Road safety at Fermilab during unpredictable winter weather

Bruce Chrisman, Fermilab’s chief operating officer, wrote this column.

Bruce Chrisman

Several employees have raised questions concerning the laboratory’s wintertime road and walkway closures and restrictions. While it may appear strange to have some areas closed when there is no snow and temperatures are above freezing, the laboratory is following procedures similar to those used in surrounding communities, motivated primarily by funding and staff reductions.

Fermilab had to reduce manpower and equipment for snow removal beginning last year. At the same time, construction has added new parking lots. Restricting other snow removal areas has allowed the laboratory to provide the same level of service in the most critical areas.

When it comes to snow removal, there are safety concerns when you try to do more with less. Roadway conditions, maintenance and salt-use reductions are some of the factors involved in the decision to close certain roads. West Wilson and Main Ring roads, for example, are deteriorating quickly, and there is no funding for repaving these roads. Removing traffic from these roads in the winter, the most damaging season, will extend their life before we may need to close these roads permanently.

As for walkways, their maintenance is often the responsibility of local building managers. These individuals have limited time to monitor the weather, assess surface conditions and place or remove barriers. Even when it hasn’t snowed in a while, shaded areas or water dripping from a roof can lead to unexpected, slippery conditions. Barriers protect you from these hazards.

We recognize the overall inconvenience of the closures and restrictions, and we will do whatever we can to minimize it. If you have an idea on how to improve a specific area, send it to me and it will be evaluated. While it might be too late to make certain changes this season, we will review our plans for next winter.

For your own safety, please respect all barriers and stay off closed walkways. When you drive on site, please slow down and look out for pedestrians, especially as you drive through parking lots.