Preparing for summer work

CLARION – Gary Erickson is busy getting ready for summer.

“We really have two major duties,” said Erickson, one of nine employees working out of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s shop in Clarion. “In the winter, we are doing snow removal. And in the summer, we are busy with road and bridge construction and repair plus roadway maintenance.”

The Iowa DOT has six districts across the state. District 2, which includes Clarion, operates 15 shops. The Clarion shop is charged with maintaining 200 lane miles in its district, including Iowa Highway 3 from Humboldt to the junction with U.S. Highway 69 east of Clarion, U.S. Highway 69 from Belmond to Blairsburg, and Iowa Highway 17 from Eagle Grove to Wesley.

Erickson said the DOT has three basic departments.

Public Maintenance involves the removal of snow in the winter and general maintenance in the summer. Construction involves the repair and new construction of bridges and roads. DOT crews do highway edging, mowing, sign maintenance and weed spraying, he said.

“Our construction office is located in Britt,” he said. “The office has a construction engineer as well as construction inspectors.”

Erickson wears both hats, as someone who removes snow in the winter and serves as a materials inspector in the summer months.

“As an inspector,” said Erickson, “we monitor the rock, sand and cement content at the ready-mix companies, whether the project is one yard of concrete or many more. It is our job to make sure that taxpayers get what their tax dollars are being paid for.”

The third department, Materials, is based in Mason City.

“The DOT works all the time to make sure the mix designs are the best,” Erickson said. “There are experiments being done all of the time with different types of road materials, different traffic numbers, and different climates from one area to another.”

In the more than a decade that Erickson has been part of the state highway team, he believes the biggest change has been the better weather and communications systems

“When there is bad weather,” he said, “radar, radio, television and all the other media forms are so much better.”

Erickson said more and more people have cell phones, leaving people stranded less and less often.

While communication is better, Erickson offers a couple of pieces of advice to travelers.

“Because we can better count on the weather forecasts, if you know bad weather is coming and you don’t have to travel, stay home,” he said. “If you have to travel to work or to some other destination, start 15 minutes earlier and drive slower so travelers can get there safely.”

While cell phones can be a communication blessing in times of need, Erickson said the phones can also be a negative when used while driving. He encourages drivers to leave them on the passenger seat while they are driving.

But Erickson’s biggest pet peeve are drivers who pay no attention to signs and flashing lights when DOT crews are working on roadways.

“Please slow down,” he said. “Things can happen so quickly. Both drivers and workers want to be safe. So think about it this summer when you are driving. Heed the warning lights and signs.”