Not all roads are created equal

Not all roads are created equal when it comes to winter snow removal priorities and as the first big winter storm of the season bearing down on the Eastern Sierra, it’s worth remembering why.

Both Mono County and the Town of Mammoth Lakes do their own snow removal and over the decades, both have developed a system that classifies snow removal priorities. The system is designed, first and foremost, to make sure critical roads, such as main roads and emergency services, such as police, fire and hospitals, are always accessible in a storm.

Then and only then do the snowplow drivers move on to other roads. For example, residential roads are considered the third highest priority when it comes to snow removal, out of five different road classifications. In other words, emergency access roads and roads to critical services outrank a citizen’s need to get to work.

Here’s a look at how this works.

First, every road in the county and Town is assigned a priority number between “one” (highest priority) and “five” (lowest priority).

For example, major highways and state roads, such as S.R. 203 and U.S. 395, as well as roads that lead to hospitals, schools, and emergency responders such as police and fire, and other essential services are always categorized as “Class I”. Roads like those leading up to McGee Creek or Lundy Canyon are at the bottom of the list, or “Class 5”. Residential roads, as noted above, are right in the middle, as “Class 3” roads.

In more detail, the list looks like this, according to the county snow removal policy.

Class I roads are paved roads that are school bus routes and major collectors, which provide the main access for communities to the State Highway System, and County roads that serve s access to fire stations, paramedics, and the Mono County Sheriff’s office, according to the county’s snow removal policy. “These roads will generally receive snow removal resources first and more frequently than subordinate road classifications, and it is the Department of Public Works’ goal to keep them open continuously. While roads in this classification may close temporarily for public safety reasons, they will typically be the first to be re-opened. Safety devices, such as cinders and reflective tape on snow poles, may be used more extensively on these roads than for other road classifications.

“Class II roads are paved “collector” roads leading to communities and government offices, but they carry less traffic than Class I roads and are not part of school bus routes. The use and application of cinders are similar to that of Class I roads, but with less frequency; the same goes for safety devices.

“Class III roads are “residential streets, cul-de-sacs, and other paved and gravel community roads,” according to the county’s snow removal policy. “As the third priority designation, these roads generally receive snow removal as soon as all of the Class I and Class II roads have been opened and cleared. Cinders are typically used only in hazardous situations or locations, as determined by the Road District Supervisor, such as on steep grades and at intersections.”

Note: The vast majority of Mammoth residents live on Class III roads and that means patience, in some cases. To save money and keep snow plow drivers focused on critical routes and roads, the county has adopted a policy that states: “Snow accumulations of less than three inches may not be plowed except during normal working hours.” In other words, don’t expect your residential road to be plowed to the pavement before you are up and about on the morning after a storm. That’s what chains and 4WD vehicles are for.

“Class IV roads are other paved and gravel roads that are forest roads, remote roads serving single residences, or high mountain roads with severe snow accumulations and avalanche potential. These roads generally receive snow removal only after all of the above classes of roads are plowed and cleared, typically after the storms have passed. Snow will be removed during daylight hours only (if at all), and overtime hours are typically not authorized. These roads are subject to temporary closure or seasonal closure at the discretion of the Director of Road Operations or the Public Works Director, which may be the result of a series of heavy storms or presence of an avalanche hazard. Snow accumulations of six inches or less may not be plowed except during normal working hours. Cinders may be used only in hazardous situations or locations at the Road District Supervisor’s discretion.

“Class V roads are primarily other forest roads that are closed during the winter months. These roads receive no snow removal resources or are only opened in the spring after a substantial amount of snowpack has melted.”

Mono County Board of Supervisors this week reviewed and re-approved its policy on snow removal priorities.

Visit for more information, including maps of all the roads in the county and their classifications.