Ride Along with a Lakewood Salt Truck

Just after 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27, Lakewood’s snow fleet returns to the maintenance yard. It’s been a long day. Each truck is hosed off, material is refilled, and drivers can finally go home. They’ll be back tomorrow.

Six inches of snow fell on Sunday, and freezing temperatures created patches of ice all over the City. Lakewood Police responded to more than 20 accidents. Washington State Patrol reported more than 70 accidents in Pierce and Thurston Counties.

Since the first flakes fell, Lakewood trucks have rolled non-stop. Beginning at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, drivers have worked in rotating 10-hour shifts, treating and plowing hundreds of miles per shift.

Lakewood’s largest 5-yard dump trucks warm up for another overnight run on Monday, Dec. 27.
Plow drivers plan the evening’s strategy to break up the snow with brine and return with plows.
Three drivers are scheduled for the overnight shift from 6:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

The forecast for Monday night is light. Temperatures will sink to the low 20s, but only a “dusting” of snow is expected. Three of the City’s experienced drivers pull in for the overnight shift from 6:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.

The plan for the evening is to apply a brine solution to break up compacted snow, then return to those routes with plows to scrape it all up. Major arterials were cleared earlier in the day, so the evening’s routes will emphasize hilly neighborhoods, bridges, and other problem areas.

A City truck passes a festive house in the Hillcrest neighborhood with lights synchronized to music broadcasted by radio.
A Lakewood salt truck visits the Hillcrest neighborhood. Steep hills make this neighborhood difficult to navigate in the snow.
A brine solution is poured from nozzles behind the truck to loosen compacted snow and melt ice.

The night begins with a visit to the Hillcrest neighborhood. Winding roads lead up and down steep hills – this neighborhood is especially challenging in the snow. The brine truck typically works at a steady 25 mile-per-hour pace. Over steep hills, drivers slow down to pour more brine over the compacted snow.

Lakewood’s bridges pose another issue. Cool air flows underneath and over bridges, so ice forms rapidly. Residents reported earlier in the day that several vehicles were stuck on the bridge over Lake Steilacoom. The Thorne Lane overpass in the Tillicum neighborhood was also reported to be slippery.

From the Hillcrest neighborhood, the route passes over the Interlaaken Bridge. Although the bridge had been plowed earlier, a fresh layer of snow had fallen and compacted. The truck moved at a crawl over the bridge, pouring a heavy brine. The solution should break up the snow layer over the next two hours, and a plow will pass through later in the night to clear the way.

Oncoming traffic yields, leaving plenty of room for the salt truck to pass. Another driver patiently trails the salt truck, staying back at a safe distance.

A salt truck pours brine on the Interlaaken Bridge. Chilly air passes over and underneath bridges, causing ice to form rapidly.

The next stop along the route is the Lake Loise neighborhood. This neighborhood also has steep slopes and tight turns that become dangerous in the winter. Fortunately, local schools are enjoying their winter break and traffic is lighter than normal.

The truck rolls up Holden Road, circles Lake Louise Drive, then returns south down Farwest Drive, laying a heavy brine the whole way. While the plan is to return later to clear these routes with a plow, Mother Nature seems to have a different idea.

The forecasted “dusting” of snow begins to pick up. Snow is visibly accumulating.

The hilly roads around Lake Louise are faring well, but fresh snowfall threatens the day’s progress.
A driver patiently trails a salt truck at a safe distance. City trucks have signs at the rear suggesting a 100′ follow distance.

Later in the evening, snow picks up and dashes the evening’s plan. The team reverts to Priority 1 routes to keep Lakewood’s most-traveled roads in the safest condition possible. Bridgeport Way, Steilacoom Boulevard, Gravelly Lake Drive, and South Tacoma Way are Lakewood’s busiest roads and must be cleared by morning.

The Priority 2 and Priority 3 routes will have to wait until tomorrow.

Until Lakewood’s roads are safe and clear and the threat of new snowfall disappears from the forecast, Lakewood trucks will run around the clock.

Lakewood drivers Scott Turner, Mike Nebeker, and Justin Pierce-Powell prepare for the overnight shift from 6:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.