Live on a Sidestreet? Dig Yourself Out

Snow removal latest victim of city budget tightening

On the heels of Monday's snow, and with a winter weather advisory carrying predictions of 3 to 6 inches of new snow for Wednesday, Chicago is changing its snow removal strategy.

"Monday was the first significant snowfall of the season and it was also the first snow program in an extremely tight budgetary period," Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Michael J. Picardi said. "While safety remains our number one concern, cost containment is also very important in this age of shrinking revenues and increasing costs."

Mayor Richard M. Daley said the pricetag for cleanup of the most recent snowfall, more than $490,000, is too much in a tough economy, and ordered changes that could make snow removal slower, especially on side streets.

Snow removal has been king since the blizzard of '79, which effectively buried the city and its mayor.

"We have literally become victims of our own success because residents always expect to see main streets fully cleared and grow impatient when side streets aren’t cleared immediately, but everyone needs to know that this high standard of snow removal comes at a very high cost," Picardi said. "We ask our residents to be patient during snow clearing operations and to drive with caution on our side streets until we get to them."

But with budget worries weighing down the city, a proposal would put a lighter spread of salt down and pull plows off side streets at 3 p.m., reducing overtime costs.

“Our full route system covers 9,456 lane miles and during a full snow program is patrolled by 274 Snow Fighting Trucks which use gasoline, spread salt and are operated by salaried drivers, so costs will naturally mount whenever we go out,” said Picardi. “Our challenge is to find as many ways to provide this important service while still working to reduce costs. “

Thanks to a two year contract, the city only pays $41 per ton for salt. By comparison, other municipalities pay more than $100 per ton. But Monday's snowfall was expensive despite efforts to keep costs down. Labor cost the city $51,000, equipment was another $143,000 and salt totaled $295,000.

"It's almost a half a million dollars, just like that," Daley said, adding that services like police and fire protection should take precendence when it comes to the city's money.

In the future, other cost-cutting options will be explored, including plowing side streets on weekdays during regular hours, rather than during overtime hours, to avoid overtime costs.

Picardi added that residents can help out on their blocks when it snows by shoveling their sidewalks and around their cars and by placing all that snow on the parkway where the grass is.

"By working together we can keep our streets safe this Winter," he said.

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