When the snow flies this winter, Waupaca County will have about 40 crews plowing the roads.
With a winter maintenance budget of $988,000, the Waupaca County Highway Department is responsible for all federal, state and county highways, as well as the roads in 12 towns and three villages.
“Sometimes, we get calls from people who live in one of the townships we don’t plow,” said County Highway Commissioner Dean Steingraber. “We can’t help people who live in towns we don’t plow. But if you live in one of the towns we do plow and there’s a problem on a town road, we want to know.”
Steingraber said residents of all townships can call if there is a problem with a state or county road. However, the county is only responsible for maintaining municipal roads in the towns of Dayton, Waupaca, Weyauwega, Caledonia, Mukwa, Helvetia, Union, Little Wolf, Matteson, Dupont, Larrabee and Bear Creek, and the villages of Scandinavia, Ogdensberg and Embarrass.
Steingraber noted that in the 12 years since he became the county’s highway commissioner, the number of employees in his department has declined from 85 to 65 people.
“We have been cutting back on the number of towns we have contracts with,” Steingraber said.
If a big snowstorm hits Waupaca County overnight, crews are sent out on the roads at 4 a.m.
“It takes about two to three hours to scrape all the snow off on the first round,” Steingraber said.
In the second pass, crews will clear wider paths through the snow and apply sand and salt.
“By around noon to 1 p.m., we’ll be wrapping up most of the plowing,” Steingraber said.
However, Steingraber stressed that storms vary and require different responses. The snow seldom conveniently stops falling when people start driving to work in the morning. The type and depth of the snow can also contribute to how long it takes crews to clear the road.
“If we have a wet, heavy snow, that slows us down,” Steingraber said. “During this last snowstorm, there were downed power lines and trees in the road. We can’t plow where there are down utilities and we have to remove limbs from the road.”
Steingraber said the county has initiated a new policy during severe winter storms.
If the sheriff’s office or the highway department declare a no-tow emergency winter storm, all towing will be prohibited on U.S. Highway 10 until the ban is lifted.
Steingraber said it’s a hazardous situation for the tow truck operators and officers in squad cars to be parked along the highway during a time of low visibility and difficult driving conditions.
Another winter safety concern involves driveway plowing.
Steingraber said snow plowed from a private driveway or parking lot should not be dragged across the road.
“Don’t push snow across the road at all,” Steingraber said. “You need to keep your snow on your own property.”
He said some residents plow the snow from their drive into a ditch across the road. That leaves behind trails of snow on the pavement that can harden and create traffic hazards for passing motorists.
A plow truck crossing back and forth across a county road also poses a safety hazard, as do piles of snow in the right-of-way that create sight-distance problems.
Steingraber reminded residents of the county’s damaged mailbox policy.
“If we hit a mailbox with our plow, we’ll take responsibility for it and reinstall or replace it,” Steingraber said. “If the weight of the snow causes the mailbox to tip over, we believe that mailbox is not in good repair and the owner needs to take care of it.”
Steingraber said the highway department will send staff out to determine the cause of the damage.
“We don’t replace it with a damaged mailbox. It’s a standard mailbox and post,” Steingraber said.
To report any problems to the highway department, call 715-258-7152.