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Thursday, July 24, 2014

City balances priority routes, overtime during snowfall

The city is responsible for plowing more than 500 miles of road.

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Crystal Duan/Graphic Designer

When Columbia gets more than four inches of snow, as it did earlier this month, the city’s formula for plowing streets becomes an equation of priority routes, residential streets and overtime workers.

An eight-person crew worked overnight to clear priority routes after Tuesday night’s light snow.

The city makes some roads top-priority, Department of Public Works spokesman Steven Sapp said.

“If an event begins, we always start with priority snow routes,” Sapp said. “They are primarily collector or arterial streets, meaning major streets that serve various portions of the city to make all the connections.”

These streets, which Sapp said are determined during summer planning, include ones like Broadway and Providence Road. The city then moves on to second-priority streets and eventually residential roads. In the event that snow accumulates fewer than four inches, residential streets only get cleared during normal working hours.

“This last (major) snow, we had over four inches so when we finished up the priority routes, we moved into residential and plowed residential until those were passable on overtime,” Sapp said. “Once we touched the roads and they were in passable condition, we moved to just working on roads, picking up problem spots during normal working hours.”

Sapp said some residents have complained to the city about its plowing response time and the number of personnel involved during that time, but the city is not looking to ramp up its fleet of plows any time soon.

“Columbia and the central part of Missouri, on average, see about two to three storms a year and on average see a total of about 20-22 inches of snowfall,” Sapp said. “If we buy more snow removal equipment and hire more personal, and we don’t have the snow, what do we do with them?”

Freshman Davis Winborne said he had no complaints about Columbia’s plow job.

“Being from Atlanta, I personally feel like the city did a perfectly good job clearing up the roads,” Winborne said, noting he had friends who were stuck on roads overnight when Atlanta had fewer than two inches of snow.

Sapp said it takes time to get to residential areas, which is why people might think the plows aren’t working fast enough.

“While we’re working on priority routes, it still may be snowing,” Sapp said. “So it doesn’t mean we just hit them once and move on, we’ve got to keep those priority routes open. Then, we move into the residential areas, so sometimes that can take us 24-36 hours before we move into those residential areas.”

Freshman Jenna Goldenne said she felt roads stayed icy during the last storm.

“It didn’t seem like there was too much salt,” Goldenne said. “Some people are trying to get to campus and icy roads are problem, especially with students being late for classes and whatnot.”

Many of the treatments used on snowy or icy roads can cause damage to the environment or to manmade structures, Sapp said. For example, salt is corrosive and can damage steel used in bridges or road decks. Additionally, once the snow melts, the salt goes with it and can find its way into people’s drinking water supply.

Salt is also running low this year due to winter weather nationwide, Sapp said. Columbia has only one salt storage facility, which creates additional problems, Sapp said.

“When we’re going to be plowing and salting, we have to then make a trip to the central location,” Sapp said. “When they run out of salt, they need to reload. They’ve got a 40-minute round trip. It takes time away from actually doing road plowing.”

Sapp said the city is looking for a second salt storage facility and hopes to fund the project in the next few years.

Columbia plows more than 570 miles of roads during a snowfall. Sapp said that after accounting for roads with multiple lanes, the city plows close to 1,400 miles.

“To put that in perspective, if you jumped in your car and drove, 1,400 miles later you’d just about be in Boston,” Sapp said. “There’s a lot of roadway to clear.”

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