Catherine W. Idzerda" />

New snow plow philosophy made for cleaner Janesville streets

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, January 18, 2010
— It’s not just your imagination.

Janesville’s streets were plowed differently during the first snowstorm of the season, and those benefits are carrying over into the second half of winter.

John Whitcomb, the city’s operations manager, credited his crew, management decisions and Mother Nature—in that order—for the success of that plowing operation.

People have noticed

An informal Gazette poll showed 56 percent of people thought plowing was better this year than last. While that might not seem like a big number, it doesn’t take into account how much people complain about plowing.

“Snow plowing will always generate complaints, no matter what you do,” Whitcomb said. “This year probably ranks the highest on the number of compliments we’ve gotten.”

The first storm hit Janesville on Dec. 8 and 9 and brought more than a foot of snow.

“We didn’t bring the crew in until noon, and then we brought in all of our crew,” Whitcomb said. “Normally, we bring in half of the crew, but because of the rate of snow projected, we threw all in.”

At midnight, crews were pulled off the main streets and sent into the residential areas. About half of each residential route was completed, but the effort gave crews a “good head start,” Whitcomb said.

Clearer side streets made the next snowfalls easier to manage.

The January 2008 storm that shut down Interstate 90/39 is always in the back of his mind, Whitcomb said.

During that storm, the city followed standard procedure. When the snow stopped, people wanted to get out and about, and residential streets got packed down and rutted.

Then it rained. Remember the thunderstorms in January? Temperatures dropped, and the snow “just froze to the street.”

Sometimes, crews simply can’t keep up with snowfall amounts and changing temperatures—even if they do get to the side streets early.

In the past few seasons, the winter started off with heavy, wet snow that was almost immediately followed by freezing temperatures.

For the 2009-2010 season, the city council’s budget decisions and philosophy also helped Whitcomb and his department.

“The message we got from the manager and the council is that the citizens wanted the same level of service in December that they got in January and February,” Whitcomb said.

Jan. 1 is the start of the new budget year.

The council also increased the plow budget by $200,000. Much of that went to cover an increase in the cost of salt, but it also allows the department more leeway.

More than anything, however, Whitcomb credits his crew for the success of the Dec. 8-9 plowing operations.

“Kudos, kudos, kudos to the crew,” Whitcomb said. “They did an amazing job. They had a total, 100 percent commitment to getting the job done.”

The majority of the crew worked for nearly 30 hours during that storm. Workers were able to take only short catnaps on cots at the public works department.

“Words fail me. I can’t even describe how proud I am of the job they did,” Whitcomb said.

Operations manager explains city’s plowing formula

Snow plowing is part art, part science and as much advanced planning as Mother Nature will allow.

But one thing remains fairly constant throughout the winter season: The Janesville Public Work’s Department’s plow philosophy.

At last Monday’s city council meeting, operations manager John Whitcomb gave his annual plowing presentation: “Snow and Ice Control Goals, Objectives and Procedures.”

Highlights include:


-Plow all city streets within 10 hours after a snowstorm ends.

-Treat all arterial and collector streets, bus routes, major hills and intersections with chemicals. The goal for these streets is bare pavement.

Arterial streets are main streets such as Milton Avenue and Court Street. Collector streets feed the arterials.

-Clear snow from sidewalks in front of public property, such as City Hall, within 72 hours of snowfall ending.

Snow and ice control tools

-Anti-icing is done before the ice and snow piles up to keep snow from sticking to the pavement.

-Chemical Application: Salt is applied to arterial and collector streets, bridges, major hills and bus routes to keep the snow from sticking.

When temperatures fall below 25 degrees, salt is treated with a chemical to lower the freezing point of the resulting “brine”—the slush-like mix caused by melting snow.

Did you know?

-Bare pavement is not the goal on residential streets. However, depending on the weather, those streets might end up with bare pavement.

- Just because the plows are out doesn’t mean a snow emergency has been declared.

-If the forecast calls for snow totals of 2 inches or less, a snow emergency will probably not be declared in advance of the storm. The decision to plow after a smaller snowfall might not come until shortly before the storm ends.

-The city maintains a snow hotline, (608) 755-SNOW (7669). The hotline operates 24 hours a day and provides snow emergency updates.

Plowing by the numbers

-Number of salt storage facilities: 3

-Amount they hold: 4,900 tons.

-Amount used in a typical winter: Between 3,000 and 4,000 tons.

-Number of dump trucks/plows used during a major storm: 28.

-Number of motorgraders: 3

-Time it takes to plow the city: 10 hours, under normal circumstances.

-Amount of sidewalk the city shovels or plows: 12 miles.

Last updated: 12:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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