Kansas City gears up for winter season

Northeast News
December 2, 2013

Kansas City is gearing up for another season of snow and already has 37,000 tons of salt stored in its salt facilities. Another 10,000 tons of salt will be delivered after Jan. 1.

City drivers began practice runs in October and the city is working to hire additional residential and arterial drivers to clear and treat the roads.

According to KSHB’s meteorologist Gary Lezak, Kansas City will see its share of wintry mixes in 2013 and 2014. Lezak predicts Kansas City will see above average rain and snowfall this winter season with at least one moderate-to-strong ice storm and up to 22 inches of snow.

“The city has never failed to cover the funding necessary to address the snow,” said Kansas City’s Public Works Department Director Sherry McIntyre during the city’s Nov. 26 Business Session.

This year’s budget for snow removal totals $2.75 million, and if funds run out, the city will dip into the contingency fund to cover outlying costs.

Last year, the city had to supplement the budget by $1 million due to extreme winter weather events, said Kansas City City Manager Troy Schulte. If Kansas City were to face a prolonged severe weather event, the city could pull city workers off other job assignments and assign them to snow routes, he added.

“The issue is we have a limited supply of commercial drivers licenses (CDLs) that can operate the bigger trucks,” Schulte said.

However, if needed, the city could hire drivers from private companies to assist with clearing the roads, he said.

“I want people to remember we have more roads, more streets (than surrounding communities),” said City Council member Melba Curls.

“We plow (the equivalent) from Boston to San Diego – two lane roads there and back,” Schulte said.

City Council member Ed Ford said with Kansas City’s 6,400 lane miles of pavement, it’s the equivalent of a single lane road from Kansas City to Tokyo.

Assistant City Engineer Greg Bolon said the city divides its roads into two categories: arterial roads and residential roads. For arterial roads, trucks run 24 hours a day during a weather event and 135 vehicles are available. For residential streets, which total approximately 2,800 center lane miles, the city staffs city employees 12 hours per day and 65 vehicles are available to clear streets. Ninety-percent of the city’s vehicles now have GPS technology, allowing citizens to see in real time which streets have been plowed. To view the city’s

plow map during a winter storm, visit http://maps.kcmo.org/apps/SnowPlowMap/.

“That’s a great improvement, and I think it’s very significant we’ve done that,” City Council member John Sharp said of the real-time plow map. “I think we generally do a great job, but as we all know, we’re seeing more extreme climate events of all types, so I think we really have to prepare for the worst.”

Cul-de-sac dilemma
A bulk of the conversation revolved around cul-de-sacs which are problematic for snow removal. According to Schulte, the city has about 2,000 cul-de-sacs, with some being on steep terrain.

“It’s (cul-de-sacs) a major problem in all the places that have snow,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.

Some cities either refuse to plow cul-de-sacs or charge an extra fee, James said.

“I’m not suggesting we do anything or we do nothing, I’m just saying it seems every city that has cul-de-sacs recognizes it’s a major pain when it comes to snow removal,” James said.

City Council member Scott Wagner said the bulk of the calls he received during last year’s winter storms came from residents complaining their cul-de-sacs had not been plowed.

According to the city’s website, cul-de-sacs and dead end streets take last priority during severe snowfall and will be plowed after arterial, collector and residential streets have been plowed.

“If you get more than four inches of snow, we’re pulling people off the cul-de-sacs and dead end roads because we can’t afford to lose the plows,” Bolon said. “If we get more than four inches of snow, be prepared to wait; it’s about maximizing resources.”

Bolon explained that some cul-de-sacs are located on steep grades which are easy for trucks to drive down but extremely difficult to get out of. Other times, residents park their vehicles at the bottom of the cul-de-sac instead of in the driveway, making it challenging for snow plows to maneuver around the vehicles. Some cul-de-sacs also have islands at the bottom, and if a driver forgets that fact and drives on top of the snow covered island, it can damage the plow.

“Generally, if it’s over 4 inches (of snow), that’s when we tend to have issues (with cul-de-sacs),” Bolon said.

City Council member Davis said the city should consider adding additional larger trucks to its fleet to address cul-de-sacs and added that skipping cul-de-sacs is unacceptable.

James pointed out that cul-de-sacs serve just a few families.

“Of course it’s going to be upsetting to people when they can’t get their street plowed,” James said. “On the other hand, it’s upsetting to everybody when 10 percent of our fleet is stuck in cul-de-sacs and other streets aren’t getting plowed.”

City Council member Cindy Circo said the city needs to have a conversation about the cost of plowing cul-de-sacs and how to handle the issue in the future.

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