District ODOT mechanic Travis Avery inspects Van Wert County’s fleet. (DHI Media/Sherry Missler)
District ODOT mechanic Travis Avery inspects Van Wert County’s fleet. (DHI Media/Sherry Missler)

VAN WERT — Early Wednesday morning, a number of people gathered at the Van Wert County ODOT maintenance garage to participate in the annual inspection of winter equipment for the coming season. Among those on hand were a couple of new faces overseeing matters in Van Wert.

Ron Leffel is Van Wert’s transportation administrator. He comes to Van Wert from Auglaize County where he worked for 17 years. He said his job was to oversee the operation in Van Wert. He is assisted by longtime transportation manager Pat McConn and newcomer Mark Zielke.

Leffel said the biggest challenge he has experienced so far is in learning the people and how things work here.

“They do things a little differently here,” he said. “The work we do is the same, but the way we go about it is a little different.”

He said that inspection process was a prime example.

“Here, the whole district comes out," Leffle said. "Where I came from it was just the inspectors.”

Leffel’s job as administrator at this time of year is to coordinate ODOT’s response to winter.

Last winter, ODOT District I returned 95 percent of priority highways to normal driving speed within two hours after each winter event. This coming year, traditional tools, such as rock salt, will be combined with newer chemical technology, advances in equipment and weather technology when responding to what Mother Nature throws at the county. The storage facilities have 3,777 tons of salt — enough to battle snow and ice for a typical northwest Ohio winter.

In addition to salt, personnel must be trained — in driving, operating front, belly and wing plows, and in proper salt application techniques. Employees also attend snow and ice class to review plowing techniques and safety.

Then, of course, there was the focus of people gathering at the ODOT facility at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday — the equipment. Each of the plow trucks in ODOT’s fleet gets a 150-point inspection. These pre-season check-ups ensure that equipment is ready to go when the snow begins to fall.

Zielke spoke about the innovations in the trucks ODOT employees now use.

“The trucks are totally different from what they were," said Zielke. "They were a dump truck made to scatter salt and push snow. And now it’s a snow fighting machine.”

He said the biggest challenge they face with upkeep of equipment focuses on the electronics.

Zielke said his focus has been in getting to know the people and their capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses.

Leffel pointed out motorists also have a job to do — keep safety in the forefront of their minds. ODOT plow trucks were struck 35 times last year. Motorists need to remember that plows typically travel at slower speeds and can make sudden stops and turns. They also create a “snow cloud” which can reduce visibility when driving too closely. Motorists are reminded to remain alert, especially when snow is still falling.

Although ODOT has a number of plow trucks on the road, crews can’t be everywhere all the time. Motorists are advised to plan ahead and allow for extra travel time during and immediately after snow events.

As Leffel said, “We’re out there trying to make things safe for you, not trying to get in your road.”