Snow Removal Goes High-Tech

Mayor Daley: "Everybody prays for a mild winter"

By BJ Lutz and Dick Johnson
|  Thursday, Nov 12, 2009  |  Updated 4:48 PM CDT
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Snow Removal Goes High-Tech

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Mayor Daley will not take snow removal sitting down.

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Chicago's winter preparedness plan this year has two main components: technology and wishful thinking.

The city's hard-hit budget is dictating moves made by the new head of Streets and Sanitation, including the use of Global Positioning Systems and oversight technology aimed at minimizing supervisory costs and maximizing street-level snow-fighting while trying to keep a lid on overtime.

"Well obviously we want it to snow during regular working hours, but we can't predict that," Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne, a former deputy police superintendent with a strong suit in accountability, said Thursday afternoon.

The city's network of safety cameras will be a part of the job this year, keeping track of how efficiently the almost 300 snowplows and salt trucks are clearing each roadway at any given moment. That, he said, will give supervisors a view of what the plows are pushing and what the situation on the street is.

With the aid of the camera network, the number of supervisors on the street will be reduced to 10 from 30, Byrne said.

Plows will also be equipped with sensors to monitor their plowing and salt spreading. The sensors will be able to tell the Office of Emergency Management and Communications whether the blades on trucks are up or down, how much salt is being dispensed and the current weight of the salt in the truck.

"Why do they put more salt on one block than the other block? How much did you put in the intersection? If you put it all in one block, you have to go down and pick more salt," Mayor Richard Daley said.

The city will have 425,000 tons of salt on hand by Dec. 1.

Last year, Byrne's predecessor was so challenged by overtime issues it took too long to clear some side streets. The mayor's push to outsource that job has run into complications, but both Byrne and Daley claim they'll get it done.

"You have to do the major streets first. Then you get to the side streets. So, the longer cold weather you have, the longer it takes to get to them, so you have to do a program where at the same time you're doing major streets you're doing side streets," Daley said.

"Everybody prays for a mild winter," he added.  "Not only for snow (removal costs), but for the safety of people."

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