On the morning of December 15th, the season's first measurable snow began to fall in Council Bluffs around 7:53 a.m. Less than 20 minutes later, at 8:10 a.m., the Mayor's office received its first F-bomb accentuated complaint regarding snow removal. As incredible as this might sound, one week later, someone left a similarly nasty voicemail at 7:30 a.m. on a day when snow was forecasted to begin falling at noon. Spoiler alert: no matter how many F-bombs get dropped, we can't clean up snow until it actually hits the ground.
Our Public Works crews, with the help of our Parks and Recreation crews, work together to clear the streets more effectively and efficiently than most communities. In fact, our Public Works Department is so highly regarded by their peers that they have been invited as guest presenters at the North American Snow Conference.
Public Works is responsible for clearing 649 "lane miles" of city streets with every snow event. A typical street has two lanes; therefore, a mile of street constitutes two "lane miles," but a mile of four-lane road equals four "lane miles." For context, it’s about 649 miles from Council Bluffs to Dallas, Texas.
In preparation for a snow event, Public Works pretreats much of the roadway to minimize the snow's adherence to the road's surface. However, if rain precedes snow, we can't pretreat the streets because the rain dilutes the solution making it ineffective. Additionally, in extremely cold situations, pretreatments are not effective because the solution instantly melts the snow, which, in turn, refreezes and creates icy conditions.
Our Public Works team takes an innovative approach to pretreating streets. Regular brine (aka salt water) dries quickly and blows away in the wind, so we mix the brine with beet juice. The juice from this root vegetable helps lower the freezing temperature of the brine. It is also sticky, which allows the salt to stick to the streets. Beet juice is reasonably priced, non-toxic, non-corrosive, does not stain, and it is eco-friendly.
During the clean-up process of a snow event, Public Works deploys 18 large dump trucks, each equipped with a snow blade and a load of salt. Four additional road graders and two spreader trucks set out for the hills during heavy snowfall. Strategically, the city is divided into twenty-nine separate snow routes, which include eighteen emergency routes and eleven residential routes. Emergency routes are listed online at councilbluffs-ia.gov/326/publicworks.
With every snow event, our first priority is emergency snow routes. Our second priority is residential streets, which we begin plowing after the emergency routes remain clear; sometimes, this means we don't get to residential streets until the snow stops falling. Our third priority for snow removal is city-owned sidewalks, parking lots, and trails which our Parks and Recreation crews help clear. We are fine-tuning a public-facing map that uses GIS to show the snow removal process in real-time. The map will be helpful when you're wondering if certain roads have been treated or plowed.
The Mayor may declare a Snow Emergency when winter weather conditions warrant. During a Snow Emergency, parking is prohibited on snow emergency routes. If our Public Works crews cannot efficiently clear narrow streets and cul-de-sacs with cars parked on both sides of the road, we may declare an Odd-Even Parking Ban. During an Odd-Even Parking Ban, vehicles must park on the odd addresses side of the street on odd calendar dates and the even side of the street on even calendar dates. Residents will be notified of snow emergencies and parking bans via the local newspaper, radio, television, social media, and our website.
During plow operations, snow is pushed to each side of the street equally, which can result in a windrow of snow that may block your driveway. It is the responsibility of the property owner or resident to remove this snow. We realize this is inconvenient, but the windrow is unintentional and unavoidable, and even our crews have to go home and clear their windrows after work.
As you can see, our Public Works crews have a lot to do when it snows. There are several ways you can help the crews be more efficient. Stay informed, so you know of any parking bans. Remove snow and ice from your sidewalks within 24 hours. Clear the snow around your mailbox and a space for your garbage and recycling containers. Expose any fire hydrants that aren't visible. Blow or shovel snow into your yard, not the street. Help your neighbors out. Be patient with our crews as they work to clear the snow emergency routes first. When we work together, we can accomplish more.