Commuters traveling up and down Egan Drive over the next few days may notice something a little strange on the highway.
With plenty of snow in the forecast, the State Department of Transportation will likely use their relatively new tow plow, a trailer with steerable rear wheels that essentially pivots on the hitch. The trailer’s 26-foot long blade, mounted on the right side, is lowered to the road surface and a snow plow truck driver like Casey Walker can do two lanes at the same time.
I can run the highway with me and two other trucks rather than four trucks. So, we can cover more area. The two other trucks can go and do other things while the three of us are doing the freeway.”
Two trailer-mounted tanks can store a total of 2,000 gallons of salt brine for de-icing the roadway.
Greg Patz, DOT Southeast Region Maintenance Superintendent, said as many seventeen other states use the tow plow to maximize their existing equipment and workforce.
In the State of Alaska, we keep track of what’s going on in the Lower-48. We look for innovative ideas and the tow plow came up and we saw that we had some potential cost savings by using them in Alaska. So have one here in Juneau, there’s one in use in Soldotna, and they’ve proven to be very effective and cost effective, and we’ll probably be seeing more of them in the state soon.”
Patz said Juneau’s tow plow that was delivered last year cost a total of $102,000, but it arrived too late for any extensive use before last spring’s thaw.
The biggest saving is in not having to have a second truck. It’s been calculated that it’s cost-effective after about five years.”
DOT officials say Fairbanks road crews should start operating a third tow plow sometime this month. Three more trailers will be delivered by next winter for use in Anchorage, Mat-Su, and at the Kodiak Airport.
Walker said he initially learned how to operate the tow plow from the trailer’s inventor.
Basically, you’re running a truck down the road with a jack-knifed trailer. So, it’s a whole different world.”
Walker operates the plow with a set of controls in the cab while watching with a mirror and two cameras.
I can see what the plow is doing and I can see where the edge of the plow is. But, outside of that, (if) it’s traffic, cars not paying attention, whatever, I can make a big mess in a hurry if things go wrong. So, I have to stay on my toes.”
Drivers are advised to use caution and remain at a safe distance from the tow plow and plow trucks.
Walker said he’s used the tow plow about thirty times so far this winter.
He said it may not be as effective as their truck plows for deep, wet snow or packed snow because a trailer blade doesn’t have as much weight or down-pressure as their belly blades which may bear the full weight of the truck. So, Walker said he may do multiple passes to keep on top of any heavy snowfall.
DOT Tow Plow PSA