Street crews busy

Published 5:39 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - March has blasted in.
With winds between 20 and 25 miles per hour, gusting up to 35 mph in some areas, and white out conditions occurring, driving has been difficult.
In addition to poor visibility, wind gusts can cause drifting, particularly on secondary streets and county roads.
According to Joe Ray, assistant director of Public Works for the City of Niles, some particularly troublesome spots for drifting and blowing snow in the Niles area include the open spaces near 17th Street and Niles High School and also the area from Lake Street and 17th Street to the city limits.
Fortunately, the city of Niles has a street department and police force who plan ahead to help keep driving conditions safer for Niles community residents.
When a winter storm is predicted, the police department notifies the street department's superintendent, Kenneth King, who then contacts the road crew and schedules them according to the severity of the road conditions.
It is sometimes a challenge for road crews, though, when cars are parked along the street where plowing is needed. Ray stated, "If people have off-street parking available to them, it would be a big help if they can utilize that." Ray said Tuesday morning, "Right now we're concentrating on the major streets and highways, then we'll move to the other streets."
He states that the city has 13 people available to plow the streets, and when the snow is predicted to be heavy, as it was Tuesday, they continue to plow non-stop until the weather clears.
Tuesday morning crews began plowing at 3:30 am and planned to continue plowing until the weather cleared.
Once the crews have the roads pretty well under control, maintaining them is not as much of a problem as getting them plowed to begin with, even when snow continues to fall.
Of course, mailboxes can occasionally be a problem for the crews and residents alike. "The snowplows can't slow down to avoid them," because, Ray said, "they have to go fast enough that the truck doesn't get stuck." However, when a mailbox is damaged or destroyed by a city vehicle, the street department either repairs or replaces it.
Another issue that concerns the street department is the expense of using sand and salt to reduce the slippery conditions on roads. But when the snow continues to come down heavily as it did Tuesday, there can be some advantages as well. "With the snow coming down as it is right now, we're using very little salt," Ray added. Constant plowing removes salt and sand from the road surface and it would be impractical to reapply it continually. The lack of salt also saves wear and tear on both the streets and the cars.
Even though the road crews are able to clear and maintain the roads, when weather conditions worsen, traffic accidents still occur.
Tuesday brought a series of property damage accidents as the snow continued to fall. Visibility was poor at times but for drivers whose car slid off the road or was struck by another vehicle, help was available.
Captain James Merriman of the Niles City Police Department said, "That's what's good about having a 24-hour police department. We can get the police out there right away and the tow trucks as well."
If a vehicle has been in an accident and needs to be towed, the police department will secure a tow truck. The police should also be alerted if a disabled vehicle is a traffic hazard to oncoming vehicles or is blocking any part of the road. Captain James Merriman of the Niles City Police suggests, "Turn on your four way (blinkers)," while you wait for the police to arrive."
However, if no accident or hazard is involved, car owners need to call a local towing company to get their vehicles back in service. Captain Merriman recommends that the second call they make, though, should still be to the police department. Passing motorists may see your disabled vehicle and call the police on their own. It saves the officers an accident call if they already know a tow truck is on its way to help you.
Scott Clark of Clark's Service at 1901 Oak St. in Niles reported that Tuesday's weather brought lots of slide-offs. "We've probably done at least 30 calls since 5 o'clock this morning," he said. "But no injuries," he added. "Everybody seems to be driving pretty slow".
Bob Porter at Automotive Plus located at 2411 S. 11th Street agreed that towing needs weren't too severe that day, whether it was due to the efficiency of the road crews or because "folks just aren't out on the roads … as they shouldn't be."
Merriman reported that 13 notices of accidents occurred in Niles on Tuesday. Most of them were slide-offs or involved property damage, but none caused injuries.
Yet even though winter seems quite prevalent on snow days, the weather hasn't been as bad as some years, due in part to El Nino.
Compared to last year, the snow removal business seems to be just about the same, according to Jim Cook of Affordable Lawn Service and Snow Removal. "Last year I had a lot of people I just did one time only. This year it's about the same," he said.
Rick Focht of the snow removal business, Rick and Sons, concurred. "It's a lot slower this year," he said, "due to the weather."
Just the same, there was enough snow from Tuesday's winter storm to close businesses and schools.