Warmer weather, equipment reserves to lead to better service
The head of the city’s public works department is seeking the public’s patience and understanding regarding Moose Jaw’s snow operations.
© File photo
A grader ploughs snow along one of the city's streets. The city will step up its snow operations with warmer weather and equipment repairs coinciding.
“The words ‘snow removal’ are very ambiguous,” said Duane Grado, public works manager for the Friendly City. “We actually have snow operations. Among those operations we have removal, ploughing, and street sanding.”
According to Grado, snow removal operations — where snow is physically moved from the street — are only used on roughly 10 per cent of the city’s streets.
The most notable areas are the front entrances to schools, he said.
The vast majority of city snow operations — more than 90 per cent — involve ploughing: the use of a grader to push snow aside to allow vehicles to pass with less difficulty.
During the winter, city operations typically focus on priority one and two areas, Grado said.
Those encompass arterial roads, bus routes and collector streets such as Main Street North, Ninth Avenue North- and Southwest, Manitoba Street from Third Avenue East to Third Avenue West, Thatcher Drive, all of “the downtown metered core” (the side streets off of Main St. N. in the downtown), as well as a small section of South Hill near Lillooet Street and Fourth Avenue Southwest.
But the city has been under fire from the public over its inability to keep even those streets clear, manage the ice on the roads, and deal with the ruts that have formed on a lot of arteries.
“There’s rutting conditions on a lot of our streets,” admitted Grado. “It has escalated, and a lot of citizens are very concerned.”
Grado said a number of problems had set the city back in its snow operations, including broken-down equipment, water main breaks that had placed additional demands on the department’s staff, and the extreme cold and heavy winds that had swept across the city.
The weather impacted street sanding in particular, he noted.
“When you get that ice on the street, the only response we have is our sanding operation,” explained Grado. “Unfortunately, our sanding operations don’t work effectively once you get to -30 or colder. What happens is the salt and sand mixture we use just doesn’t penetrate the ice. It hits it, but it’s so cold it can’t penetrate.”
The rutting is definitely out there … (and) for lack of better words, some of our streets were like skating rinks Duane Grado, public works manager
The wind was also an issue, he added, because it would blow away the sand and salt mixture before it could penetrate the ice.
To penetrate the ice in those conditions, the city would have had to use straight salt — and it can’t, because of “environmental issues.”
“On days above -30, the sanding program works well,” said Grado. “But we’ve had -30 or lower days on and off since, I’d say, just before Christmas.”
Moose Jaw has considered an alternative to its current salt and sand mixture, but using it would require an overhaul of existing equipment and the product itself is costlier.
“There is a solution. It’s something similar to salt, only it is put down as a liquid and it takes special equipment to apply it. We’ve never gone that route … it would be well over double (the current cost),” Grado said.
Shearing the ice off using bladed graders was also not practical, because “it takes a tremendous amount of time to remove ice, even on just one or two blocks.”
As a result, road conditions were treacherous, Grado conceded.
“The rutting is definitely out there … (and) for lack of better words, some of our streets were like skating rinks,” he said.
However, with the shift in temperatures that is expected moving into the weekend, the city will be throwing its operations into high gear — including, Grado said, midnight shifts that haven’t been used so far this season.
It has also hired a contractor to assist.
“People are going to see something very different (over the next week), and Mother Nature is jumping on our team, so that will help us out,” he said. “People should see our snow operations improve substantially over the next few days.”