GREENFIELD — Local street crews are asking for the public’s help identifying roads that need a snow plow’s attention.
Just one request: Don’t cuss them out.
When bad weather hits, local road departments expect to field a variety of complaints from upset drivers. It’s a catch 22: Street crews need the help from the public in identifying the worst spots in the county, but an irate message means frustration for everybody involved.
Tuesday, after the area received about yet another 2 inches of snow, officials began talking about how to better communicate with the public and encourage civil reporting about problem areas. While workers understand citizens’ frustrations, they ask for patience – and kindness – from motorists struggling to navigate snowy streets.
“Today, it’s going to be a problem,” county highway engineer Gary Pool told county commissioners Tuesday morning, expecting plenty of complaints as winds drifted snow onto areas that had just been plowed. “Any time it gets over 20 mph winds with 14 trucks, we’re not going to keep up.”
And what a day it was. The county department plows rural roads, many lined with open fields that present ideal conditions for drifting. The light and powdery snow was making it difficult to keep to the sides of the road, Pool said. The snow will remain that consistency until the weather warms, causing some of the snow to melt and become more compact.
Drifting Monday morning also raised plenty of harsh criticism. Admittedly, Pool says the county department should have sent trucks out two hours earlier Monday to keep ahead of the drifting.
As snow and winds are expected to continue through the week, it’s still going to be hard to keep up. The department even gets a few calls from people wondering why they’re on the roads at all.
“Some of them are like, ‘Why aren’t you plowing?’ And then others say, ‘Why are you plowing so much? It’s just going to blow back onto the roads,’” Pool said.
Pool suggests people reporting a snow-related problem – or even a pothole – should be specific about where the problem is and the type of problem. The county now uses a GPS tracking system, so crews are not missing many roads anymore; drifting is the main problem.
The biggest thing, Pool urges, is for residents to be patient and not use profanity.
Everyday citizens aren’t the only ones voicing frustration about the condition of the roads. Commissioner Brad Armstrong said several county and city employees bashed local road workers on Facebook Monday over conditions of the county’s roads.
“You know, in a private enterprise, there’d be consequences for that,” Armstrong said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t help spreading misinformation or false information. That doesn’t help getting the roads clean. It doesn’t help the situation.”
Commissioners agreed such chatter among employees shouldn’t be tolerated on social media, but it’s hard to control and monitor. They also discussed how they can better communicate with the public on road conditions. Pool suggested commissioners get access to the county GPS system so when a constituent calls, they can find out immediately whether a road has been plowed.
The winds Tuesday were primarily out of the north, so roads that run east/west were experiencing the most issues with drifting snow, said Larry Ervin, director of Hancock County Emergency Management.
Ervin asked for drivers to be patient when navigating the roads, which might still have snowy patches despite having been plowed.
“Even if the guys plow them, they’re gonna blow back over … within a matter of minutes,” he said. “It may be kind of a losing battle.”
The county’s travel advisory level has been at yellow, the lowest level of advisory, for several days, and Ervin expects that’s where it will remain.
Tuesday morning’s storm brought the total snowfall of the season to roughly 33.2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
That makes 2013-14 the eighth-snowiest winter on record.
While county officials mulled Tuesday how to better communicate with the public, city and state street employees also said they’re getting plenty of calls.
“Let us know if there are slick spots or snow pack. That’s fine,” said Harry Maginity, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, which takes care of busy state highways such Ind. 9, U.S. 40 and Interstate 70.
Maginity said they get both constructive criticism and angry rants. Regardless, it’s helpful to hear from the public.
In Greenfield, street superintendent Jim Hahn said the public has been pretty understanding so far. But that could change, as the city department is cutting back on the amount of salt it’s using to save diminishing resources.
“We’ve cut back a bit on what we’re doing,” Hahn said. “Normally, we wouldn’t have any white streets by now, (but) I’m just conserving with salt and man-hours…. I just started that this week, so I’m sure there are probably some people who are wondering.”
While winter is wearing on everybody by now, Armstrong says it’s time for people to cool down and try to be congenial.
“I understand them not being happy,” he said. “The roads have been very bad because we’ve had a very bad January. But the point of just screaming and yelling – that doesn’t help.”