CHARLESTON, WV – November marks the beginning of canopy clearing season for the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH).
Canopy clearing is the act of cutting branches and brush that overhang the Mountain State’s roadways, and it’s a vital part of prolonging the life of the pavement on West Virginia’s 36,000 miles of road.
“Water is a highway’s worst enemy,” said Joe Pack, P.E., WVDOH Chief Engineer of District Operations. “Anything we can do to keep water off our roadways or to help dry up that water will prolong the life of that road.”
Moisture left on pavement degrades asphalt fast, so maintenance crews cut away limbs and branches to allow sunlight to get to the roadways below.
In heavily forested counties like Marion, keeping limbs and branches cleared above roadways is particularly important, both for purposes of keeping roads dry and for the safety of motorists.
“There are a lot of trees in Marion County,” said WVDOH District 4 Engineer Mike Daley, P.E. “What we’re trying to do is open up the canopy so the sun can get in to expedite the melting process in the wintertime and dry the road up.”
Like cutting grass in the summer, milling and filling potholes or clearing ice and snow, canopy clearing is part of the WVDOH core maintenance program. Combined, core maintenance procedures prolong the life of pavement and keep roads safer.
By law, maintenance crews are only allowed to clear canopy between Nov. 15 and March 31. The restriction is in place to protect endangered bat populations, which don’t typically use trees during those months.
This time of year is also snow removal and ice control season for WVDOH; so a worker may be in a snow plow one day and in a bucket truck the next. Daley said crews of six to eight people are regularly on canopy cutting duty in Marion and surrounding counties.
Maintenance crews use bucket trucks, chainsaws, pole saws and chippers to clear away branches and limbs and grind them up. Bucket trucks have a reach of 40 feet, but maintenance crews have pole saws that are up to 175 feet long for reaching the highest branches.
In the past, the WVDOH was restricted to cutting a total of 140 acres of canopy a year, or 14 acres for each of the state’s 10 highway districts. That restriction was lifted this year, allowing districts to cut more trees in between the winter snows.
Daley said the WVDOH hopes to clear 500 acres of canopy statewide this season, or 50 acres for each of the state’s 10 highway districts.