January 24, 1996 in Nation/World

The Priorities Of Plowing Snow It’s No Easy Task When Winter Storms Clog 500 Miles Of Streets

By The Spokesman-Review

Tim Klein lost a brother some years ago when an ambulance couldn’t fight through the snowy streets fast enough on the way to the hospital.

So the city street supervisor always makes sure the streets around Kootenai Medical Center are plowed first.

“The doctor felt if he had gotten there 15 to 20 minutes earlier, they could have saved him,” Klein said. He doesn’t blame anyone for that tragedy. But it’s a memory he carries everywhere.

“So ever since I took the helm, I’ve made the hospital a priority,” Klein said.

Sorting out what streets to plow first is the type of trouble that comes with being responsible for Coeur d’Alene’s arteries and veins. If you count all of the lanes of all of the roads, it adds up to 500 miles of pavement that people want cleaned.

Without having any snow plowed into their driveways.

“There are 20,000 driveways in town,” Klein pointed out, “and if we tried to not plow in the driveways or clean them out it would be five days to get through the city.

“We all need to realize we live in the mountains and it snows here,” Klein said.

It takes just under 60 hours to plow every street in town. Then crews head down to North Fourth Street and along Sherman Avenue to start picking up the snow berms and hauling the snow to other city property.

Or at least that’s the plan. When snow started falling again at 1 a.m. Tuesday, workers had to abandon the snow berm and go back to plowing.

Two crews work 12-hour shifts, rolling the plows, graders and sanding trucks when there’s 2 or more inches of snow in the forecast. They start at the hospital, move to the major emergency routes - which also are the arterials - and then the residential areas.

They plow, spray magnesium chloride - a chemical to prevent ice from forming - and spread sand mixed with salt.

When a string of storms hits, like those that started last Friday, it’s a red-eye special. By Tuesday noon, Klein had only logged 10 hours of sleep in five days.

It’s no better for his crews. “These guys sit out there until their eyelids are out on their cheekbones,” he said.

The anguish extends to equipment. Manhole covers are harder to see buried under snow, so plow blades inevitably hit them. And something inevitably breaks.

“Nothing in the world is harder on equipment than snow removal,” Klein said.

If people are angry with city snowplows for leaving a pile at the entrance to their driveways, they weren’t showing it Tuesday.

“It’s a real pain to shovel out your driveway,” said Larry Knudsen, who lives along Westminster Avenue. “But it’s either that or they don’t get all of the roads plowed.”

“You have to put up with it if you live here,” added Bobbie Holmes, who lives up the street. “It’s a better place to raise children, so we can contend with this.”

Because of phone calls this winter, City Councilman Ron Edinger will propose a little assistance for elderly and disabled people for next winter, he said. That could come in the form of part-time workers who follow the plows to the homes of people who can’t physically deal with the snow hurdles.

The most misplaced snowplow telephone calls probably go to the Kootenai County commissioners office. They have nothing to do with the roads - that’s the purview of the highway districts, explains secretary Kelly Sheffield.

But since the highway districts also have commissioners, people are easily confused.

Kootenai County’s four highway districts and the Idaho Transportation Department don’t send out the plows based on a minimum amount of snow. They consider wind, water content of the snow, traffic volumes and what the forecast holds.

For the county highway districts, school bus routes are the priority. District road crews start pushing snow about 3 a.m. to make sure students can start catching their buses after breakfast.

The state runs plows around the clock, putting the highest priority on Interstate 90, said Bob Ewing, district maintenance engineer in North Idaho. He can summon up to 100 people and 60 sanders and plows if the weather is bad enough.

The people behind the wheel love it, they “actually look forward to plowing snow,” Ewing said.

But they don’t love everything about the job. “They take a lot of guff from the public,” he said. The public “doesn’t want inconvenience and the snowplow is in the way.”

Drivers take a great deal of pride and responsibility for their stretch of road. So that attitude “is more discouraging than anything else,” Ewing said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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