Anyone looking at the row of snowplows sitting in the parking lot at the new Spokane Valley Public Works Facility would immediately notice that one is not like the others.
The city’s brand-new plow sticks out. It is white instead of yellowish-green. The metal gleams in the light and is not spotted with rust. It has a plastic blade instead of a metal one.
The plow was supposed to arrive at the end of 2010, but delays pushed back the arrival of the city’s first new plow until April. The truck hasn’t been called on to plow yet, and Public Works Supervisor Shane Arlt said he wasn’t sure how the plastic blade would perform. “It’s kind of a trial,” he said. “We’ve never used one like that before.”
When the city first incorporated, plowing was contracted out to Spokane County. The county announced in late 2008 that they wouldn’t continue the contract after that winter, leaving the city scrambling. Several used plows were purchased from the Washington State Department of Transportation, most of which date from 1994 to 1998. They are all heavily rusted from years of spraying liquid de-icer or spreading salt. City workers rebuilt two of the old plows this summer to fix the worst of the corrosion and patch holes in the floor boards, Arlt said.
With each new plow truck ringing up at about $170,000, it will be years before the city can phase out the old DOT trucks, Arlt said. “Ideally it would be good to have one (replaced) every year,” he said.
The city also acquired another used plow from DOT in the spring, bringing the city fleet to eight snowplows. Two of them spread de-icer and the others spread sand.
“Last year we operated with six,” Arlt said.
The city has a contract with Poe Asphalt to provide plow drivers and graders that can be used to plow residential streets when the snow gets deep enough. This year, the city is also hiring two seasonal employees.
“We had Poe cover our night shift (last year),” Arlt said. “We’ll have one of our seasonal guys do it.”
There are 12 graders on call at all times. Last year they were called out three times for full city plows, Arlt said. It takes about 48 hours to plow every street in the city, provided the snow doesn’t continue falling and force crews to plow major arterials repeatedly.
The city’s snow plan gives Priority 1 status to major arterials such as Sprague, Appleway, Sullivan, Argonne, Mullan and Dishman-Mica.
Priority 2 includes secondary arterials, and Priority 3 is hillside residential areas.
Residential streets on the Valley floor are Priority 4 and are generally plowed only when there is more than 4 inches of snow or when traffic flow is inhibited.
A mix of liquid and granular de-icer is used on streets in the first three priority levels as needed, and residential streets usually only get de-icer at controlled intersections and certain problem areas.
The snow plan worked pretty well last year, Arlt said, and only a few small changes have been made. A Priority 2 loop was added in the neighborhood north of West Valley High School to allow residents to get in and out easier.
The city does not plow private streets. Pines (Highway 27) and Trent (Highway 290) are state highways and are plowed by WSDOT.