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'Dedicated Crew' Helps
Keep Highways Clear
by Gary Knight

Updated on Wednesday*:

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We read it on social media, we hear it in various conversations, and we see it along Calhoun county’s primary and secondary roads: Calhoun County Dept. of Highway (DOH) crews do an exemplary job keeping roads as clear and traversable as possible during heavy snows and record-breaking freezing temperatures, such as the area has experienced this winter.

“We run our chains so others don’t have to,” said DOH crewman, Jim Harris.

Charles “Chuck” Holmes, Calhoun DOH administrator for five and one-half years, said, “We can’t make everyone happy--there’s no way to have enough money, but we do the best we can with what we have.”

There are, according to Holmes, five priority level classifications for roads in Calhoun, with Rts. 5, 16 and 33 being the top priority routes.

Paved secondary, tar and chip, gravel, and unimproved roads are ranked two through five, respectively: “There are times we can’t get to priority three through five roads when people would like. We have to insure that priority one roads are done first. If it snows again, we have to begin again with those roads. Then, if time, we go to priority two roads and so on. Most tar and chip are bus routes; we try to make them a priority too.”

Holmes said they don’t normally do gravel roads due to the potential for further harm, especially if they are wet or the snow is more than just a few inches deep: “We try to stay off gravel roads as much as possible so we don’t do them more damage.”

He said that salt and cinders are used on the main roads. Tar and chip receive cinders, and gravel roads are treated with stone and cinders: “Salt is pretty much useless below 18 degrees. We use calcium chloride, which really helps a lot, because it has a much lower freezing temperature. We also use calcium liquid in salt to keep roads from freezing.”

According to Holmes, there is little chance that his department will run short on materials, such as salt and cinders: “We can hold 5,000 tons of salt; we seldom run low on anything. Because of our location and distance from the Ohio River, I stock pile everything before winter. We try to get everything we need, so we don’t have to worry about running out.”

Holmes said that the biggest problem his department deals with is not being able to do everything everyone wants: “People who live on tar and chip want them paved. People on dirt and gravel want tar and chip, and the state just doesn’t have funding to do all that. It’s impossible; there just isn’t enough money.”

All highway and road funding comes from gas taxes only, but the legislature has been exploring other means of financing highway and road maintenance, according to Holmes.

Tax revenues are divided among the 55 counties based upon lane mileage. Calhoun county, with its 480 miles, is not one of the larger recipients of highway funding.

Holmes said that DOH workers get a bad rap, inasmuch as they are often stereotyped as lazy and non-productive. He said that, sometimes, people see them standing along the highway, and they sometimes appear to some passersby to be doing nothing but loafing.

“The fact is, they likely have just finished applying some material and are awaiting the arrival of the next load. We have the best bunch of people in the world. These guys are very dependable. Everyone in the county should thank them every time they run into them.”

“Our guys come out in all kinds of weather and remove other kinds of debris. These guys come out every day and do their best,” added Holmes.

During winter, crews work two twelve-hour shifts from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. and vice versa. Workers trade day-night shifts every two weeks: “Unless the governor calls a code red, crews cannot work more than 16-hour shifts.”

“We have a dedicated crew, who put up with a lot,” said supervisor Elvin Hixon. “Sometimes people are out there in remote areas under difficult conditions. We stay on scanners a lot, trying to keep account of people, always trying to know where they are.”

Supervisor Rick Hopkins said, “We have a lot of good workers and we receive a lot of good comments.”

He also said that, with trucks running 24 hours a day, there are going to be mechanical problems--and the department’s two mechanics, James Husk and Ronnie Goodnight, do a great job in repairing and maintaining them.

Hopkins said that sometimes people see trucks on the road carrying their plows (plows up) and believe the drivers are not doing their jobs as they should: “But, really, their plows are up because they are not on their assigned roads, and procedure is that drivers don’t plow un-assigned roads unless the driver to whom they are assigned asks for the assistance.”

Holmes said this county has been fortunate, as it hasn’t lost a lot of workers to oil and gas companies as have other counties: “It makes a lot of difference when you have enough people to do the job.”

He said that the current Calhoun DOH crew has been working an average of 10 years: “It’s not like they come and work a while and leave. They are very dedicated.”

“People in general are pretty nice to us,” said Holmes. “They call us and 99.9% of the people are very polite.”

He said that sometimes people stop by with brownies, cookies, cakes and things: “We can accept food.”

Holmes added that, in event of an emergency, DOH will assist emergency vehicles in getting to the scene on any kind of road.

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