Snow, snow and more snow

15 years ago

    A question often asked is, “How are the plow routes laid out and why is one area always plowed before another?” The city is divided into sections — five sections in town, plus parking lots and city facilities, and four sections in the country. There is one plow for each section.     The in-town plows are usually the first to be dispatched due to the amount of traffic and hilly nature of our city. Each driver goes into his section and plows and salts the main lines first. Main lines are the major traffic carriers and collector streets. When these are done the driver starts the residential side streets. Special emphasis is placed on Main Street where two plows team up to treat all four or five lanes. Each driver has specific priority areas, such as busy intersections, school areas, steep hills and sharp curves.
    The country plows operate under a different priority system due to the layout of their routes. Each country driver has 20 miles, plus or minus, that he is responsible for. The country roads are plowed and sanded in succession. The drivers may plow the road but only sand hills, turns and intersections the first time over. They do this to ensure that all critical areas are treated as soon as possible. Otherwise they will run out of sand before they complete their routes and some areas will not be sanded soon enough to accommodate traffic.
    Each plow route, town and country, takes three to four hours to complete, depending on snowfall, visibility and traffic. If a plow breaks down the others must divide up that route and it will take even longer to complete the routes. If the snowfall is moderate to heavy there could be four or five inches of snow on the streets and roads before the plow gets back to start over.
    The municipal and public parking lots are done by a payloader with a plow on it. It can take four to six hours to clean these lots. During the day when it is snowing, only the entrances and driving lanes can be plowed. The rest of the lot must wait until the cars are all gone before we can clean up.
    The city has more than 20 miles of sidewalks to plow also. Sidewalks are plowed after the storm stops and the streets are clean. There are two reasons for waiting, one is that the sidewalk plow driver has to plow streets first and second it wouldn’t be practical to try to plow sidewalks while other plows are pushing snow from the streets onto the walks.
    Our goal is to plow as often as necessary to keep traffic moving. We try to have all roads plowed and treated before school buses head out and also to accommodate the morning “rush” to work. The same goal also applies to the afternoon bus runs and commute home from work. We realize that not everyone goes to work in the morning and goes home in the afternoon but we try to make the commute as easy as we can for the majority of people.
    During storms that last for 24 or more hours, and if conditions will allow, we will plow and sand until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, then go home to rest and get back on the roads again before four in the morning. This system works well and helps reduce the number of consecutive hours without sleep.
    When the storm is over the crews will continue to plow the roadways to remove snowpack and widen them in preparation for the next storm.  Widening the streets and roads can take up to two days because the plows have to go much slower.  At some point during the winter, the banks get too big and frozen too hard for a plow to move them.  When that happens, a large snowblower mounted on a front-end loader will go around and blow the banks back.  This process takes three or four days to do in town.
    In the downtown area where the banks can’t be pushed or blown back, the snow must be loaded onto trucks and hauled away.  The City has a contractor on call to do this work. We do not haul the snowbanks away after each storm. Generally, the snow will be hauled when the banks get big enough to prevent someone from opening a car door or are too big to walk through.
    Usually a storm of four to six inches accumulation will need to be hauled away.  Snow hauling is done at night, usually within 24 hours of a storm.  For example, if it snows on a Wednesday night and ends Thursday, our crew will plow the streets and walks.  Then later that night the contractor’s crew will push the snow into windrows in the street and load it onto their trucks.  This way the parking stalls and sidewalks will be clean and ready for use the next morning. If two or more storms are forecasted to come back to back within 24 hours of each other, we will not haul snow until both storms are over.
    The contractor’s responsibility is to haul the snow from the streets and sidewalks only.  People should not push snow from driveways or parking lots intending for our contractor to haul it away.  Each extra load of snow costs him extra money to remove.
    Please remember, it is against the law in Maine to push snow from driveways and parking lots into the street.
    Gerry James is Presque Isle’s Public Works Director. He can be reached at 764-2560 or via e-mail at