Getting to know the UDOT fleet of snowplows, and the work they do

Feb 17, 2022, 5:41 PM | Updated: Feb 18, 2022, 8:22 pm
snow storms...
(Snowplows parked near UDOT Headquarters. Credit: Paul Nelson)
(Snowplows parked near UDOT Headquarters. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — After Salt Lake City recently announced the new names of its snowplows, we thought it was time to chat with UDOT about its fleet of snowplows around the state and get to know these “big, orange ogres of the freeways” a little better.

Fleet of snowplows

When it comes to the heavy lifting, UDOT has a fleet of about 530 plows stored in sheds throughout the state. Many are about the same size while others have additional blades on one or both of the plow sides called “wings.”  That’s according to UDOT spokesperson, John Gleason, who adds those extra blades make it possible for a single plow operator to clear two or even three lanes at one time.

While cities and counties take care of their local roads, UDOT plows can be seen covering interstates that run through Utah, as well as state and US highways like SR-154/Bangerter Hwy and US 89/State Street.

Gleason said, “UDOT plows can be equipped with different equipment for deicing.  Some distribute salt along the road, while others use brine for deicing, many others have a mixture of salt and brine used on the roads.  The salt that’s used is pre-wet with brine to accelerate the deicing process.” 

After driving in the snow, we know what our own vehicles look like…. Dirt and salt blurring the windshield, packed snow coating the wheel well.  So, what happens after a long day or night of carving through snow for the plows? 

“When the plows return to their sheds, they’re washed off to avoid corrosion and then greased to get them ready for the next storm,” Gleason said. “Also, the plow drivers go through a vehicle checklist prior to snow removal operations and change plow blades as needed.” 

Drivers required to have a CDL

Before even getting behind the wheel, plow drivers are required to have a CDL (Commercial Drivers License).  New plow operators must complete several hours of training in both a plow simulator and in the driver’s seat. Closed courses used by UDOT also help potential drivers train on new equipment such as the tow plow and wings so they can work on building their skills before getting on the highways. And a snowplow driver’s typical work hours?

They’re ready to roll 24/7 day or night.

Gleason said, “During the winter, our drivers are on-call to be ready for storms that may hit at any time.”   

And it’s double duty for these big machines. A UDOT snowplow’s season of typical operation usually runs from approximately October to May. However, plows in mountain sheds going a little longer where higher elevations see more snow.  Come spring, Gleason adds the plows are “undressed” where the sanders and blades are removed and stored.  From there, the trucks take on summer maintenance projects such as hauling material like road base and asphalt.  

Snowplows are not cheap

Replacing these machines come at a price. A new plow costs about $250,000.  However, it’s possible to get 20 years of use out of them. When it is time to retire any plows, they’re moved to surplus and sometimes sold to other municipalities or contractors.

So now you know a little more about the work horses of the roadways included in UDOT’s fleet.

And Salt Lake City isn’t alone in asking for the public’s input to name the plows.  Recently, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced its “Name A Snowplow Class of 2022” with winning names including “Scoop Dogg,” “Edward Blizzardshands,” and “Betty Whiteout” in honor of the recent passing of actress, Betty White.

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Getting to know the UDOT fleet of snowplows, and the work they do