Shade a coveted friend for DOT road crew in hot weatherThe Fayetteville Observer, N.C. — Michael Futch The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
July 16--The perspiration had beaded up on Roy Bryant's forehead, and the sweat trickled down the side of his sun-tanned face.
Bryant, a 58-year-old transportation supervisor with the Cumberland County maintenance unit of the state Department of Transportation's Division 6, stood in a blotch of shade early Wednesday afternoon at the intersection of N.C. 210 and Macedonia Church Road.
At 1:15 p.m., the temperature was 92 degrees. It felt much hotter.
It's not all hard, Bryant said of the road work. "Most of it's equipment driving and not the flagging."
Bryant's nine-member shoulder crew -- two workers short on this day -- was "pulling the ditch," as they like to call it. In layman's terms, the team was doing shoulder and ditch reconstruction on a roughly 1 1/2 mile rural stretch of N.C. 210 in southeastern Cumberland County. At each end of the designated work area, a flagman stood to stop or slow the line of traffic that gradually formed.
"Crazy drivers out there," said Justin Vanvalkenburg, 25, and one of the two flaggers.
While most people embrace their indoor jobs, and the luxury of air conditioning that comes with it, Vanvalkenburg, Bryant and the rest of the crew were earning their living in the raw heat and humidity. Even snakes tend to seek refuge in cooler habitat when it's this hot.
As a result, Bryant said, they don't see many snakes this time of year. "We did in April. Every road we went," he said, "we pulled a snake out in the dirt. Black runners, garden snakes, chicken snakes. We haven't come across any rattlesnakes I know of."
Vanvalkenburg said he's OK with the work, which he has been doing for six years. Crew members rotate duties, and Vanvalkenburg said he prefers to run the backhoe.
"I'd rather be in the heat than the cold," the Bladen County resident replied when asked.
But he quipped, "Find shade," when questioned about what he does to keep cool.
Matthew Edwards, a maintenance and staff engineer with Division 6, said the state's asphalt, shoulder, ditching and miscellaneous crews keep a cooler of ice water on the trucks. He said supervisors are expected to keep an eye on crew members to look for any attitude change or heat-related signs.
About every seven years, the Department of Transportation completes this work on every state road in the county before starting all over again, Bryant said.
A grader pulls the excess dirt out to help keep the flow line going. The road shoulder serves an essential function, providing a safety area for drivers to regain control of their vehicles if forced to leave the roadway. The shoulder should be no higher or lower than the edge of the roadway.
A second drive-through follows, if necessary, on low shoulders that were not filled in on the first pass and to repair driveways with other types of material. The shoulder also carries water further from the road surface to the foreslope and ditch.
Its shape is considered critical to the shoulder work, which runs about $4,000 a mile, according to Edwards.
Elizabeth Stephens, 43, of Stedman, is a 22-year employee with the Department of Transportation. She's a heavy equipment operator, but her motor grader was down and in the shop. Instead, she helped coordinate traffic at the intersection, clutching a walkie-talkie in her hand.
"I've been doing this so long I'm used to the heat," she said, as a large truck slowly rumbled by on N.C. 210. "Plus, most of the equipment has air conditioning."
Not only does this road team come across the occasional snake, Stephens said she has seen fox, deer, raccoon, even bear from the road. They also find pipes, poles and bags of trash.
"I've found money," Stephens said with a slight grin. "I have found like $20."
Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3529.
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