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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Snow removal from streets becomes more challenging

As growing city’s resources stretched thin, roadways take longer to clear

December 9, 2005

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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."

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."

Comments

Nikki May 8 years, 4 months ago

I know snow plow drivers in Minnesota and many of them work shifts longer than 12 hours. I don't deny that they are doing what they are told here, but damn, tell them something else.
By the way, no one has been on my street. Maybe salt, but can't tell for sure. I got stuck on Thursday morning. I can understand that they haven't gotten to the side streets by then, it was only 6:30. I was so frustrated too, I could see the cross street was so clear! It was clear all the way across town too, if I stayed on main streets. That's why I was shocked a full 24 hours and they'd not been touched. Then, another 12 hours after that, still looks HORRID out there.

Whatever, and hell, $50,000 to drive a dump truck. I need a career change.

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DonQuipunch 8 years, 4 months ago

Well, I guess that settles it.

Because your poor husband has to go to work and do his job (and exhausts himself in the process) the system is not broken.

Well said!

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cowboy 8 years, 4 months ago

No Excuses allowed here , the streets department flat out did not get the job done.

Snow is plowed easiest when it is fresh , anybody that has done this work knows it. They should be working overnights all hands on deck , they aren't.

Put some blades on some of those pickups they all drive around in. This is BS from the city to the highest degree !

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Patty 8 years, 4 months ago

What a bunch of crybabies. While you are home sleeping soundly in bed my husband is out working to clear the streets so you can get up and go to work/school/store/Starbucks,etc. I can assure you when he is out he is doing just what the boss tells him whether it is sanding, salting or plowing. And when he comes home dead tired after a 12 hour shift trying to work on the roads with you idiots he deserves some thanks. So get off the driver's backs and grow up. Life is not all about you.

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Richard Heckler 8 years, 4 months ago

8" of snow in sub zero weather with snow falling beginning on a Tuesday through Wednesday makes it hard to accomplish the desired effect. Had it been 2"-3" and 25 degrees all would have been swell.

I started sweeping my walks and drive Tuesday evening and 4 times Wednesday cuz 8'' of snow isn't as much fun to clean all at once.

We have not had any trouble getting around with front wheel drive. Frankly I hope the plows do not come down my street as it will keep traffic moving slow and to a minimum.

If plows would have been everywhere during rush hour drivers would be wondering why it wasn't done before they arrived. Kansas City was in much the same fix.

The bottom line is are most of you requesting a tax increase for snow plowing? Get real.

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Jeremy 8 years, 4 months ago

There's always about 40 firemen sitting around doing nothing most of the night long. Let's put a shovel in their hands and put them to work! The union wouldn't stand for it, I'm sure.

or

Maybe Boog can start a 10 week training program to teach homeless folks how to shovel snow. Weeeeeee!!!

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cowboy 8 years, 4 months ago

Hey Chuck , Go rent a frigging plow and get on it instead of spouting all the reasons you can't do the job youre paid to do.

you could not plow my street but threw a few token handfuls of sand out , figure out which lever makes the plow go down !

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blue73harley 8 years, 4 months ago

dviper - maybe the decrease in productivity is caused by the increase in "traffic calming devices" such as roundabouts that the plows now have to manuver around.

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dviper 8 years, 4 months ago

Using the numbers provided in this new article, it looks like the city public works department needs to increase its productivity, because using Chuck's own numbers his department now clears 8.6 miles of streets per hour less than 5 years ago. On top of that, he is proposing a tax increase to justify his department's lack / decrease of productivity.

I hope our city commissioners are smart enough to see through this pile of snow. I know that Mike Amyx does, but the others are questionable.

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Stacy Napier 8 years, 4 months ago

As for waiting for the snow to stop to plow that is stupid. The trucks are driving around anyway using gas. Put the plows down push the snow out of the way. I won't get packed down and you will keep ahead of it in the end. That is what every other city does.

Maybe we need to act as a city like Chicago did in 1979 when they ousted Mayor Bilandic for the poor snow removal.

Lets hold the people we elect accountable. They are in charge of Wildgen and all the employees.

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DonQuipunch 8 years, 4 months ago

As the owner of a corner lot, I'll be more than happy to clear the sidewalks in sub-freezing temperatures the moment its patrons stop throwing their garbage on my lawn. I must pick up two dozen wrappers and beer bottles a week during the summer. Until that stops, I'll risk the $20 fine. The sidewalk thing is so backwards it isn't even funny.

Prydain, the snow was over by mid-morning. How long after that should it take to clear a main thoroughfare?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

I agree that the city should do more to help residents, especially the elderly and the infirm, to clear the sidewalks. But otherwise, it's within the capacity of residents to clear sidewalks, but not the streets.

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Liberty 8 years, 4 months ago

Is there an ordinance that if the city doesn't get the snow removed from the streets in 24hrs that they have to pay each individual in Lawrence $20 per day until it is done?

It is the same logic as the sidewalk ordinance. Sounds silly when you flip it around the other way doesn't it?

Also, if the sidewalks are city owned, then shouldn't the city be responsible for cleaning the snow off of them like the streets?

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Skeptic 8 years, 4 months ago

Why isn't the Traffic Safety Commission discussing things like this?

"All the salt does is melt the snow and allow it to freeze into an ice sheet!"

Wow, that is silly.

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Hong_Kong_Phooey 8 years, 4 months ago

I've lived in several cities throughout the country that receive snow every winter. I have to say that Lawrence, and Kansas City, are the WORST cities for snow removal. I don't know how many city trucks I saw driving (that had a plow attached) but were only spreading salt into the muck. Each truck should be scraping AND spreading. In addition, why does it always seem to be a surprise for the city when it snows?? One last thing - spread sand! All the salt does is melt the snow and allow it to refreeze into an ice sheet!

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dub 8 years, 4 months ago

Instead of spending the half a million dollars for 3 or 4 snow events per year, why doesnt the city look into contracting 3 or 4 extra trucks/drivers like other cities in the area do? Leavenworth for example.

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wolfmn58 8 years, 4 months ago

It sure is funny that the City of Lawrence can spend all of this money on roundabouts, but not on people an equipment for snow removal.

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Prydain 8 years, 4 months ago

They usually wait to plow until the snow event is over. They don't want to spend the diesel and man hours replowing streets.

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Ragingbear 8 years, 4 months ago

Didn't they make an article a while back bragging about how they did some test runs and all that so that they would be ready?

FYI, I walked across Iowa last night, not only was it poorly plowed, but I saw plows going up and down the street, with their blades up.

What they should do, is take the city busses, and put plows on them. Sure, they won't do the best job, but at least they will do a job. And do it far earlier than anyone else.

Which brings up the question. We knew this was coming almost 48 hours in advance. Why did it take them so long to even get the first plow out? I'ts not like the plow people didn't know it wasn't snowing.

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even_money 8 years, 4 months ago

Snow plow guy here.

Yeh, I forgot to get 23rd St. Sorry.

But there was this frantic phone call from someone over on Jeffries Ct.

:)

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DonQuipunch 8 years, 4 months ago

So let me get this straight:

The city streets have grown in volume by 12% over the last five years. Doesn't seem so dramatic to me. And it doesn't explain why 23rd street was still snowpacked yesterday AFTERNOON, either.

This is the worst city I've lived in yet to drive in after a snowstorm. Couple that with the KU students who've never driven in snow, and it's a wonder anyone makes it home alive.

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even_money 8 years, 4 months ago

Developers should pick up the tab for the extra $, dontcha think?

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even_money 8 years, 4 months ago

At least this time it wasn't a goal post.

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