Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER The Department of Public Works has had a fairly easy winter due to the lack of snow. It currently employes 10 people, down from 28 about 35 years ago.

Archived Story

Big challenges for small street crew

Published 5:55pm Friday, January 27, 2012

Each winter presents different challenges for the City of Niles street crew.

And while this season has been mild and low on snowfall, invariably Department of Public Works Director Joe Ray hears complaints about snow removal.

“Every year is a challenge,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.”

The street crew is down to 10 employees after having 14 a decade ago. The street department was 28-strong 35 years ago.

“We’ve slowly not replaced people when they retire to keep the budget manageable,” Ray said.

But he says the department is still doing a good job with keeping streets clean. The crew worked overtime after a snowstorm hit Niles the day before the Hunter Ice Festival earlier this month and had streets and sidewalks clean for the big event.

But when a big storm hits with constant heavy snow, it’s a challenge for even the strongest of street crews, so the city has to prioritize which streets get primary attention.

Ray says the six miles of trunklines have top priority, while the major street system (like 13th and 17th streets and Broadway) gets attention next.

“Once those are plowed, then we go into the local, residential areas,” Ray said.

The last task in snow cleanup is to haul out the banks of snow that pile in the center lanes downtown, which Ray calls “the ridges.”

Ray also says he is constantly watching the forecast and won’t send out crews too early in order to “avoid running around multiple times.”

It has been a relatively low-stress winter for the Department of Public Works with below average snowfall.
The department has only used 225 tons of salt thus far. The city spreads an average of 1,200 tons a year, according to Ray.

If the weather stays favorable, this could mean a small savings for the city in materials cost. But since labor costs remain pretty constant, the savings won’t be significant enough to launch any new street projects come spring.

According to the National Weather Service, the weekend forecast predicts some snow, including a 50 percent chance today and about an inch of snow Sunday.

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