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Spokane Seems Adrift When It Comes To Plowing

From For the record (Friday, January 26, 1996): The city of Spokane’s budget for snow removal is $1.1 million annually. A Wednesday story gave a higher figure.

Bill Franklin can’t imagine the complaints he’d get if it took his crew 70 hours to clear snow from the streets of Toledo, Ohio.

“Would I hear about it? Oh yeah, I’d get some serious calls,” said Franklin, Toledo’s commissioner of streets, bridges and harbor.

Franklin said it takes 24 hours to clear Toledo’s 1,052 miles of pavement after a typical snowstorm. His crew recently cleared 5-1/2 inches of snow in 30 hours.

By contrast, some streets in Spokane still have not been cleared of the snow that fell Thursday.

The work would have been done Sunday, but another storm forced crews to start over, said Jim Smith, director of city street maintenance, who expected the work to be done this morning - barring another major storm.

Smith said it takes 70 hours to clear the 825 miles of city streets after a typical storm. That’s more than twice as long as in Toledo.

Snow removal in Spokane also is slower than in Rochester, N.Y., where crews recently cleared 2 feet of snow from streets and sidewalks in 36 hours.

And Spokane is slower than Erie, Pa., where “if it snows just 4 to 6 inches, we’re done overnight,” said Ed Ciotti, superintendent of streets.

The difference between Spokane and those other cities: Lots and lots of money.

Franklin’s budget for snow removal is $4.5 million this year. Toledo residents pay a property tax - $25 a year for an average homeowner - earmarked specifically for the work.

In Spokane, which gets more snow than Toledo, the budget is about $1.7 million. The money comes from a pot that must also pay for street maintenance, so more money for snow removal means less to fill potholes and make other repairs.

Franklin sends out a platoon of 68 sand trucks and plows for 3 inches of snow. For severe storms, he hires commercial graders and a fleet of private pickups equipped with plows to work residential streets.

Spokane has 38 snow-moving trucks and never hires outside help.

“I don’t think that we could get the same response for the same cost” by contracting out the work, said Smith.

Franklin said contractors work fine in Toledo. Paul Noto, street maintenance director in Rochester, relies on them for all plowing in residential areas.

But Ciotti said contractors haven’t worked well in Erie, a city that gets 70 inches of snow - 20 inches more than Spokane - in a typical year.

“If it’s an absolute necessity, we’ll use them,” Ciotti said. “But we usually have to go back over (the roads) when they’re done.”

Just as Franklin expected, Smith takes plenty of guff from Spokane residents tired of waiting for the plows to reach their neighborhoods.

“I have a group of three individuals who do nothing but answer the phones and another group who are out in the field to do nothing but answer complaints,” he said.

The snow-removal strategy is based on guidelines set by the City Council. Crews put de-icer on bridges and steep arterials as soon as flakes start falling. A serious storm outpaces the chemical’s ability to melt the snow, so those roads must be plowed and coated with de-icer again - sometimes repeatedly - while the flakes are still coming down.

When the storm ends, plows and sand trucks first hit roads that are used by at least 15,000 cars a day. That alone takes five to seven hours.

Then the crews move to bus routes.

After arterials are cleared, crews start work in six hilly neighborhoods. They are the Woodridge, Balboa and Westwood neighborhoods on the North Side, as well as neighborhoods near Indian Canyon Golf Course, Cannon Hill Park and Rockwood Boulevard.

Crews don’t move into other neighborhoods until all those streets are cleared.

The strategy is similar for Spokane County, which tries to clear 2,700 miles of roads with 80 snowplows and sand trucks.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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