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Stifter column: The snowplow cometh

Mike Stifter

Winter announced its arrival earlier this month with the first snowfall of this season. Out at the Public Works Garage we are readying our plows and trucks to ensure that River Falls streets are safe and accessible this season for both drivers and pedestrians.

We also want to make sure that our snow maintenance activities have as little impact on the environment — and our beautiful river — as possible. To do that, we take a multi-pronged approach which includes a variety of snow maintenance techniques. One of the most effective is pre-wetting the salt before it is applied to roads, allowing the salt to stick to the road surface rather than spreading to lawns and sidewalks.

Another impact-reducing measure we take is responding to a snow event before the snow falls by anti-icing high traffic roadways when the conditions allow. Anti-icing consists of applying liquid salt brine to the pavement surface ahead of an anticipated snow or ice storm, preventing the snow from bonding to the pavement. This allows roads to be plowed more cleanly using less salt. Anti-icing can also reduce overtime costs because application can be made during regular working hours.

In addition, the city uses pavement temperature sensors, which allow us to calibrate application rates and choose the correct products based on actual pavement temperatures, not air temperatures.

I have been asked about why we have moved away from using sand as a snow maintenance strategy. If used at all during the winter, we reserve it for extreme ice conditions. It is generally because, as noted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sand loses its effectiveness as a traction enhancer on many roads after as few as 10 vehicle passes; it is also detrimental to the environment.

I am also asked about the city's plowing strategy. My response is that it depends on several factors including the time the snow began, the duration and accumulation of snowfall, the type of snow — light/dry or wet/heavy, the temperature before and after snowfall, high winds and available staff and equipment.

Despite what can seem like a complex process, the goal of the city's plowing efforts is simple: to maintain safe travel by pedestrians and vehicles throughout River Falls. Once snow has begun to accumulate on the roads, city crews and contractors will plow high volume main roads first. Local residential streets will not generally be plowed while it is still snowing. Crew shifts are adjusted for the following day to begin citywide snow removal operations after midnight and avoid overtime costs to the greatest extent practical. For the snow plowing priority map, visit www.rfcity.org/snowremoval.

How residents can help

Of course, we can't be successful keeping our roadways safe without the cooperation of our residents. Some reminders:

• Shovel your sidewalk, full width, within 24 hours after a storm;

• Shovel sidewalks in the right-of-way as well as pedestrian curbs/ramps on corner lots;

• Shovel around your mailbox and any fire hydrant on your property;

• Avoid shoveling or blowing snow from your driveway or sidewalk into the street;

• Clear outdoor play equipment from any surface that will be plowed, including alleys and cul-de-sacs;

• Avoid building forts, tunnels, etc. along street boulevards or rights-of-way as snow plowing could cause these structures to collapse;

• Do not place garbage cans in the street or blacktop area in your alley during snowstorms; and

• Follow odd/even parking restrictions through March 31.

Thank you for helping your city crews keep our neighborhood and residents safe!

For more information about the city's snow maintenance program and resource links, visit

www.rfcity.org/snowremoval or contact me at mstifter@rfcity.org.

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