As the Department of Public Works continued to work on New London roads on Monday following the weekend nor’easter, Public Works Director Tim Hanser said work to remove snow and improve road conditions will be a multi-day effort.
Hanser said plow crews started work on Friday by salting roads to prevent snow from bonding to the surface. There are 10 main plow routes in the city, and the Parks Division of the department clears some smaller routes such as dead-end roads. Private contractors were also used to clear downtown streets as well as municipal and school parking lots, while school custodians were brought in to help clear sidewalks.
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Hanser said the response to the blizzard was more challenging than Hurricane Sandy, since snow accumulation made it harder to find alternate routes if downed wires or other issues made a road impassable.
“This is going to take several more days to really get back to normal,” said Hanser.
Storm response strategy
The city set a goal of making each street in the city passable by the end of the day on Sunday. Hanser said the Emergency Operations Center reached out via Facebook to collect information on unplowed roads and the Department of Public Works used this information as well as issues phoned in to the EOC to address problem areas.
During the storm, plow crews focused on keeping main routes passable to allow access for emergency vehicles. He said the plows keep their blades down while driving, meaning some intersections receive multiple passes in the course of a route.
“Obviously our highest priority is always the arterials” Hanser said. “We want to keep those as open as we can.”
Hanser said the storm response calls for making roads passable, then widening the accessible areas of a street—especially two-way streets with only one lane available—and removing snow that has piled up at the intersections to improve visibility. Hanser said the plows are tasked with clearing 63 miles of roads in the city.
“I think we can safely say that 50 miles are in workable conditions,” Hanser said on Monday morning. “They’re by no means perfect.”
Challenges during the storm
Hanser said New London and other cities in Connecticut have different challenges from rural areas when it comes to storm response. He said the biggest problems facing plow drivers were streets that are narrow, winding, steep, or with on-street parking, particularly if vehicles were in violation of the parking ban.
“If they’re parked on both sides it’s almost impossible to get a plow down those streets,” said Hanser.
The volume and weight of the snow presented a major challenge in snow removal. Hanser said plow crews have had to be cautious to avoid mechanical breakdowns.
Two plows did break down during the storm. One was a truck assigned solely to salt spreading. Another was a plow that broke down and had to be taken out of service. In areas were plows were not able to negotiate a street, snow had to be removed with a front-end loader or backhoe.
“With regards from our equipment we’ve been very fortunate,” said Hanser. “We’ve gotten reports from other towns that they’ve had several plows out of service.”
Three new snowplows purchased for the department have not yet arrived. However, Hanser said the plow apparatus for them was delivered early and installed on some of the older trucks.
Hanser said the crews also worked for 40 hours straight before they were given a 12-hour break on Sunday. He said the city continued to use the private contractors for downtown work during this period, and that there was about a four-hour stretch on Sunday when snow removal efforts were on hold.
“They were really stressed by this storm,” Hanser said of the crews. “This is really pushing people to their limits, and I think they’ve been performing well.”
Hanser said Monday’s rain raised concerns about roofs collapsing from the weight of the snow, and that building inspectors were looking into flat-topped municipal buildings for any issues there.
Snow that has been removed rather than plowed is being taken to Parcel J at the corner of Bank Street and Howard Street as well as some lots under the Gold Star Bridge. Hanser said that while the department is working to make roads passable, it will not be able to physically remove the snow from every street.
“It would be herculean,” he said. “It would be very expensive and it would take a very long time.”
Some residents have also complained that plow operations are pushing snow onto cleared sidewalks or driveways. Hanser said he regretted these cases but that it is sometimes inevitable if there is no other place to push the snow out of the roadway.
“It’s not intentional. Nobody’s trying to make more work for anybody,” said Hanser. “It’s just the sheer physics of the situation.”
Hanser said the magnitude of the storm will make the response more expensive than usual. He said the city will be seeking federal reimbursement and that budget projections for the current fiscal year have been based on the anticipation that the Department of Public Works will end its fiscal year with no money left over in the storm response items. The budget includes funding for the response to 10 winter storms, including salt and overtime costs.
“At this point I’m pretty comfortable that we won’t have any problems with those accounting lines,” said Hanser.
Clarification: the article initially read that Hanser said the Public Works budget did not include any extra funding for storm response. This meant that budget projections for the current fiscal year being calculated by Finance Director Jeff Smith are not being made with the assumption that the department will respond to fewer than 10 storms. The wording has been clarified.