Road crews across St. Charles County

Clearing the way

Road crews across St. Charles County work long hours in tough conditions to keep city streets clear when snow and ice hit the area

By Brett Auten

From ice-covered country hills to city streets with knee-deep snow, the area’s road crews are prepped for whatever may happen during the winter season.

Ken Vehlewald is a foreman for the city of Wentzville Street Department. During his 17-year tenure at Wentzville, Vehlewald has pretty much seen it all, including the 10-plus inches that hit the area a little over a week ago. He is a veteran member of a crew that when called upon, work in the dead silence of night and during the shuddering cold while the rest of us sleep.

“It is roughest on the night shift due to your body not being used to working that late and bouncing around all night in the truck,” Vehlewald said. “Sometimes you may roll the window down for a little bit to get some cold air to help keep you awake, but you get through it.”

And even during the worst conditions, life-threatening situations arise. So when local law enforcement and first responders need to get to a scene of an emergency, then drivers are pulled immediately from their scheduled route to assist.

“Mother Nature closes it and we have to open it,” Vehlewald said. “I have seen it firsthand, being able to save an individual’s life because paramedics or the fire department were able to get in and assist.”

In Wentzville, and other neighboring communities, who, what, when, and where decisions on attacking the roads during less-than-ideal conditions is a group effort. Vehlewald says that a collection of cities superintendents, foremen and directors pour over every local weather forecast, including the cities own meteorologist, receiving hourly updates on start times, projected accumulations and road temperatures. 

In Wentzville, there are 13 routes with 26 employees covering a 12-hour shift that usually runs from 8 p.m. – 8 a.m. Wentzville houses three tandem (or dual axle) trucks that focus on the main arteries, Pearce Boulevard, Wentzville Parkway and Mexico Street. The single axle trucks hit the subdivisions and the one-ton trucks with plows attached are there to provide extra assistance. Depending on the road conditions, Vehlewald estimates that on a busy night, the tandem trucks will drive anywhere from 125-to-200 miles while the single axles register 70-to-100 miles.

Jim Wright is the Director of Public Works for the city of St. Charles. Wright has a team of 25 trucks and 50 employees from the city’s street, water, and sewer departments that could be called upon. While the drivers hit the streets, a team of supervisors is back in the office handling calls from residents, managing routes, and getting updates on conditions. Wright said that every storm is different. Last week, up to 13 inches of snow was reported.

“When you are trying to push that much snow, it can do a lot of funny things with a truck,” Wright said. “It was a heavy, wet snow that could ball up to three-foot boulders that, unfortunately ended up in the front of some driveways.”

Whilst this past weekend, freezing rain and a late Sunday afternoon dusting caused for a late-weekend shift for many. 

Both Vehlewald and Wright have said that parked cars along the streets are the biggest thorns in the side. Wentzville has an ordinance against parking in the street during a winter weather emergency situation. St. Charles does not. 

“It is because of some of the older sections of town,” Wright said. “On some streets, there really isn’t another option, we just ask when possible to park in the driveway.”

Despite the added stress and the long, lumbering shift, Vehlewald said the rewards of the job are easy to spot. 

“It is definitely a job you can look back and see what you did and what you accomplished,” he said. “When you have a snowstorm like what we had last week, it shuts businesses and people down and there is a lot of concern within the community.”

CUTLINE:

Cover-Plow1 Photo courtesy city of Wentzville City of Wentzville Street Department vehicles work to push snow off of the streets during a recent winter storm. 

Cover-Plow2-3 Photos courtesy city of St. Charles Road crews from the City of St. Charles Department of Public Works work to push snow off of the streets during a recent winter storm.