First published in February's edition of Devon Life
Pictures by Matt Austin
As you snuggle down under that warm duvet on a cold winter’s night when the forecast suggests that the mercury is dropping, you may just have a passing thought of what the roads might be like as you head out the next morning.
Well, whilst you’re having that thought, spare a moment to think of Jason Tetley and his crew because they are the ones making sure that most of the 8,000 miles of Devon roads are safe for you to use. At 1pm each day during the winter season Jason, the winter maintenance manager for South West Highways who are the current contractor for Devon County Council, will get together with the Met Office and Devon County Council and each will assess the needs for the next day and then Jason leaps into action making sure the team are ready to go and the gritters are in the right place at the right time. This is a job Jason has done for the past six years but before that he was your man out in the big gritting lorries working through the night for four years. He recalls: “It was hectic and dangerous and you have to be vigilant but it is also fun and I got a real sense of achievement making sure the roads are clear for the next day.”
Now though he is the man in charge and by all accounts it is a mammoth task. Jason tells me: “It takes up all my time from the middle of August onwards, first making sure that we have everything ready to go for the start of the season, which is 14 October, including making sure we have enough salt which currently amounts to 26,000 tons distributed around 13 depots.
“The next challenge is making sure over 170 pieces of plant machinery, from gritters to snow ploughs, are in the right depots at the right time!”
Unlike some management jobs Jason’s responsibility is by no means a 9-5; he is on call 24 hours a day over the winter and has been known to be up at 2am organising the team when the temperatures keep dropping.
Driving the gritting lorries is no easy task either as Jason explains: “It is a dangerous job where serious accidents occur, black ice is a big problem and despite their size we have had big lorries go over and the team are working 7pm-7am.”
It is impracticable to salt the entire county road network in freezing conditions so salting priorities have to be identified comprising the major routes where the majority of vehicle movements take place and also access to hospitals, ambulance and fire stations, other emergency service establishments and secondary schools.
During severe weather, such as prolonged freezing or significant snowfalls, other routes on the Devon road network are treated or cleared on a priority basis.
If we’re honest though we’ve all had a little moan during the winter when we either get stuck behind a gritting lorry or feel that the roads haven’t been cleared in time and understandably Jason says he can feel a bit despondent about that: “I think the public don’t always understand that we’ve been out at 2am with the snow coming down and ice all over the roads. We do our very best but to hear people moaning the next day can be disheartening.”
Jason though clearly loves his job and the fact he can do it in Devon, having lived here for 25 years and brought up his family here he can’t imagine living anywhere else or doing any other job: “I thoroughly enjoy keeping Devon’s roads safe.”
So on our cold and icy mornings take care and be thankful that Jason and his team have been watching over you.
On the roads
Devon has more roads than any other highway authority.
The county has 8,000 miles of roads of which 1,655 miles are pre-salted.
Crucial to the control of winter service and emergency operations is Devon County Council’s Highway Operations Control Centre from where conditions are continuously monitored so that action can be initiated at the appropriate time.
Devon owns 3,300 bridges, of which 3,000 bridges are crossing water.