Frustration over plowing piling up
PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES A large pool of slushy water sits at the bottom of Stone Ridge Boulevard and Emperor Drive.
Approximately seven feet (190 cm) of snow has fallen in Orillia since Dec. 1. Another foot, and the city will have matched its total average snowfall for an entire season.
“It's been a tough year,” said Andrew Schell, director of environmental services and operations.
He's not kidding. City plow operators were on the roads for nearly 3,000 hours in December, some 1,200 more than normal. An estimated $400,000 was spent on winter-control measures that month, putting the 2016 budget in the red by about $200,000.
On 16 occasions, extra staffing was required. There were only five instances in all of 2015-16 when overtime was needed.
But many in Orillia are not impressed with the snow removal on city streets.
“It's ridiculous,” Sheleen McLeod said of the situation on her street. “I'm so frustrated.”
Many who commented on the Packet & Times' Facebook page shared similar thoughts.
“It's terrible and very sad to see as you drive down it you get a massage from every rut,” wrote Mike Gammon. “They should be out scraping the roads down before it freezes and becomes even worse.”
“And we know they won't get out there and clean it all up before it freezes,” Ashley Wilson commented. “No that would make too much sense and be too easy on the civilians.”
“Glad I have heavy duty suspension!” added Steve Levasseur.
The people who shared their frustration on Facebook were polite and refrained from cursing. That isn't always the case at city hall.
“Sometimes people are very respectful, but sometimes people are very negative,” Schell said. “The challenge we face is the phone calls where people are cursing and swearing ... It does tend to defeat our staff and it does start to hurt, because they are doing their best.”
The city has received about 220 complaints in the past 50 days. When you consider the amount of snow that's fallen and the number of people in the city, that isn't a terrible batting average, but that shouldn't lessen the severity of any critique levelled in the city's direction.
Aiding staff in resolving the complaints is GPS technology. Each plow is equipped with GPS, which can tell staff exactly where and when it has been at any time. Schell gave an example of a complaint, stating the homeowner's road hadn't been plowed in a few days. Staff would then find the route the house is on and “pinpoint the time and the amount of times that plow has been down that street.”
“We'll go back into the GPS and, ultimately, we've done it two days out of the three,” Schell said. “Maybe it was at night. We've had so much snow that when people get up, they don't realize we've cleaned 15 cm off the road, and by the time they get up, there's 15 more down on the road.”
There are seven plow routes throughout the city that are 80 km in length on average (approximately 40 km in each direction). One run through a route takes about four hours, as the plows travel at 20 km/h. Ideally, the route is driven the same way each time, with the same streets being serviced in the same order.
There are issues that arise, particularly during large snowfalls. In order to clean the main routes, plows are pulled off the side streets. Two-lane roads, such as portions of West Street, Memorial Avenue and University Avenue, require two plows simultaneously to ensure they're kept to a safe standard.
All streets are required to be cleared within six to 24 hours of the end of a snowfall, according to the city's winter-control policy. Residential streets are the lowest priority for the city, being plowed only after 8 cm of accumulation, then only to a snow-packed surface, instead of centre-bare pavement, as with the arterial roads.
Schell admitted, even with planned routes and GPS-equipped vehicles, human error happens. “The odd time, a road gets missed,” he said. What irks residents is when the plan to return to the missed street doesn't materialize. However, more often than not, on-street parking is to blame.
“There are areas where, when cars are parked on the street, we cannot get plows by,” Schell said. “That's one of our biggest challenges.”
Schell particularly sees this problem in the city's growing west side, where more houses are being placed on smaller lots, with the dramatic increase in vehicle traffic and parking. That's the kind of neighbourhood McLeod lives in. This is her first winter on the street, but neighbours have told her previous years have been just as bad.
While parts of her street have been cleared since she first complained to the city – “they 'scraped' the roads,” she said – the section closest to where she lives remains in shambles.
“The whole street's frustrated,” she said. “Why are we paying full property taxes when we aren't getting full services?”