Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Ready Wednesdays: Q&A with District 1 Maintenance Superintendent Drake Jennings

According to a popular song, many of us are probably dreaming of a White Christmas this year. While snow can be beautiful and fascinating, not everyone gets to experience it from the comforts of home. KDOT maintenance crews work tirelessly to ensure that Kansas keeps moving during inclement weather.

We interviewed District 1 Maintenance Superintendent out of Olathe, Drake Jennings, about his experiences during inclement weather and what his crew goes through as they plow the roads and clear the way.
Q. Not every snow storm is the same. What it is like to go out and face extreme weather to keep the roadways clear?

It’s extremely hard work; most people think it’s just driving a truck. But not only are you driving that truck, you are operating the plow, the wing plow, and the hopper applying salt to the roadways. On top of that, you have to watch the road to keep your truck in the lane you’re plowing, and of course watch all the other traffic at the same time.

Q. How long can it take to clear the roads in your area?

The time to remove the snow depends on the amount. A three-inch snow will usually take us about three days to clean it up. If we get a big snow storm it can take us up to two weeks to clean it up.

Q. Can you name a particular time when inclement weather required a lot of manpower to fight the storm?

I think it was in 2003 or 2004, we got a big storm. It was a mixture of ice and snow, it was extremely hard for us to keep our trucks on the road because of all the ice. I was in a truck treating on the ramp from eastbound 435 to State Line Road. I was treating the high side of the ramp, when my truck slid from one side of the ramp to the other. It was like that all over Johnson County. I remember that storm because my kids were very young. I got called out in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. My kids woke up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought them without me, they were extremely upset and couldn’t understand why their dad had to go to work and miss Christmas morning with them. I tried to explain to them that sometimes dad has to go to work to make the roads safe, so all of the other dads could get home to spend time with their kids. They said it just wasn’t fair. They never did think it was ever fair, but they did realize that what I did on that Christmas Day was so others could get home safe to celebrate with their families. 

Q. What is it like for KDOT crews to go out into a snow storm, clear the roads during treacherous weather and then try to return to some normalcy when the work is finished?  

It’s extremely hard, adrenaline is running very high, it’s what helps the guys get through the long hours and hard work. During a storm we split into two shifts, my day crews work from 8 a.m to 8 p.m., then my night crews work from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Those are long 12-hour shifts and it takes a special kind of person to do what my employees do. Depending on how many days we work those hours, it sometimes takes three to four days for the operators to get back to their normal routine, it messes with their diet and their sleeping.

Q. Is there anything you want our readers to understand when KDOT crews are out on the roads?

Just give us room to work. It takes us a while to get the roads back to normal, especially if we get ice then snow, and the temperatures are really cold. Please be patience and give us time to do our jobs.

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