City Council May be Worth its Road Salt Afterall

Aldermen discuss more money for snow removal

Thursday, Jul 30, 2009  |  Updated 1:44 PM CDT
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Streets and Sanitation News Conference

Shaun Heasley/Getty Images

As drivers sat on snow snarled roads Tuesday night, some city aldermen began to rethink their approval of a plan to cutback funding for snow removal.

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The Worst is Yet to Come

Tuesday night's snow storm will seem like nothing compared to what's coming our way on Thursday.
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Debate in City Council has aldermen rethinking a plan to cutback on the costs of snow removal in Chicago.

Ald. Tom Allen appears to be getting widespread support to his proposal for an additional $3 million to be allocated now for that purpose, with more to be added if needed.  

Ald. Billy Ocasio is the most outspoken critic of the most recent city snow removal effort, claiming that when he personally called for help for his ward last night, he was passed from department to department --- making him wonder aloud "who's in charge?"

Mayor Daley has yet to speak about the issue but is expected to do so by noon.

City officials said Wednesday morning that the gridlock of Tuesday evening's rush hour was not their fault.  Blame it on Mother Nature.

Matt Smith, of the city's Department of Streets and Sanitation, said the quickly falling snow and the influx of vehicles on the road as the snow came down, made plowing and salting close to impossible in most areas.

Once the cars hit the roads and combined with heavy snowfall, the city was in slo-mo.

Expressways were at a standstill, and some say their drive time was triple what it normally is.  For an example, the inbound Eisenhower at 5:03 p.m. had a travel time of 4 hours and 40 minutes from Route 53 to the Post Office.

"Nothing was salted, nothing was plowed," screamed the headline of the Chicago Sun-Times, quoting Jon Ericson, who said his 20-mile commute lasted three hours.

"I couldn't even see which lane I was in!" he said.

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It was so bad, Illinois State Police activated their emergency snow plan, asking drivers involved in an accident not to call police if no one was injured, but to exchange information and contact police later.

This year, Chicago is trying to manage a delicate balancing act.  Yesterday, plows worked the main streets only, sometimes making only one pass, and leaving side streets alone.  City officials say the reason is a budget-crunch, and they are trying to keep snow-plowing costs at a minimum.

In Evanston, a cost-saving measure is to mix salt with a beet juice extract to make it go farther.  And instead of using plows to spread the salt, they spread salt only at intersections, hoping cars will spread the salt-beet juice mixture onto side streets on their own.

While no snow is expected for Wednesday, a second round of wintry weather is expected to hit Thursday.  Wednesday's high will be around 25.  Thursday will climb to 32, but in the late afternoon a mixture of rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow will hit. NBC Chicago's Andy Avalos said Thursday's storm has the potential to become a major ice storm, with up to 1/2 inch of ice, making the drive home even more dangerous than it was Tuesday night.

A Winter Storm Watch goes into effect Thursday at 3 p.m. and lasts until Friday morning.  And late Saturday, yet another winter storm is expected.

Welcome to Chicago.

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