The woes of winter snow removal

The woes of winter snow removal

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Whether the oft-quoted remark should be attributed to Mark Twain or his friend, neighbor and fellow author, Charles Dudley Warner is not important — but the fact is, in Sidney today, someone does do something with what Old Man Winter leaves behind!

Fortunately or unfortunately, the past couple of winters have been unusually mild. This winter is more like winters Sidney has historically experienced. Because of the number of citizens who have asked about snow removal, I thought it would be prudent to write about how our crews attack snow and ice, and provide some details about past and current winters.

Hopefully this information will help our citizens better understand how our crews attack winter storm events. In addition, I can hopefully address some of the challenges our road crews face.

Sidney has 110.715 miles of streets and 19.21 miles of maintained alleyways. Depending upon the severity of the weather, we could have between three and 15 trucks on the road plowing snow or treating the streets.

We have 30 trained drivers (in addition to the street department, we use drivers from other departments, including parks, wastewater, underground utilities and engineering). However, because winter weather events typically last longer than one shift, not all drivers are on the road simultaneously. We make every attempt to not have any driver on the road for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period.

Certainly it is the city’s goal to provide efficient winter maintenance services to residents, businesses and visitors to our community — with safety for all as our number one priority. In doing so, it is our policy to do the following: 1) to keep main thoroughfares clear of snow and ice; 2) to work within our budget; 3) to keep staff trained and knowledgeable on best winter maintenance practices; 4) to keep residents informed; and, 5) and to utilize salt supplies efficiently. To give you an example of how much things can change from year to year, in 2010-2011, we had 32 winter events; in 2011-2012 we had 16; in 2012-2013 we had 39; in 2013-2014 we had 52; in 2014-2015 we had 29; in 2015-2016 we had 11; and in 2016-17, we had 18 events. So far this season, we have had 13 events, and the winter is not yet half over! Historically, Sidney has averaged about 32 inches of snow per year. However, in 2013-2014 we recorded 52.65 inches of snow, the third highest amount of snow since we’ve been keeping records. In 2015-2016, we had just 9.1 inches of snow, and last year, just 8 inches of snow. As you might imagine, the tremendous fluctuation year to year makes planning especially difficult. From our first winter event in December through Jan. 11 of the current year we have had 9 ½ inches of snow. Including 253.5 overtime hours, we’ve spent 447 hours removing that snow from city thoroughfares at a labor cost of $42,007.50 We have used 980 tons of salt costing $47,255.60, for a total cost of $89,263.10 or, about $9,396 per inch of snow. These numbers are expected to increase dramatically, as we have had weather events most of the days since these figures were last compiled. To help conserve resources and the environment (road salt is not environmentally friendly), we continue pre-treating roadways whenever possible with a mixture of brine and beet juice. Pre-treatment was not possible in the most recent storms, because the ice and snow was preceded by rain. City Council annually reviews winter road maintenance plans for the upcoming season. The current plan, one that has been in place for some years, calls for major roadways to be plowed when we’ve had at least two inches of snow.

Residential streets and alleyways are plowed when we’ve had four inches of snow — the exception of course, being residential streets and alleyways that involve hills – they are still plowed with just two inches of snow. Over time, our priorities have always been the main arterial highways, the streets around Wilson Memorial Hospital, roadways around schools when schools are in session, steep roadways and hill alleyways, the nine-block area surrounding the Courthouse, and city parking lots including those at the police and fire stations.

Our crews do the best they can in every storm — but each storm event is different. Your street could be plowed and if snow continues to fall and the street continues to have traffic, the snow gets packed forming ice, and is difficult, if not impossible to remove. In fact, in such conditions, the street could be treacherous even if it was plowed just a half hour before. Compounding the problem, salt does not work effectively when the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit — and it has been well below that temperature for much of the winter.

For the drivers operating the plows, their greatest concerns include drivers following the trucks too closely, drivers who pass the plows, visibility — especially in windy conditions with driving and blowing snow, a pedestrian walking, running or falling in front of the plow, a vehicle sliding into the plow’s path, and their own truck sliding on the slippery street. With respect to drivers following too closely, plow operators clearing intersections have a difficult time because they have to back up — vehicles whose drivers have driven their vehicle behind the plow and are beyond the line of sight of the truck’s mirrors simply can’t be observed and can easily become an accident statistic.

In addition, trucks, depending upon their size and the amount of salt they are carrying, weigh between 8.25 and 17.27 ton. On snow covered and or wet roadways, it can take far longer for them to come to a stop than on clear, dry roadways.

My advice is to simply give snow removal equipment adequate room to do their jobs. Stay off the roadways after a storm unless it is absolutely necessary to travel. And above all drive safely.

If you have concerns about snow removal or anything else, don’t hesitate to contact any member of council or me. You should also feel free to contact Street Superintendent Brian Green at 937-498-8159 or Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough at 937-498-8141 with questions about street conditions and snow removal.
The woes of winter snow removal

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.