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Billings snowplow drivers hard at work, even as worst of storm misses town

Posted at 4:35 PM, Dec 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-13 18:35:43-05

Massive winter storms hit about everywhere in Montana Tuesday, and although Billings managed to avoid the worst, snowplow drivers in the city were still hard at work.

After nearly 21 years of driving for the city's street department, Juan Ojeda has learned a thing or two about how to keep the roads in Billings drivable.

“Sometimes you get to that point where you can almost do it in your sleep,” Ojeda told MTN during a ride-along. “The solid waste vehicles need to get up there too. If we don’t do our job, they can’t do their job. If we don’t do our job, police and fire can’t do their jobs safely either."

He's also learned how unpredictable Montana's weather is. Ojeda and other drivers were preparing for a big storm but instead only needed to sand the roads Tuesday.

“That’s weather. It doesn’t go the way you plan it," Ojeda said. "You can forecast it, but you can’t predict it. We just have a little snowpack and we’re just going to through down winter sand and that should be sufficient for now."

It's that unpredictability that street traffic division manager Derick Miller is used to.

“We just kind of take it as it comes in and try to figure out what’s coming and then adapt as it changes on us,” Miller said.

Miller said no matter what the storms bring, he and his 44 drivers will always be ready — beginning first with main streets before moving into residential areas.

“So right now, we’re hitting the main streets," Miller said. "We’re going to put some traction sand down. There’s no accumulation yet to plow."

Ojeda was a roamer today, which meant he went to areas where people have complained or ones that have a history of slick streets.

“I’m one of the roamers so I’ll be all over the city and just hitting complaints that people call in," Ojeda said. "And then I go looking for trouble."

And he wasn't kidding. Before going on the most treacherous part of his drive, Ojeda urged this MTN reporter to trust him.

“So, whatever happens, don’t panic, OK?" Ojeda said. "And if we start spinning don’t panic. Once we’re in it, we’re in it. Just trust me as your driver."

Ojeda's 21 years of experience proved to be useful, as he managed the steep and narrow terrain on Mountain View Avenue near Montana State University Billings with ease. Although, he did admit that it wasn't as easy as he made it look.

“A lot of the drivers don’t like coming up here because it is nerve-racking," Ojeda said. "You can have white knuckles by the time you’re done."

A typical December day for Ojeda — with one primary goal in mind.

“This is Montana, this is how it’s going to be," Ojeda said. "We want you to get home to your family, all the employees want to be able to get home to their families, and we want to do it safely.”