Snow Plowing and Removal
It’s the time of year when the mayor’s office starts receiving questions about snow plowing and removal, particularly in walkways. As a winter city, it makes sense. Few issues are as important to us Anchorageites as maintaining safe roads and walkways. In fact, I classify it as one of the core functions of what local government should provide for its citizens.
It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come in Anchorage in terms of snow removal. Let me provide some of the history.
The first independently funded and organized effort aimed at a true sidewalk snow removal occurred during the Mystrom administration. Street Maintenance took over a small grant from Transit, which funded the purchase of three sidewalk tractors and the requirement to maintain pedestrian routes to a few priority People Mover Bus Stops. The program quickly gained popularity, and requests for more pedestrian facility snow removal increased dramatically. More sidewalk tractors were added to the fleet and an effort to coordinate a city wide plan with Park Maintenance began utilizing their resources, too.
Mayor George Wuerch unified the Park Maintenance Division with Street Maintenance and the emphasis on sidewalk and trail maintenance continued to grow. During this time, the resources of both divisions were organized and directed by Street Maintenance management, more equipment was purchased, and more personnel were dedicated to the effort. A simultaneous effort to combine snow removal at nearly all bus stops began and shortly after a contract was let to clear snow from these areas.
Mayor Mark Begich split the Street and Park Maintenance Divisions back into two entities in 2007. As a result, Park Maintenance personnel began working in park facilities and green belt areas only. The mayor did dedicate more funding for additional sidewalk equipment and funding for more seasonal employees to Street Maintenance to continue the ongoing effort. The fleet continued to grow, as did the miles of sidewalks and trails added to Street Maintenance’s routes. More emphasis was placed on hauling snow more frequently in certain areas that had little to no snow storage, including hazardous walking routes in and around elementary schools.
In 2009, the State Department of Transportation (DOT) purchased a fleet of sidewalk snow removal equipment and began its own program for areas under its jurisdiction. The city worked closely with the DOT by sharing maps and trading routes, which made the most sense.
Under my administration, we have more resources dedicated to pedestrian facility snow removal than ever before. Street Maintenance now has a total of 15 units dedicated to the program and the DOT has eight. No reductions in dedicated staff or funding were realized this year (despite widespread budget reductions), and the program is stronger then ever. Street Maintenance continues to add mileage each year, and I expect this to continue.
As the city has delivered more, the public has come to expect more. What once was considered a program for pedestrians has now expanded into an expectation of being able to ride a bicycle year-round. The cycling community has been vocal in its requests and has given us high marks this winter for the improved effort. I’m glad the same team of experts who have run Street Maintenance for years are still with the city, and I think they do a terrific job. Apparently the public does, too; the city has received far fewer complaints this year as in years past.
If the public has questions about snow removal, a good place to start is http://www.muni.org/, where visitors can click on the “snow plow map.” The map shows which areas of town have been cleared by muni crews.