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32 monster tow plows help clear ND highways

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A North Dakota Department of Transporation tow plow can cover two lanes of an interstate or a two-lane state highway. The state now has 32 of the massive plows, with an attached 2,000-gallon de-icer tank. Submitted photo2 / 2

BISMARCK --- It could be called the monster of snow plows and now North Dakota has 32 of them.

The tow plow attached to a truck can scrape off an entire two-lane highway or one side of the state's interstates in one fell swoop.

Tow plow attachments are 26 feet long, but deployed at a 33 percent angle, it can plow 14 feet of a roadway. With the truck and its 12 feet of blades, which can cover 9 feet to 10 feet of a roadway, the two combined can cover an entire 24 feet or one side of an interstate or a two-lane road with wider shoulders.

North Dakota has 32 tow plows in addition to its 350 snow plows to attack state highways and interstates, said Mike Kisse, program manager for the state Department of Transportation maintenance division in Bismarck.

Of those 32, 16 are bidirectional and 16 are right-handed.

And they aren't cheap.

Each bidirectional plow, which can be moved in either direction depending on the wind, costs $140,000, while the right-hand plows are $115,000.

The added plowing capacity can help cut down on the amount of time and plows needed to clear roads, adding up to some cost savings.

One advantage is that a 2,000-gallon tank carrying a liquid de-icer can be attached to a tow plow. The state uses a mixture of salt brine and beet juice.

Kisse said the tank can apply the de-icer at the same time as plowing is taking place if the conditions call for it. Otherwise, it can be used separately.

Yet another advantage of the plow is that it can travel up to 55 mph, which can help cut down on the number of people who may want to try to pass.

There's no guarantee of that, though, Kissee admitted.

He urged motorists to keep their distance, and suggested they stay well behind the massive plows, which sometimes pull over in a safe place to allow backed-up traffic to pass.

When conditions are poor, most drivers would be better off staying behind the plows, he said.

The larger tow plows can reduce visibility more than a regular plow because of its size and it's difficult for the plow operator to see, although they do have cameras that allow them to see behind them.

What's more of a problem is if the snow plow shoots up a snow cloud, making visibility for motorists behind or trying to pass almost impossible.

Tow plows come from only one company in the U.S.—the Viking-Cives Co. in Morley, Mo., where a former state department of transportation worker dreamed up and patented the tow plow, Kisse said.