KUNKLE — Aaron Siebenaler is dug in and ready to defend the west flank of the Ohio Turnpike no matter how bad the winter weather gets.
Siebenaler, a 1991 Edon High School graduate, is the building foreman for the turnpike’s maintenance garage on County Road 17 and all 10 of his snowplows passed their 136-point annual winter inspection Tuesday afternoon.
He and his crew of 17 drivers and two mechanics will work around the clock keeping lanes clear from the Indiana state line to mile marker 33.8, just outside of Wauseon, whenever the snow falls.
“It gets pretty miserable when it snows hard,” he said. “We’ll work in 12-hour shifts with eight people midnight to noon and nine more noon to midnight.
“We drove about 10,000 miles last year,” he said. “Two lanes each way adds up pretty fast. Once the snow stops, our goal is to get all four lanes clear within an hour.
“When we plow, we’re going about 30 miles per hour but the semis are always going 70. Give us some room to do our job and everybody will get where they’re going safely.”
Brian Newbacher, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission’s public information officer, said they have a combined fleet of 100 snow plows and 182 drivers to cover 1,395 lane miles, 31 interchanges and 14 service plazas.
“Last year our operators logged over 596,000 miles performing snow and ice operations,” he said. “The turnpike is a toll road so, unlike local roads and state highways, customers have higher expectations of road conditions and the ability to drive 70 mph on pavement that’s clear.”
Road technician and snow plow driver Nick Lavender takes pride in meeting those high expectations. “Winter’s not so bad,” he said. “People appreciate what we do. They can always count on the turnpike to get where they’re going. We hear that a lot.”
Adam Greenslade, the commission’s director of government affairs, marketing and communications, said winter inspections were happening in all eight of their garages Tuesday, spread over the entire 241 miles from Edon to Youngstown, but driver safety was his main concern. “The move over (law) isn’t just for state troopers,” he said. “It applies to anyone working along the road from a vehicle with flashing lights.
“Motorists should slow down, avoid distractions and drive according to the conditions of the road,” Greenslade said. “They should be especially cautious on ramps, bridges and overpasses. Travelers also should avoid passing snowplows and allow extra space for the plow drivers to do their job.
In 2020-21, the turnpike was hit with 54 winter storm events, he said. Crews worked more than 36,000 hours to keep the road and its facilities clear of ice and snow. They used more than 346,000 gallons of liquid chemicals and more than 62,000 tons of salt to remove snow and ice from the turnpike roadway and bridges.
“The top priority, especially during extremely heavy snowfall, is clearing the right and center lanes of the turnpike mainline,” he said. “Then the crews focus attention on the interchanges, ramps and service plazas.”
The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission partnered with Northern Ohio Buick GMC Dealers to name one plow from each garage this winter and each winning entry gets a $100 gift card.
“What these guys do is hard and dangerous, so we just wanted to help everyone have a little bit of fun,” Greenslade said. “The contest started today and our first entry was ‘Plowy McPlow Face.’ The second one was ‘Salt Shaker,’ which I thought was pretty good.”
Rules and entry forms are available online at ohioturnpike.org now through Dec. 1.