With one of the first measurable snows of the year expected Friday, Boulder’s transportation staff spent Thursday in preparation.
The snow and ice team made a salt brine solution and sent four trucks to treat city streets with the saltwater mixture meant to reduce the amount of snow and ice that will stick to the surface of roads. The team focused on bridges, hills and intersections on primary streets, according to city staff.
And a couple days before Thursday’s preparation work, Boulder City Council received a timely update on the city’s snow and ice control program, though as Director of Transportation and Mobility Erika Vandenbrande pointed out it’s more “snow moval” than removal or control. That’s because the city moves snow from its main roads, bike paths, crosswalks and bus stops rather than fully removing or preventing it.
A shift crew of about 24 people working 12-hour shifts is needed during snowy weather, according to Transportation Maintenance Manager Scott Schlecht. It can be challenging work, requiring staff to get up in the early hours of the morning to begin clearing snow, city officials noted.
“Our full staffing is essential to safety, ensuring that routes are timely cleared and that staff are not overly fatigued,” Schlecht said.
There are 17 Public Works plow trucks sent out when it snows. Four pairs of trucks plow four primary routes, which includes major thoroughfares such as Foothills Parkway and Arapahoe Avenue, while an additional nine plow trucks operate on nine other routes.
Secondary routes are streets that provide access to schools, hospitals, Regional Transportation District bus routes and connections to primary streets.
Primary and secondary routes are less about order and more about frequency, according to Schlecht.
“We don’t just plow the primary routes and move on to the secondary routes. They’re plowed together,” Schlecht said. “It’s just the frequency in which we do plow those areas. Secondaries are plowed less frequently than the primaries.”
Two seasons ago, the city switched to a salt brine solution instead of the magnesium chloride one it had been using. It buys the city’s snow and ice team some time once snow starts to fall, but Schlecht said it’s important to check the weather forecast before treating the streets.
“It’s not beneficial to put that salt brine down if they’re calling for rain or some other type of moisture that isn’t frozen in advance of that storm,” he said.
City Council members Matt Benjamin and Lauren Folkerts asked about the impact of the salt brine solution on the environment and water quality.
Schlecht was less certain about the impact on water quality but noted using salt brine is more environmentally friendly than the previous magnesium chloride solution and said the city relies on suggested application rates provided by the manufacturers of the machines it uses to plow the roads.
There were some questions on Tuesday about the city’s Shovel-a-Stop program, which relies on volunteers to help clear snow from some bus stops. Some 38 bus stops with high ridership are cleared by a contractor, while an additional 54 with lower ridership are shoveled by Shovel-a-Stop volunteers. RTD also services some stops, according to the city.
Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend agreed all stops should be cleared but wasn’t certain it made sense to require volunteer work.
“A car can get through snow, but there are a lot of situations where a person might not be able to so I don’t know that … a ridership cut off makes sense for that,” Friend said, later questioning how much it would cost for the city to take on all bus stops.
As Councilmember Tara Winer went door to door campaigning for City Council, she said she was surprised at how many listed snow and ice control as a top priority. Winer wanted to know how financially feasible it would be to include more streets into the primary and secondary routes to be plowed.
Currently, the snow and ice program operates on a nearly $1.5 million budget within the city’s transportation department. Schlecht said he intended to return with information on necessary resources and potential costs if the city were to shovel all bus stops and plow more roads.
Assuming the forecasted snow falls on Friday, snow plows may hit the streets of Boulder. Though the work the trucks complete is the same as in years past, there’s one key difference.
For the first time, Boulder’s plows have been named by elementary school students with the winning names ranging from Super Scooper to Plowzer.
As for Schlecht, he is partial to Darth Blader.