COLUMBIA — With the air getting colder and temperatures dropping below 50 degrees this week, it's time to start thinking about the city's snow removal policies.
The Public Works Department has tweaked its priority street designations for snow removal this winter in an effort to get plows into residential areas sooner. Staff revealed the changes at a Columbia City Council work session Monday.
Previously, the city had three types of street designations when it came to snow removal: critical, first priority and second priority. Critical streets were deemed to be in need of urgent attention and included streets that have major hills, dangerous intersections or blind curves. First-priority and second-priority streets are major city streets such as heavy-traffic routes and routes to hospitals and schools.
The Public Works Department has eliminated the "critical street" designation after re-evaluating critical routes. Columbia had 314.77 critical and priority miles last winter and will now have 171.59 priority miles this winter.
A lot of the critical routes are no longer considered highest priority, Public Works Director John Glascock said. Some of those streets now have been reclassified as first or second priority. Others have been taken off the priority list altogether.
Also, the city has done away with snow districts and will dispatch snow plows using ward boundaries.
Priority streets have been reduced to make the workload for snow removal more manageable. By labeling fewer streets high priority, the department can move to residential areas sooner, Melissa Kelpe, a supervisor with the department's street division, said at Monday's presentation.
Public Works spokeswoman Jill Stedem said Tuesday that it was time to bring snow removal strategies up to date.
"We just kept adding streets over the years to the priority list and had to scale back on that because Columbia has grown so much, expanded so much, that our equipment has not expanded to keep up with that," Stedem said.
The department also noted in its presentation that it intends to use cinders on streets as little as possible, and perhaps not at all, this winter.
"Our plan is to continue to try using straight salt, but it all depends on the type of precipitation that comes down," Stedem said.
Like last year, the use of cinders will depend on pavement temperatures, the type of precipitation and other factors. Stedem said using salt only works fine when there's a lot of snow, but when roads are particularly icy or ice is mixed with snow, salt alone doesn't work.
"As a policy, we did not spread (cinders) continuously last year," Glascock said, noting that Columbia residents asked the city to use salt instead.
Cinders are residue from coal that are mixed with salt and used to provide traction on icy roads. Glascock said residents complain about the dirt when cinders are used.
The biggest issue with the use of salt on city roads is the corrosion of bridges, Glascock said. "It definitely eats bridges because it doesn't get flushed off."
"The good thing about cinders," Glascock said, "is that (residents) can tell when you've been in a neighborhood."
The department and the council also discussed the possibility of building another salt dome and recruiting volunteers and workers from other city departments to help remove snow.
"Snow to me is an emergency; for the city, it's an emergency operation," Glascock said. "I would like to see anybody that's got a (commercial driver's license) that's available come plow snow."
The street division, which is responsible for snow removal, has 30 full-time drivers and six supervisors.
The idea of building another salt dome emerged during Kelpe's presentation to the council, which noted that plows driving 25 mph on dry priority roads took about 70 minutes to complete a round-trip to the farthest part of the Fifth Ward.
Columbia's salt dome is on Big Bear Boulevard in north Columbia.
Stedem said that her staff is reviewing ways to solve the problem of travel distance between some streets in Columbia and the salt dome but that it's unlikely the city will build another salt dome this winter.
A new salt dome would cost about $750,000, excluding the land, Glascock said.