How We Plow the Roads
The City of Madison has nearly 1,800 miles of traffic lanes, which is about the distance between Madison and the Mojave Desert in California.
There are also miles of city-maintained sidewalks, and hundreds of bus stops and school crosswalks that must be plowed.
The Streets Division sets priorities and follows the below strategy to treat all of this pavement for commuters.
Active Snowfalls & Snow Totals of Less Than 3 Inches
Nearly half of all Madison traffic lanes make up the salt route network. These are the critical streets around Madison, such as Madison Metro Bus routes, roads around schools, hospitals as well as police and fire stations.
Every time snow begins to accumulate on the roads, the salt route network will be plowed and salted. The Streets Division assigns 32 trucks to the salt routes. They loop through their routes again and again the entire time it is snowing and accumulating on the roads.
Due to plowing, salting, and traffic, these roads are often clear from snow once the active snowfall ends and the salt has had time to work.
Temperature plays a big role in how well salt works. The colder it is, the slower salt works.
The residential streets of Madison that make up the other 50% of Madison traffic lanes. These are not salted. And these roads are not plowed every time snow accumulates on the road.
As a result, they will be snow-covered.
A hard pack of snow and ice will form as cars travel on them. The Streets Division will spread a sand mix onto these streets where needed to provide traction.
Citywide Plowing: Snow Totals of 3 Inches or More on the Roads
When three or more inches of snow accumulates on the roads, and the storm is at or near its end, a citywide plowing operations will begin in most circumstances.
A Snow Emergency is also often declared in prior to citywide plowing to trigger parking restrictions to assist plowing.
Salt routes, as noted above, will be plowed and salted the entire time the storm is ongoing.
When the citywide plowing begins, 150 pieces of equipment are deployed to plow every street in Madison. This number includes the trucks assigned to the salt routes. The equipment comes from the Streets Division, Parks, Engineering, and several heavy equipment contractors.
No neighborhood is assigned to be last. Madison is divided into over 60 sub-areas. Plowing equipment is assigned to each of these sub-areas at the start of the plowing shift, and crews all begin their plowing duties at the same time.
Plowing all of the traffic lanes, from thoroughfares to cul-de-sacs, takes between 12 and 16 hours, depending on the severity of the storm.
A thin compacted of snow is left on the road surface following plowing. This is normal.
Plows cannot push down to the road surface to peel up that last layer of snow. Also, snowplows are flat on the bottom, while roads are rounded to assist with draining and have other bumps and dips. Pushing a flat plow over that kind of surface contributes to this layer of hard packed snow after plowing.
Residential streets are not salted, and salt is the only tool that can melt through that final layer of snow on the roads. This means a hard pack of snow will be on the streets throughout most of the winter.
Salt routes are often clear from snow after a winter event because of the salt they receive and the amount of traffic on the roads.
View our full snow & ice procedures.