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City Council discusses priority snow removal plan for next winter

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | 9:50 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The results of a new survey will determine whether neighbors can band together next winter to get their streets plowed earlier during a storm. 

The survey would gauge interest in a program giving priority to neighborhood associations that agree to voluntarily ban on-street parking during a large snowstorm, according to a staff report presented to the Columbia City Council on Tuesday.

A 2008 policy restricts plowing on neighborhood streets to regular working hours when there is less than four inches of snow. If there is more than that, plows will operate after-hours in all areas "until streets are safe and passable." The program, if it's put in place, would apply only for these larger storms.

Public Works Director John Glascock said at Tuesday's council meeting that Des Moines, Iowa, has a similar program. Glascock said neighborhood associations would be able to opt into the program and electronic alerts would be sent to those participating to notify them that they need to move their vehicles off the street.

The city plans to send the survey to 24 of Columbia’s 80 neighborhood associations later this month. Glascock said that the plan would not be implemented until at least next winter.

In October, the Public Works Department released a new city plowing plan designed to focus on neighborhood areas, according to a previous Missourian report. It reclassified certain city streets and dispatches plows by ward boundary, rather than snow districts.

Though the lack of snow this season has kept plows off the road for the most part, City Manager Mike Matthes said he thinks the plan leaves the city well-prepared.

"I'm pretty confident our response will be pretty well-received once there's a test of it," Matthes said.

One issue, however, is the lack of plow drivers. The city currently has more trucks than licensed drivers, Matthes said. This has led the Public Works Department to look for them in other departments, rather than hiring private contractors to plow the roads.

The report raised concerns about liability coverage for the city for accidents or injuries on roads cleared by contractors, noting the cities of Maryland Heights and Springfield prohibit the practice.

Matthes pointed out Tuesday night that accidents may be more likely for those who have not received the same certification and training as those employed by the city.

"Quite honestly — if you've ever been in one of those trucks — mailboxes do get taken out. Sometimes it's easy to slide into parked cars," he said.

The city has agreements with private contractors to help plow downtown streets only during "extreme snow events," such as last February’s 17-inch snowfall.

Though there is currently no ordinance prohibiting the use of private contractors to clear roadways in Columbia, the report notes the practice is "not condoned."


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