The lack of snow that has hurt the area’s recreation industry has been a boon for county road crews seeking relief from an unexpected $2 million cost following damaging flooding caused by late snowfall last winter.
“If we don’t have snow, we can get the gravel roads back into shape,” said Bob Keneally, operations and maintenance superintendent for Spokane County.
Last year, a late wave of snowfall – 6 inches were recorded in Spokane in the month of March, almost twice as much as normal – led to late-season flooding on county roadways, requiring the county to spend two-thirds of its annual snow removal budget on culvert repair and repaving. The $3 million budget comes from a combination of fuel tax revenue and property taxes, Keneally said, and leftover money is used for road preservation projects in the summer.
This season’s mild and dry winter has enabled crews to work on leveling gravel roadways, which make up about 1,000 miles of the 2,500 miles Spokane County road crews are responsible for maintaining, the largest county road system in the state, Keneally said.
County officials are trying to get out in front of the weather this year, informing residents of the county’s clearing plan, which prioritizes arterials such as Bigelow Gulch and Day-Mt. Spokane roads. The crew’s 35 graders and 25 plows then proceed to secondary arterials, hillside residential roads and finally flat roads, a process that takes up to four days for crews working 12-hour shifts, Keneally said.
That’s about half the time it took crews 30 years ago, he said, adding that if snow falls in the middle of the process trucks return to the arterials first.
County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said it was important for the public to understand the system, and the methods available to track snow removal progress. A map of prioritized roads is available at the department’s website, spokanecounty.org/engineer, and trackers installed in the trucks enable visitors to see where equipment is in real-time. Residents also can call the department for updates at (509) 477-3600.
“We haven’t had the opportunity yet to reach out to the public and explain the difficulties,” O’Quinn said, adding that much of the perceived delay has to do with the relative quality and mileage of county roads compared to the city’s system.
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