Showing true grit to make the city’s roads safe

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WINTER is upon us – so that normally means stocking up on deicer, finding the one missing glove and an extra pair of socks in the morning.

So spare a thought for those who are out in the early hours gritting the roads to help you get to work, braving the elements and putting in the long shifts to ensure the roads are safe for you to travel to and from work.

Dennis Cooper has been gritting roads in the city since 1993, formerly under the guidance of Bucks County Council, and more recently Milton Keynes Council.

I caught up with him in the yard outside the council depot in Bleak Hall where he’d recently returned from a gritting run.

He and his team were washing down the truck before they were due back out on the roads with another load from the newly built council Salt Dome.

Throughout winter, the team eat, sleep and grit to ensure that the roads are safe, working through the unsociable hours on priority routes before returning to base, only to be sent back out on the roads again.

At 3pm, most people would be winding down and clock watching for the end of the day, but not Dennis.

He said: “On a normal day we get out around 7.30am but it can be even earlier in the morning depending on the weather conditions.

“When it gets really cold, as it has been in the last few weeks, we can work a 12-hour shift before someone else takes over to run through the night, or vice-versa.

“But we will run until we need to if it is still dangerous on the roads. So we may be running until 11pm, or three in the morning! You never can tell.”

His instructions come from people who study the weather reports within the council, trying to make the important decisions, such as which routes to prioritise, how many trucks to send out and, most importantly, when to send them out on to the roads.

“If the roads are dry, you’d possibly grit in the night and in the morning,” Dennis said. “But it is based on the weather as we see it. You cannot plan in advance when you are going to run, because you can’t predict the weather or the temperature completely accurately.”

Milton Keynes Council has a large enough salt supply for the roads within its jurisdiction, but last year was called upon to help other local councils which were running low and may be called upon to do so again this year as part of its membership to the National Salt Cell.

But the introduction of Safecote, a new form of road grit which sticks fewer runs may be needed this year than previously, but it is not always that simple.

Dennis explained: “We saw a lot more snow than normal last year, and, in particular at the beginning of this year, so hopefully we have seen the end of it, but it certainly has been getting colder in the last two years.

“You cannot predict what happens from one year to the next – you have to take it as it comes, but you’ve always got to have a plan in place if and when things happen.

“We had quite a few years where we had very little gritting to do, when the winters have been quite mild compared to what we are seeing nowadays.

“And then in the last two years we have been out more than any other time before.

“But this is not just a winter job – when the roads start to melt in the summer, we put down granite dust to hold them together. We maintain the roads all year round, not just when there is ice about.

“I have been doing this job since 1993, when it was with Bucks County Council. The worst I’ve come across was around 15 years ago when it was really very cold and we were running an awful lot – more than we are doing now.”

So while the weatherman predicts another ‘cold snap’ this weekend, spare a thought for the men and women who are outroad gritting, who trudge up and down the V and H roads throughout the freezing cold nights so you can get to work in the morning.