage tax that homeowners pay may only be used for road construction projects.

To learn more about road funding and how it works, visit our road funding FAQ page.

Why do bridges and overpasses freeze before the surface of the road?

Unlike roads, bridges have no way to trap heat, so they continually lose heat and freeze shortly after temperatures hit the freezing point. If the air temperature falls below freezing, a bridge’s surface will likely be freezing too, causing rain and snow to freeze and stick to the road surface.

Does WCRC pretreat the roads before a storm?

It depends on current weather conditions and the predicted storm. When conditions are right, WCRC will pre-treat some roads ahead of a storm. In these instances, WCRC will spray a liquid brine on busy paved roads. This liquid salt brine can help prevent snow from sticking to the road or bridge deck.

Generally, WCRC will not place rock salt on road surfaces before a snowfall because it can bounce off the dry road during application. Salt is most effective after snow has accumulated and the temperature is 20° F or higher.  Under these conditions, the salt and snow will mix, which melts the snow into slush that can be plowed off the pavement. If the temperature is below 20° F, the salt will have difficulty melting the snow and ice, so other methods are used.  Abrasives are often put down for traction.  Salt brine can be added to rock salt to enhance its melting ability.

Is it legal to pass a snow plow?

While, there are no state laws that prohibit passing a snow plow, Michigan’s new “Move Over” law requires motorists to slow down at least 10 mph below the posted limit and move over to an open lane. This applies to snow plows and other road maintenance vehicles as well as emergency responders.

Motorists should never pass a snow plow on the right, it may be equipped with a wing plow that can extend anywhere between 2-10 feet beyond the width of the truck.

Please don’t crowd the plow.

Officials: Michigan motorists must move over for police | WNMU-FM

Why is that snow plow driving with its plow raised during a storm?

There are a couple of reasons plows aren’t always pushing snow:

  1. Plows may be headed back to the garage to reload materials.
  2. The road may have been treated with salt or de-icing products and the driver is monitoring the route while giving the mixture time to work.
  3. The driver is traveling to his/her assigned route and may not have the responsibility for the road he/she is currently on.

Why was that snow plow speeding past my house?

It might have been driving the appropriate speed but because snow plow trucks are often in a low gear and using a high engine RPM to maintain the power necessary to push the snow it can sound or look like that they are speeding. Additionally, the truck size, engine, size of the plow blades and flying debris can make it appear that a plow truck is moving faster than it is.

WCRC drivers are required to follow all applicable laws and are held responsible for violations. If you see a WCRC employee acting irresponsibly, please contact (734) 761-1500 with time, location and vehicle number so management can investigate.

Why would salt be spread on a bare highway after a snowstorm is over?

The projected temperature of the road surface will impact the final treatment of a road.  If plowing operations have finished and a road is still in “black and wet” condition there may a danger of the water on the road re-freezing.  There are times, especially at night, when this post-storm salt application may be necessary.

Can the snow plow operator plow my driveway if I am elderly, disabled or not physically able to shovel?

Unfortunately, no. WCRC does not have the resources to plow the driveways of those who are unable to do so.

WCRC’s primary goal is to use its resources to provide a safe and reliable public road system in the most efficient manner possible. WCRC encourages those who are not able to shovel their driveway to ask neighbors for assistance or hire a private snow plow service.