Policies intended to make snow removal more efficient | PostIndependent.com

Policies intended to make snow removal more efficient

Ryan Hoffman
Snow on East Third Street in downtown Rifle slowly melts Monday morning.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

Rifle officials are hoping that changes enacted in the past several years to the city’s snow removal policy will position city employees to handle a potentially snow-heavy winter.

An early taste of accumulative snow dusted the region early Monday morning, which led the Rifle Police Department to issue an alert warning of poor road conditions and multiple accidents, while cautioning motorists to be careful on the roads.

Despite the early troubles, no snow removal complaints made their way back to the city’s operations and maintenance team, which has not been the case in years past, said Bobby O’Dell, public works superintendent.

Around this same time last year, the city published a revised snow removal policy that, among other things, prioritized city streets into three categories for clearing snow. The idea, O’Dell said, was to maximize the limited resources to have the largest benefit to residents.

Priority one streets include major streets carrying the most traffic, such as Railroad Avenue and Airport Road. Priority two streets are heavily used two-lane collector streets serving industrial and commercial zones, such as West and Park avenues. Remaining streets, including most residential areas, fall into the third priority due to lower traffic volumes and generally slower speeds on the streets.

The priority three streets normally are not plowed or deiced until there are 4 or more inches of accumulation, with the exception of sloping areas such as hills.

The operations and maintenance department has three large snowplow trucks and a smaller truck for tighter streets.

“A lot of people don’t realize that,” O’Dell said of the number of plow trucks. “And they’re saying ‘why aren’t you plowing our neighborhoods?’ … If it’s snowing like heck, I’ve got priority ones and I’ve got priority twos that I have to get to.”

While part of the intention behind that decision is to streamline snow removal, it also tends to make driving conditions less adverse, according to O’Dell. When flat residential streets are plowed and deiced, slush tends to remain accumulated in the streets. The slush then freezes and makes it more difficult, particularly for smaller vehicles that don’t have all-wheel drive. As long as the accumulation does not become too great, leaving the snow on the flat roads with less traffic typically allows it to become more compact, creating better driving conditions when factoring slower driving speeds.

“It’s a lot less adverse of a situation to drive on in a smaller two-wheel drive vehicle,” O’Dell said.

In addition to the prioritization policy enacted last year, O’Dell designated snow storage sites around the city.

During heavy snow years in the past, the city would contract out to a private company that would haul snow down to the operation and maintenance facility. The new designated spots around the city eliminate the need to contract that service out because the operations and maintenance team can push or haul snow to the nearest designated space, O’Dell said.

While many of these changes are not new this year, O’Dell hopes they can be useful with a potentially snow-heavy winter.

The annual U.S. Winter Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows northwest Colorado has a 50-50 chance to both be colder than average and see more precipitation than average. That uncertainty comes after a dry winter in 2014-15.

On a more recent note, City Council approved Wednesday the second reading of an ordinance strengthening potential penalties for dumping snow into city streets and sidewalks, that would inhibit vehicle or pedestrian travel.

The ordinance, O’Dell explained, is more intended for snow removal companies that might find it more cost effective to dump the snow in an area where it becomes the city’s responsibility, as opposed to hauling it away. The changes would make this a Class B municipal offense, which carries a higher maximum fine than the previous Class C offense.

The ordinance still requires residents and businesses to clear sidewalks within 24 hours of accumulation.

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