You thought shoveling your driveway was a pain.
Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, leaves you with this thought: At least your drive doesn't grow every year.
The same can't be said of the city's street system. The length of streets the city cares for has grown from 285 miles in 2000 to 319 miles today. But the number of trucks and crew members responsible for clearing the streets of snow hasn't grown at all.
"We're getting stretched thinner every year," Soules said.
The end result is that some city streets remain untreated longer than ever. Soules estimated that five years ago it took his crew of 17 trucks and 35 drivers about 10 hours to spread salt and sand throughout the city. Today, it takes about 16 hours to make a single pass through town.
When it comes to actually blading the streets, the wait is longer. Soules said there would be several residential streets hit by Wednesday's snowstorm that wouldn't be bladed until Saturday.
"The time is getting longer, but people are expecting it faster," Soules said.
But, Soules asked, are residents willing to pay for the service to become faster? Soules estimated he could begin to get service times moving back toward the 2000 levels by adding three dump trucks and three employees to the department's street division. That would cost the city about $320,000 in new equipment and about $150,000 a year in wages and benefits, he said.
Soules said there was plenty of nonsnow-related work to keep the dump trucks and the employees busy year-round, but he said it still would be a difficult decision for city commissioners to make.
"It is a balancing act for the community and the commission," Soules said. "They have to weigh whether it is worth it based on the three or four snow events we get a year."
- 6News video: Cold weather, hot cars (12-08-05)
- 6News video: Lawrence program sees shortage of snow-shoveling volunteers (12-08-05)
- On the Street: Do you think it should be illegal to leave your car running while unattended? (12-09-05)
- Snow removal from streets becomes more challenging (12-09-05)
- Thieves on lookout for cars left to warm up (12-09-05)
- Law requires sidewalks to be shoveled after snows (12-09-05)
- Season's first snowstorm closes schools, ices roads (12-09-05)
- Lawrence and other schools get another snow day Friday (12-09-05)
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Soules plans to bring the issue forward next summer when commissioners begin deliberations for the 2007 budget. Soules said commissioners need to understand that service levels may continue to drop because the city will be caring for several new streets next winter. Those include Sixth Street west of Wakarusa Drive, which currently is maintained by the state; Monterey Way north of Peterson Road; and a new portion of Folks Road.
City commissioners said they want to have the discussion.
"It is certainly something we'll have to weigh against our other needs, but I want to make sure we maintain a high-quality service," Mayor Boog Highberger said.
Several people who were in downtown Lawrence on Thursday said they thought city crews still did a reasonable job of removing snow, but said they had noticed the job taking longer.
"I do have to say I'm surprised at how messy some of the streets are," said Julie Trowbridge, a rural Lawrence resident. "Vermont Street is terrible and Massachusetts Street isn't much better."