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S.R. 135: A tale of 2 snowplows

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Vehicles travel on State Road 135 near County Line Road during a brief snow Saturday. Residents have complained that State Road 135 in Johnson County is more snow covered compared to Marion County. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Vehicles travel on State Road 135 near County Line Road during a brief snow Saturday. Residents have complained that State Road 135 in Johnson County is more snow covered compared to Marion County. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Drivers traveling along State Road 135 are accustomed to driving on slippery snow and ice in Johnson County until it changes to freshly plowed and salted pavement in Marion County.

But the state is considering options to do a better job clearing roadways that currently can make a treacherous commute for Center Grove area commuters.

Kyle Nash works varying shifts for Indianapolis Power and Light so he crosses the county line at many different times, whether it’s 4:30 a.m. or 8:30 p.m. No matter the time of day, the Johnson County side is always sloppier with snow and ice on the road, compared with the clean pavement in Marion County, he said.

He has lived near Smokey Row Road and State Road 135 since 2007 and can’t remember a winter when plows cleared the state route south of County Line Road as well as or better than the north side.

Now the Indiana Department of Transportation, which is responsible for plowing state roads 37 and 135, U.S. 31 and Interstate 65 in Johnson County, is trying fix the problem, spokesman Harry Maginity said.

The state already is reworking how their plows cover the northern end of Johnson County, Maginity said. Those plows are stationed at the state garage at Amity, which is about 20 miles away from County Line Road and State Road 135. Changes could include shortening routes to make sure plows cover the same area more often or changing what areas plow drivers are responsible for clearing and salting.

In Johnson County, State Road 135 near County Line Road was snow- and ice-covered for most of the morning during a snowstorm two weeks ago, and drivers couldn’t figure out why the road was in much better condition north of County Line Road.

County Line Road represents the border between two Indiana Department of Transportation districts. That means a plow truck clearing state roads in Marion County in the Indianapolis subdistrict stops and turns around at County Line Road and does not travel into Johnson County, which is in the Seymour district.

Right now, one plow truck is responsible for all lanes of State Road 135 from Whiteland Road to County Line Road, which covers 23 lane miles. Two plows are responsible for clearing U.S. 31 between County Line Road and Amity, with one plow devoted to the driving lane and other plows the passing lane.

One idea to address the difference north and south of County Line Road could be altering the districts, which would allow trucks from Indianapolis to cover some roads in Johnson County, Indianapolis subdistrict spokesman Nathan Riggs said. Changing the districts could allow trucks to plow a few miles of State Road 135 in Johnson County, since the Indianapolis district seems to be able to keep up with snow and ice in the area better than the Seymour district, Riggs said.

State officials talked about shifting the border between Marion and Johnson counties in the past but never made the change, Riggs said.

“I don’t know if we would look at expanding the Indianapolis subdistrict or not, but every district struggles from time to time in being able to keep up with the weather,” Riggs said.

Currently, state plows in

Indianapolis leave from a garage at Madison Avenue and Morris Street, just south of downtown. Those plows travel along I-65 and Interstate 465 before getting on state roads on the southside. Those trucks have to travel about 10 miles to get to County Line Road.

All state plow drivers cover about 30 lane miles, which should allow every snow route in the state to be plowed consistently, Maginity said. For example, a plow driver might be responsible for covering a 15-mile stretch on a two-lane road or an 8-mile stretch of a four-lane road. The state garage at Amity has 11 snow routes covering the state roads and interstate in Johnson County and neighboring counties.

If plows aren’t getting to the road early enough or doing a good enough job clearing the pavement, that can make the road condition considerably worse throughout the day, Maginity said. If vehicles drive over and compress the snow, that can create a layer of rock-hard snow and ice that fuses to the pavement. As plows go past the rest of the day, they will scrape off whatever is loose on the top but aren’t able to break up that hard layer as easily, he said.

Slow, heavy traffic such as during rush hour or due to accidents also makes it harder for plows to do their job since they have to wait in lanes just like every other vehicle, Maginity said.

Plows need to get out ahead of the weather and be able to salt roads and have vehicles start crushing it onto the pavement to prevent snow and ice from building up. In that case, heavy traffic and the heat from vehicles helps keep the road clear by helping to melt the snow, Maginity said.

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