2013-02-08 / Community News

Legislators seek snowplow safety

Bill would allow operators to use preemptive traffic light controls
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Three Scarborough legislators are teaming up to ensure a safe environment for snowplow operators.

As part of the first round of proposed bills of the 126th Legislature, State Rep. Amy Volk sponsored a bill titled, “Act to Allow Vehicles Engaged in Snow Removal or Sanding on Public Ways to Use Preemptive Traffic Light Devices,” that would allow snowplows and sanders the right to move through intersections without stopping. The privilege would only apply to those plows that are equipped with the devices, which are capable of altering the typical pattern of a traffic light.

Among the bill’s co-sponsors were Rep. Heather Sirocki and Sen. James Boyle, who, like Volk, represent Scarborough.

“This is a bill that was brought to my attention by Mike Shaw, our director of public works,” Volk said. “Scarborough Public Works snow removal had been using traffic light preemptive devices like emergency responders so they didn’t have to stop at intersections. It makes the removal more efficient so they can clean the roads better. It is safer so they can move through and make sure no one accidentally slides through the intersection.”

Sirocki said she decided to co-sponsor the bill to support Volk and make it easier for snow plow operators across the state.

“It seems like a good, common sense bill to help with snow removal and public safety,” Sirocki said.

Boyle, who just started his first year in the legislature, said he was quick to support it as soon as he was assured that it would not compromise public safety and not be costprohibitive for municipalities.

“It seems to be an appropriate use of modern technology,” Boyle said.

Volk said the topic came to her attention late last winter by Shaw, who was looking to utilize the technology.

“Mike had approached me last year, but at that point is was too late to do anything about it,” Volk said.

Shaw said the technology was used in Scarborough over the last few years, but was halted a year ago when a citizen brought it to his attention that using it was not allowed under Maine law. He said there was a cost involved in bringing the technology to Scarborough but it was “not substantial.”

“We had been using it for a period of time and found it was very successful and more efficient because we could keep moving,” Shaw said.

Preemptive light devices were originally designed as a way to improve emergency response, but Shaw sees a benefit to using them for snow removal purposes. Shaw said there are three levels of priority with the devices. The first two levels are reserved for fire engines, police cruisers, ambulances and other emergency responders. The third level is for mass transit buses contracted by a local, county or state agency. Snowplows would fit in the level three priority.

“The system is already in place. Its primary use is, of course, for emergency services, but there is, and was, an allowance made for something like this as evidenced by the different levels of priority,” Shaw said.

The vehicles, Shaw explained, are equipped with emitters that send a beam of light as the vehicle approaches an intersection, which in turn stops traffic from moving through the intersection. When the signal is lost after the vehicle moves through the intersection, the traffic signal reverts back to normal.

“What I really want to do with this is improve efficiency,” Shaw said. “When you have 16 units covering 176 miles of road you begin to learn to be as efficient as possible. Five, 10, 15 seconds here or there over the course of a 24-hour cycle really makes a difference in serving the town.”

Shaw said his department can do a much better job if they do not have to stop at intersections. Part of the problem, he said, is the sand and salt mechanism on the trucks only operates when the truck is in motion, meaning when the truck stops, so does the salt or sand application. The system takes a bit of time to start back up when the trucks resume motion.

“We weren’t getting as good results (at intersections) because the units were stopping and the application was spotty,” Shaw said.

The only roadways in Scarborough that have the preemptive light devices on the traffic signals are the Route 1 corridor and Payne Road. As a result, only half of the department’s snow removal fleet — the ones that service the two roadways — are equipped with preemptive traffic light devices.

The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation, Volk said, was expected to hold a public hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 6 in Augusta. Shaw said he will make comments at the hearing and present the transportation committee with letters of support from Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton and Fire Chief Michael Thurlow.

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