Roads maintenance workers say they’re doing their best to clean up icy streets

Funding for snow removal, lack of City trucks, and communication to Calgarians about snow and ice control were under review this week during the Jan. 27 city hall meeting.

Calgarians saw a 112-year record in snowfall in December along with additional snow in January that has left some roads impassable, and many Calgarians irritated.

 In December, there was a total of 52.4 centimetres of snow, which is over three times more than the normal amount. Then with an additional 15.5 centimetres in January, a significant amount of snow blanketed both the main routes and residential streets.

Bill Beinsch, manager of the department of roads maintenance, presented councillors with photos of Skyview Ranch in the N.E., one of Calgary’s hardest hit areas. The photos showed a lack of snow fences — which are used to prevent snowdrifts — as well as small trees and open spaces that contributed to the large amounts of snow accumulation in the community.

Although frustration among Calgarians is something councillors noticed in their wards, some say Calgary’s unexpected weather conditions did not come as a surprise.

Coun. Jim Stevenson of Ward 3, home to Skyview Ranch, said, “My residences were hit the hardest, [and] although I received a lot of calls and emails, people were generally understanding.”

December cost $9.4 million in total for snow and ice expenditures, “two times larger than our typical expenditure of $4.1 million,” said Beinsch. “Our projected expenditures for January is $12 million or 35 per cent of our 2014 budget.”

The City has since removed 2.7 million cubic metres of snow from streets to storage facilities, which is more than the stone volume of the Giza pyramid in Egypt, Beinsch said.

Mayor Nenshi noted that the $2-million reserve fund was spent as expected. However, other councillors expressed concern that winter isn’t over yet, and are worried about where additional funding will come from.

Frustration among Calgarians

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell said that she would like to see better citizen communications from the City. Ryan Jestin, director of City of Calgary roads, also spoke during the meeting saying that the City is committed to getting the streets cleaned up, despite 311’s lack of communication.

City council debated the snow and ice control procedures on Jan. 27 after extreme snowfalls in December and January created frustrations for Calgarians.
Photo by Brittany Fong
“We have one or two clerks answering 30,000 calls. Our guys and girls are focused on cleaning the roads, not focused on reporting information,” said Jestin. He also noted that there are City workers taking time off for accumulated stress while on the job, contributing to a decrease in staff.

Mac Logan, general manager of transportation, added that he still encourages people to call 311 to help identify roads that need their attention, but advises citizens to be more considerate when calling in to report them, “I know people are frustrated, just be mindful that you’re talking to another human being,” he said.

The questions

Although recent warm weather has melted some snow and ice on the roads, Calgarians are still experiencing transportation issues within the city. Calgary Police posted on their Facebook page that there had been 32 collisions reported before 9 a.m. Jan. 29 due to the snowfall and layer of ice left over from the last snowfall. The City’s transportation report said that snow and ice must be controlled when it falls to “diminish the potential for delays related to weather that can impact business operations.”

Biensch adds, “If the roads are passable, they are acceptable.”

Road foremen have been travelling on all city roads to see if they are drivable. Passable roads include ones with ruts to the pavement or ruts with less than seven centimetres of ice on both sides, roads that have been flat bladed down the middle of the road or roads with snow that is packed down, says Beinsch.

“If the roads are passable, they are acceptable.”

– Bill Beinsch, manager of the City of Calgary department of roads maintenance.

Mayor Nenshi also suggested during the meeting that there be a live-to-date map for citizens to access that would show which streets have been cleared, or are considered drivable by the City, so Calgarians are not left wondering about their community streets.

The City’s stance on clearing sidewalks and pathways was also discussed at the meeting. When asked about clearing pathways and bus stops, Beinsch said that roads maintenance is currently working in conjunction with Parks Calgary to do so.

Coun. Farrell suggested that there be sandbox stations in place for residents to use on icy sidewalks when the City is unable to clear them immediately. “If you break your hip, that’s life or death,” Farrell said.

Action for July

A snow action plan was implemented on Dec. 17 to reallocate staff, equipment and contractors to the areas greatest in need.

At the January city hall meeting, council discussed implementing a seven-day snow and ice plan to enhance response of staffing, contracting and budgeting during major snow accumulation, suggesting that there be more contractors on standby as there are in Toronto. However, this would require a tax increase to accommodate the higher expectations of citizens.

As for the mandatory snow tire debate, city council quickly turned it down as they felt that there was no need for it.

Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca said, “There’s no way we can police it. We’ve just got to do a better job of snow removal.”

The communities of Oakridge, Palliser, Strathcona Park, Canyon Meadows, Mountain Park and Mahogany are all still awaiting City maintenance.

Council is scheduled to re-address the issue in July.

bfong@cjournal.ca

Do you think the City of Calgary should restructure its current snow and ice control procedures?