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Winter Road Preparation
Photo by Kyle Pozorski

Oneida County Highway Department prepares for winter season

Story By Kyle Pozorski
Local News Published 10/14/2021 4:01PM, Last Updated 10/14/2021 6:51PM
Rhinelander - The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says that every year Wisconsin averages 32 snow events and 72 inches of snow, which necessitates proper maintenance of the roads. Newswatch 12 spoke with transportation experts about the upcoming winter season and how they are preparing to keep drivers safe. 

"Living in northern Wisconsin, we never know when winter's gonna show up," said Alex Hegeman, commissioner of the Oneida County Highway Department. He says that because Wisconsin's winter season is unpredictable, preparing for snowfall is highly important for the highway department. 

"We want to be able to respond when the first snowfall hits and make sure everyone can get around the roads alright and we get everything cleaned up, so it's important that we're ready when winter does arrive," continued Hegeman. 

He says that the department has many tasks to complete in preparation for plowing the county highways. "Right now we're working on putting all the trucks together, getting the wings mounted, the augers mounted, going through all the mechanical components making sure that everything is ready to go." 

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials say that driver safety is their highest priority, They're working with local representatives now so that drivers are not stranded come winter. 

Maintenance supervisor Anna Wisner from the WisDOT North Central Region says, "We are working with our county highway department partners who maintain the roads for us to review routes, staffing, equipment, those things that we need in order to be out on the roads this winter to plow them and keep them safe for the traveling public." 

In recent years the use of a brine mixture has become popular. The increased use of the brine mixture has decreased the use of salt statewide from 553,000 tons in 2018-19 to 325,000 tons in 2020-21, according to WisDOT. This means that county highway departments, tasked with plowing state and county highways, save money, which makes for a more efficient road maintenance strategy. 

"When we put salt on the road, it mixes with the snow and ice and melts and turns to saltwater," Hegeman said. "We're just speeding up that chemical reaction by using the brine. We don't use any additives. There's no beat juice, nothing like that in our brine."

With the increased usage of brine mixtures in recent seasons, Oneida County needs more space to complete its winter season duties. Recently, a new building has been going up on its Kemp St. site in Rhinelander. 

"We've got our current brine maker and setup in the back truck bay, truck storage area, and it will be moved into the new building," Hegeman said. "We're going to add additional storage tanks so that we have brine on hand for these long storm events." 

The new building will help the highway department achieve its goal of keeping drivers safe. While we are only a little bit into October, officials say that it is never too soon to prepare for those tricky winter snow events. 
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