By Doug Hallett
City hall is withdrawing its snow plows and sending out the street sweepers, after a winter in which not once did it have to call in reinforcements to plow residential streets.
The annual spring street-sweeping program starts April 2 and goes to April 13. “It is the earliest we have started the program in recent years,” says Sam Mattina, the city’s manager of roads and right-of-ways.
“We will blitz the whole city in that two-week period,” he said, with a couple of outside contractors being supplemented by city crews. As of April 1, the city’s works crews will be split between only two shifts, as the city eliminates the night shift it’s had since early December as part of its strategy to keep roads and sidewalks clear and safe in winter.
While city crews concentrate in winter on higher-priority roads, clearing of residential streets is done by private companies contracted by the city. And this winter, they weren’t ever called out.
The contractors still got their “stand-by” payments, but the city didn’t have to pay them for any snow clearing, which is billed by the hour, Mattina said.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the city will save a lot of money on its winter control budget for 2012, he said in an interview Tuesday. For one thing, “we could have storm upon storm” next November and December, which are part of the 2012 budget year.
Full plow-outs by contractors on residential are the most expensive winter-control expenditures faced by the city, costing about $50,000 each, Mattina said. “The potential is there for savings in the annual snow budget, depending what happens in November and December.”
Even if there wasn’t as much snow as usual, this winter saw city crews out on the streets quite a bit, dealing with black ice, freezing drizzle and other problems, he said. “We’ve had the frequency, but not the (snow) volume.”
The city budgets for 23 winter-control “events” during a calendar year, including five “full plow-outs” of residential streets by the contracted private firms, Mattina said. Up to March 9 – the last time the winter crews were deployed – there were 16 such “events” during 2012.
Even though contractors weren’t ever called out to plow residential streets, those streets did see plows a couple of times this winter, he said.
When council set the city’s 2011 budget, it voted to save $137,400 by reducing snow clearing on residential streets. This change from the previous eight-centimetre threshold, continued in the 2012 budget, means snow isn’t cleared on residential streets unless 10 centimetres has fallen.
This past winter “we were very close to the 10 centimetres on two occasions,” Mattina said. Even though the contractors weren’t called out on these occasions, city crews ended up doing some plowing of residential streets as a “housekeeping” measure to prevent “severe icing and rutting,” he said.