Spokane snow plows will roll through neighborhoods quicker and more often next winter under a plan in discussions at City Hall.
“We’re going to get more crews on, and get to places we typically haven’t done with those lower snow totals,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the public works and utilities department.
The new policy would enable an all-city plow when an inch or two of snow has fallen, rather than the six required under previous plans. The change is also intended to address concerns crews weren’t moving fast enough during last year’s heavy snowfall.
The plan won’t be finalized until at least next month, as the City Council and administration work out details on how to enforce parking restrictions during plows and city laws requiring sidewalks to be clear, Feist said. The council approved a resolution in March calling for the city’s streets department to look at revisions to Spokane’s snow removal plan, and Gary Kaesmeyer, who took over as streets director in February, has been updating lawmakers on progress throughout the spring and summer.
In years past, residential streets weren’t plowed until the city had declared a Stage 2 snow event, which was done when 6 inches of snow were on the ground. During lighter snows, crews swept arterials, hilly streets and transit stops but left residential areas untouched. Under the new plan, those roads would still be prioritized when an inch or two has fallen, but city crews will remain in plows to finish residential streets, rather than returning to other duties.
Feist gave the example of calling in workers assigned to traffic signs or the water department to perform plowing until the work is done. Some of those duties would be deferred while snow removal takes place.
Feist said crews will work their regular 10-hour winter shifts during these new all-city plows, so the city shouldn’t be spending any more on overtime. There might be some “incremental costs” tied to fuel and upkeep of city equipment, but “we feel like we can manage that within the budget,” she said.
Heavier snows would still trigger a 24/7 plow, when the city is authorized to bring in private contractors and crews are asked to work overtime, Feist said.
City Councilwoman Karen Stratton applauded the changes but said work still needs to be done by both lawmakers and the administration on enforcement of parking and sidewalk clearing. During residential plows, residents have been asked to move their cars to a specific side of the street to allow plows to move through narrower roads.
“I had constituents in my district who were either elderly, or sick, and it snowed so fast and so soon and it got icy, and they weren’t able to move their cars,” Stratton said.
The council also wants to make sure the streets department has the staffing necessary to fill the plows when the snow falls, Stratton said. On Monday, the panel will be asked to approve buying two loaders outfitted with plows to supplement Spokane’s fleet at a cost of $399,422. The money will come out of a street department fund for replacement of existing equipment.
As part of next year’s snow removal effort, the city will also test seven loaders equipped with “gates” that are designed to prevent berms near driveways, Feist said.
“We want to make sure we still get through in a reasonable amount of time,” she said. More equipment may be added to the fleet if the new trucks are successful and as money becomes available to buy it, she said.
Crews would likely be on neighborhood streets much more often under the new threshold.
Going back to 1893, an average Spokane winter includes two days in which 4 or more inches of snow fell, according to the National Weather Service. Two inches typically fall seven days each winter, and fifteen days see snowfall totals of at least an inch, the weather service said.
Last year, Spokane saw heavier-than-average daily snowfall totals. While nine days saw snow totals of more than 2 inches, 4 or more inches fell on four of those days. On Feb. 3, nearly 7 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period at Spokane International Airport.
“Some years are bad, some years are not bad, that’s how it shakes out,” said Matt Fugazzi, a meteorologist with the weather service in Spokane.
Feist, who was with the city during the historically bad winter of 2008 and 2009, said the policy changes would mark a shift in snow response. After that winter, the city formulated a plan that was very specific to meet the concerns of citizens. That had the added effect of sometimes tying crews’ hands when streets were overwhelmed with snow.
“This is providing the ability for our teams to be more responsive, in a way that makes more sense,” she said.
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