MNDOT Releases Review Of 2020-2021 Winter: Low Snowfall Totals + COVID-Impacts
As most Northlanders get set to enjoy the last remaining month or so of summer, officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation have wrapped up their review of the last winter season. The initial summary looks like it was a pretty average winter - with less total snowfall totals than the last couple of seasons. However, that didn't necessarily translate into cost-savings as the procedures and protocols demanded by the COVID-19 Pandemic factored into operations.
First - the numbers. According to the 2020-2021 Winter Maintenance Report, here's how the last winter shaped up:
- State snowfall average: 53.0 inches
- Total cost of winter for the agency: $116 million
- Full time and backup snow-fighters: 1,853
- Plow trucks in operation: 800-plus
- Frequency achieving bare lanes after each snow event: 87%
- Gallons of brine used: 5,992,139
- Tons of salt used: 177,164
- Tons of sand used: 3,110
To put that data into perspective, average total snowfall was down for 2020-2021 as compared to the last five winters, total employees was slightly up, and costs were higher overall than past seasons with similar snowfall totals. However, the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic need to be factored into any review of the last year to properly put it into perspective.
MNDOT included a review page to the report that specifically addressed the challenges COVID-19 presented them with. Summarizing:
"When it came to snow and ice, the winter of 2020-2021 was an average year in Minnesota. But in terms of operations, this winter season was like no other. Daily work life changed at MNDOT and staff rose to the challenge. New protocols, daily health screenings, changes to safety practices, mask-wearing and more were put into place to help get the job done and keep employees safe."
From the start, MNDOT was determined to make sure that COVID-19 didn't affect their primary goal of keeping roads safe and passable. Long before the first snowflake fell - and even as pandemic information kept changing on an almost hourly nature - officials in charge made it a mission that "no truck station gets shut down". To accomplish that, MNDOT needed to look at every aspect of their operation and make sure that their planning prepared for "the worst case scenario".
The report details that snowplow crews enacted strong social distancing protocols at the workplace - first limiting one person only to each truck (later raised to two, with both wearing masks). There were also "stringent practices...for disinfecting vehicles and cleaning facilities. Truck stations upgraded ventilation systems and even expanded lunchrooms into truck bays." MNDOT considered all operations to keep crews as safe as possible on the job.
There were also never-before-seen challenges to prep for. Early on, MNDOT made plans to ensure that service could continue throughout the state if COVID-19 started making its impact known within the agency and the staff. A multi-level contingency plan was drafted - that detailed how the agency could move snowplow drivers to other districts of "using Department of Natural Resources staff with CDL licenses" in case a truck station or district had an outbreak. Thankfully, none of those well-laid plans were needed to be put into action. "The maintenance team met its main goal: All truck stations remained open during winter operations."
MNDOT's 2020-2021 Winter Maintenance Report also details the success the agency had with public outreach - namely the "Name A Snowplow" campaign. In December 2020, the agency solicited people to submit potential names for the plows. MNDOT received more than 22,000 suggestions. Staff filtered those suggestions down t o 50 finalists for the public to vote on. More than 122,000 votes were cast to determine eight winning snow plow names - one for each of MNDOT's Districts throughout the state.
Additionally, MNDOT used social media platforms more than ever. In February 2021, the agency debuted their "MnDot Minutes" - a series of short, educational videos that featured different topics about the work performed by staff during the snow and ice season. Each video was featured on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram during the rest of the winter season. Due to the success, MNDOT is planning on doing future MnDot Minutes throughout the other seasons of the year.
To see the 2020-2021 Winter Maintenance Report, click here. For comparison, the Minnesota Department of Transportation also has the reports for the last few years available on their website. Click here for more details.