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. The 2013/14 winter season required 103 days!
  • WCRC employs more than 60 certified, professional snow plow drivers and heavy equipment operators to help keep public roads clear during the winter.
  • 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.

When will WCRC plow my subdivision or gravel road?

Road conditions, weather forecasts, timing and the severity of a storm can impact our ability to clear subdivision and gravel roads. After a major storm or back-to-back storms, subdivision and gravel roads in townships might not be cleared for a few days. We clear roads according to the priority system. Until the highways and paved roads are complete, we will not begin work on subdivision or gravel roads.

Due to limited resources, WCRC does not expend overtime for winter maintenance on subdivision and gravel roads unless there are 4+ inches of snow, an ice storm, blowing/drifting snow, or as determined necessary by the superintendents of maintenance, with the concurrence of the director of operations.

Please note that WCRC only plows subdivision and gravel roads located in townships. Cities and villages have their own winter maintenance crews.

For more information, view our Plowing Subdivisions brochure

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

Mailboxes can be knocked down by WCRC trucks when they plow snow. WCRC’s policy 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 our office and we will check into the problem. Learn more on our Mailboxes FAQ page.

During the month of October, Michigan encourages residents to shake their mailbox to make sure it’s winter-ready. 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 and clearing the roads of snow and ice by pushing it off the road and shoulders is necessary. Sometimes this means that snow is pushed into driveways. 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.
We understand the frustration that this causes area residents. To minimize extra work, we recommend that you shovel to the right side of your driveway as you face the road. 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?

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.

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 included traffic signals, signage, pavement markings, sweeping and both temporary and permanent road and bridge repairs.

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?

While temperatures on the road surface drop, the heat underneath the road keeps it warm enough to prevent icing as temperatures drop below freezing. 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.

Why can't salt be put on the roads and bridges before it snows?

Putting salt on road surfaces before a snowfall is a waste of time and money as salt often bounces off the dry road during application. The portion that manages to land and stays on the road surface is subject to wind and will likely blow off the road before it can do its job.

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. This melting action will occur within two hours, less if traffic is using the highway.

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 enhance the ability to melt the ice and snow.  The road commission may change the mixture of salt and additives based on the ground temperature.

What is the importance of pavement and ground temperatures? Why not just on just rely on air temperature?

The ability of a de-icing agent to melt snow and ice depends on the temperature of the roadway, not the air temperature.  During the fall season, the pavement is often warmer than the surrounding air because of the warm soil.  During the spring, the reverse may be true.  Pavement temperatures can be colder than the air because the soil is still frozen from the low winter temperatures.  The sun also has a strong influence on pavement temperatures. The sun can help heat the pavement and speed the melting process.  Air and pavement temperatures can differ by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is it legal to pass a snow plow?

There are no state laws that prohibit passing a snow plow, but passing a snow plow can be extremely dangerous. The Washtenaw County Road Commission recommends keeping a safe distance.

Snow plows may be equipped with wing plow blades that can extend anywhere between 2-10 feet beyond the width of the truck. This wing plow blade is often not seen because of the snow cloud being kicked up by the snow plow.  These wing plows can often weigh as much as a compact car.

I've seen snow plows driving along during a storm with their plows raised. Why are they not plowing?

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

  • Plows may be in operation only to spread materials or may be out of materials to spread and headed back to the garage to reload.
  • The road may have been treated with salt or de-icing products and plowing it may remove the mixture before it has an opportunity to work.
  • The driver does not have the responsibility for the road he/she is currently on and is heading elsewhere.  Plow routes are designed to minimize travel in between service areas.

The snow plow was speeding past my house!

WCRC drivers are required to follow all applicable laws and are held responsible for violations. Please contact WCRC with the time and location for us to follow up. Please be aware that snow plow trucks are often in a low gear and using a high engine RPM to maintain the power necessary to push the snow and that this creates the impression 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.

Why do workers spray liquid onto the roadways before a big storm?

While it may seem dangerous to add liquid to a road that might freeze, but the liquid is most likely salt brine which will prevent snow from sticking to the road or bridge deck and prevent frost or black ice.

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.

I live on a cul-de-sac and I get more snow in my driveway and on my property than anywhere else. Why?

Plowing cul-de-sacs is one of the more challenging operations after a snow storm.  Most properties on a cul-de-sac have frontages which are narrower than lots of straight streets and so the snow must be pushed into a smaller space.  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.

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

Unfortunately, the Washtenaw County Road Commission does not have the resources to plow the driveways of those who are unable to do so.  Our primary goal is to use the resources we have to provide safe and reliable roadways in the most efficient manner possible.  We encourage those who are not able to shovel to ask neighbors for assistance or hire a private snow plow service.