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City snowplow team taking more flexible approach to game plan

January 30, 2014 Updated: January 31, 2014 at 7:07 am
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A snowplow clears Tejon Street on Dec. 7. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Have you contemplated moving to Arizona to avoid driving on snowy, slushy or icy streets? You might want to reconsider.

The Colorado Springs Streets Division is revamping its snow removal program.

The city started implementing some of the changes during the last three storms, and already calls to the complaint line - which usually pile up like snowdrifts - have eased off.

The office even received a cake earlier this week from a satisfied customer.

That's not to say that everything is perfect. Some people have still complained the plows weren't out fast enough or de-icer wasn't doing its thing.

Putting together the new plan for 7,423 lane miles within the city's 194 square miles takes time. Meanwhile, as the division transitions to a more efficient system of snow removal, they are still using some of the old ways.

"We deal with Mother Nature, and don't always get to dictate the rules," said Corey Farkas, streets division manager.

Farkas came on board in July as head of the department. He's from California. But don't worry. He's been here about 17 years and won his winter boots removing snow with the civil engineers in the U.S. Air Force. Other management staff is new, too.

They are in the process of changing the city's plowing plan of attack.

"The old way of doing things just didn't make sense," he said.

That old plan was based on removing snow from primary routes first, then secondary routes. The problem with that was that it wasn't necessarily taking care of emergency routes. Fire, police, hospitals and schools are usually on secondary roads.

Under the new system, the top priority still will be the major arteries such as Academy Boulevard, but emergency routes also would be added to that "A" list.

Priority No. 2 would be other primary routes, such as Circle Drive and Dublin Boulevard. Third in line would be secondaries such as Galley Road, which is considered a collector street that feeds into primary routes.

Once those are taken care of, plows will move into what they call "hot spots" in residential areas.

Residential streets under the old system would not be taken care of unless six inches or more snow was recorded and the other streets were completed.

"There's a problem with that," Farkas said. "We are in mountainous regions and there are a lot of residences on hills. So we are collecting as we go a list of hot spots."

Those are residential areas such as Rockrimmon, Broadmoor Bluffs and Erindale (near Vickers and Academy).

"Of course we can't plow them all, but those that have north-facing hills that don't melt with the sun, we will try to take care of those if we can," Farkas said. "Once we get a list of the problem streets, we can do a better job of clearing those. We have to walk a line of spending taxpayers' money and providing a safe product."

Last year the division experimented with contracting out some plow services in a Rockrimmon area north of Garden of the Gods and west of Interstate 25. They might try contracting again somewhere next year to gather more data to see if outsourcing is faster and saves money, Farkas said. That decision will be made this summer.

School areas are of special concern, and it boils down to a matter of timing, he said. If there is a storm dumping at midnight, plows don't do the school roads at that time. "We come in at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., and hit the schools, so the kiddos will be safe."

A new anti-icing program is being implemented, too. The crews are putting de-icer down before the snow hits the ground. That way, the bond between pavement and the snow will be broken.

In the past, if plows ran first and then de-icer was added, "All that did was polish the snow," Farkas said.

De-icers become ineffective at below 10 degrees. But once the thermometer climbed, it started working again. As traffic tracks through the snow, the heat generated by the tires also helps reactivate it.

There are two types of de-icer Farkas said. One type, called "Ice Slicer," a granular substance that lays on top and dissolves. The other, Apex, is liquid.

The division also is using an anti-skid mixture of salt and sand to be used on hills and during storms for traction when de-icers don't work because of the cold.

A common complaint of commuters is that there was not a single plow in sight.

"Unfortunately in rush hour there are so many cars that the plows become not as effective because they are surrounded," Farkas noted. "We are out there, though, but sometimes we use that time to refuel and change blades if necessary."

Under the old system, there were very specific sets of standards to be followed regardless of what the storm was doing.

But now the division is working to be more flexible,

"We let the storm dictate our operations," Farkas said.


Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371. Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook: Carol McGraw

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