Winter Driving in Rhode Island

RIDOT Plow truck

Winter driving can be especially challenging here in the Ocean State. We're far enough north and close to the ocean so we can get huge storms, nor'easters or blizzards.

Our proximity to the sea also influences frequent temperature changes with many freeze-thaw cycles throughout the winter months. It all adds up to slippery roads, potholes and difficult driving conditions.

Our Plan of Attack

RIDOT's Highway and Bridge Maintenance division leads our winter storm operations response, deploying a fleet of about 115 trucks equipped with plows and sanders to keep the roads clear and safe. We engage with private contractors for additional pieces of snow removal equipment as conditions warrant - making a combined force a total of up to 450 trucks statewide.

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We use technology to guide drivers with updates on weather, pavement temperatures and traffic conditions. Many of our vehicles and our vendor partner vehicles are outfitted with "green" technology that helps us conserve one of the most costly elements of winter storm operations - road salt. Our GPS-enabled closed loop salt metering systems provide more precise application of salt while giving us location and time information so we know which roads were treated and when.

Depending on the type of storm and pavement temperatures, we may choose to pretreat the roadways. This involves the application of a salt brine, which dries quickly after application and leaves a layer of salt on the pavement. When the storm begins, the snow melts on contact and prevents it from compacting and bonding to the pavement. This allows us to clear more with each pass of the plow and to make final clean up easier after the storm is over. Lower salt usage also means less salt flowing into nearby waterways.

If we have a large storm or blizzard, or a series of accumulating storms, site lines may be reduced at intersections, driveways and parking lot entrances due to high snowbanks. On occasion we may push back snow piles or cut them back - a process called "shelving" - to make room for snow from future storms. This process may deposit additional snow on driveways, walkways and sidewalks. We ask for your continued patience as we work to keep roads as clear as possible.

Digging Out

Sidewalks & Street Parking

While RIDOT and municipal public works departments plow and treat the roads, in many communities it is the responsibility of the property owner to keep the sidewalks clear and passable in front of their homes or businesses.

We recommend you contact your local city or town public works department for information on rules and regulations regarding sidewalks. Some communities have laws that require sidewalks to be cleared within a specified time following a storm.

Also, cities and towns often issue parking bans leading up to snowstorms. Your cooperation aids us and municipalities in clearing the roads as quickly and thoroughly as possible. And, it could could help you avoid a ticket or tow!

Driveways, Mailboxes & More

Snow plow operators continually push snow toward the curb line and in some cases into driveways, onto sidewalks or other walkways, and around mailboxes and other fixed objects like fire hydrants. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid this inconvenience and additional snow may be deposited onto your driveway more than once until final cleanup is complete.

If possible, clear an area along the shoulder about 10 feet to the left of your driveway (when facing the street). Also, deposit shoveled snow to the right of your driveway, again facing the street. These techniques can minimize re-shoveling when plows make additional passes in front of your home or business. Check out a video on this courtesy of the Missouri Department of Transportation »

Where it's possible, locating your mailbox to the right side of your driveway can minimize damage from thrown snow.

Please do not shovel or blow snow into the roadway - it can create additional slick areas and hazards for motorists and pedestrians.

Bus Stops & Lots

Most of the bus stops serviced by RIPTA do not have fixed bus shelters, and the clearing of sidewalks at those stops is the responsibility of the abutting property owners. RIPTA has numerous partnerships to address snow removal at its busiest bus stops and at Kennedy Plaza in Providence. If you have questions about snow removal at a RIPTA stop, contact 401-781-9400.

We plow and treat state-owned commuter parking lots. Maintaining these lots can be challenging, as cars parked prior to a storm impede our ability to clear the lot. We make every effort to keep these lots clear of snow and ice - often visiting them late in the evening when they are empty.

Bike Paths

Rhode Island has more than 60 miles of off-road bike paths throughout Rhode Island. Maintenance responsibilities vary for our paths, but none are plowed or treated for ice.

We recommend that you use caution when cycling on the paths during winter months. Many of our bikeways have extensive tree canopies, and the same trees that provide cool shade in the heat of the summer limit sunlight and melting in the wintertime. The paths are available for other uses such as snow shoeing, walking and cross-country skiing, but all motorized vehicles including snowmobiles and ATVs are prohibited.

"Why aren't these roads plowed yet?"

Each year we hear from drivers who are concerned about the condition of our roads and our approach in clearing them. Yes, our roads will be slippery during snowstorms!

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We want you to know that all our plow routes are continuous, and are repeated again and again until the storm stops and beyond. Depending on where you are, the intensity of the snowfall, and how much time has elapsed since the last plow pass, roads can become snow-covered.

In times of very heavy snowfall and heavy traffic, the time to complete these routes lengthens significantly, leading to more snow on the road and the appearance that we haven't plowed yet.

Only until after the storm is over or temperatures warm significantly can you expect bare pavement travel again.

Getting Ready, Staying Alert

Safe driving in snow and ice begins with you! Preparedness is the name of the game, from getting your car ready for the season to providing ample time for travel when conditions are bad.

Get Winter Driving Tips »

Pothole Information

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For the Media

How to Contact Us »

RIDOT's Office of Communications and Customer Service coordinates inquiries with the media and provides information about upcoming storms and changing travel conditions.

Leading up to and during major snow events, we may organize press conferences or other media availability opportunities to provide information on our preparation and response to a storm. Occasionally, these events are coordinated through the R.I. Emergency Management Agency and the Governor's Office.

For any media inquiry regarding winter storms, please contact Chief Public Affairs Officer Rose Amoros at rose.amoros@dot.ri.gov. We remain in touch with key personnel and are your best resource for timely information to help you communicate with the public about the impact of winter storm conditions on our roadways.