Last year allowed Spokane Valley to fine-tune plowing plan

THURSDAY, DEC. 2, 2010

Two contracted graders clear compact snow and ice off 15th Avenue just east of McDonald Road in Spokane Valley on Monday.  (J. Bart Rayniak)
Two contracted graders clear compact snow and ice off 15th Avenue just east of McDonald Road in Spokane Valley on Monday. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Thanks to a relatively snow-free breaking-in period last winter, the city of Spokane Valley seems to have handled plowing during its first major snowstorm with ease.

“This is a pretty significant event,” said Neil Kersten, public works director. “Things just went excellent. The guys are doing a great plow.”

The snow started last week and crews initially focused on de-icing and plowing major and minor arterials as well as hillside routes. By Sunday enough snow had accumulated that crews began plowing residential streets on the Valley floor. The plowing plan calls for that to happen when there are 4 inches of snow and/or the streets are difficult to navigate.

Kersten is thankful for the easy winter last year that allowed the city to fine-tune its plowing program. The city was forced to take over plowing its own streets after Spokane County canceled its plowing contract with little warning. The city hustled to set up a street maintenance facility and bought used plows from the Washington state Department of Transportation. “We were able to get the trucks in better shape,” he said. “That was a good opportunity.”

The city purchased a new plow this year that was supposed to be delivered this month, but it has been delayed due to problems with the transmission software, Kersten said. “We’ll be lucky to get it this year,” he said.

Kersten said acting public works superintendent Shane Arlt has been doing well in overseeing the plowing efforts. “He’s doing a great job,” Kersten said. “I just have no complaints.”

There have been a few complaints from residents, however. Most of those have to do with plows blocking in driveways with snow berms. “Nobody likes that,” he said. It would be too time-consuming and expensive to try to remove the berms, he said. “There’s just really no way.”

The switch to using granular de-icer instead of liquid de-icer in some circumstances is also working well, Kersten said. The granular de-icer works at lower temperatures than the liquid, which loses much of its effectiveness when it’s below 20 degrees.

The city is also working with a new GPS system that tracks all the trucks. With it, Kersten can tell where a truck is, where it has been and whether it is de-icing or plowing. The system is not ready for public use, however. He doesn’t anticipate making the information available to the public until next year, he said. “We do not have that ready yet,” he said. “We’re still tweaking it. It’s certainly helpful to us.”

The city has trucks and a few drivers, but contracts with Poe Asphalt for most of the drivers and some equipment. There is also a list of contractors who can provide additional equipment and drivers when needed. Kersten said he called in five extra graders to help with the residential plowing, but said it’s still too soon to worry about the snow removal budget.

“Obviously we’re spending some money,” he said. “It just depends on if it keeps doing this all winter.”

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