New Lee’s Summit snow plan in the wings

rpulley@lsjournal.comJanuary 24, 2014 

Lee’s Summit could improve snowplowing by equipping some of its big trucks with “wing plows” that jut out the side, letting them clear a wider path and so get to more streets quicker.

That was one plan offered as one way to more quickly clear city streets after snow.

The City Council, reacting to numerous complaints on snow removal this season, has its Public Works Committee considering solutions. The committee on Jan. 21 discussed several ideas from the Public Works Department.

Deputy Director of Public Works Bob Hartnett gave the committee information it gleaned from other area cities on those cities’ snow fighting and offered some preliminary ideas for Lee’s Summit.

Wing plows would be used on main streets, and then those blades can be retracted so the trucks could also be used on residential streets, Hartnett said.

Hartnett said nine trucks fitted with wing plows would cost the city $126,000, at a one-time cost of $14,000 each.

It would allow the city to lower its goal of 32.5 hours to 22 hours (following a storm of 1 to 10 inches.)

Hartnett said another possibility is hiring contractors to help plow streets. If the department added two additional plows per district, at a cost of $396,000 for an average season, the goal time could decrease from 32.5 hours to 17 hours.

If the city added four additional plows, at a cost of $633,600, it would help get the goal to 12 hours, and help to get bare pavement.

The action of vehicles on snow and ice complicates the whole business.

Vehicular traffic is necessary to churn salt through snow and ice and help it to melt, so it is more effective on highways, Hartnett said. However traffic on snow-covered side streets can cause ice pack on roads that’s hard to clear.

Hartnett said some expectations are “beyond the city’s capabilities and beyond most cities’ capabilities.”

“Some people may assume plowing and treating gets you to bare pavement,” Hartnett said. Sometimes the timing of a storm and weather conditions make that impossible, he said.

Hartnett gave a brief comparison of some cities budgets and traffic accidents. Lee’s Summit spends about $586 per mile for clearing its 1,044 miles of lanes, compared to $402 for Blue Springs, $661 in Leawood and $535 for North Kansas City. Numbers for Overland Park and Independence, more comparable in size, weren’t available in time for the meeting, he said.

Traffic accidents for the three recent storms were slightly higher than Lee’s Summit’s average of five motor vehicle accidents reported a day in 2013, with just under eight-and-a-half accidents per day Dec. 20-24, seven accidents a day Jan. 1-4 and slightly under at four-and-a-half accidents a day Jan. 4-6.

“I was expecting something much higher in the number of crashes,” Councilmember Brian Whitley said.

Council member Bob Johnson said the accident reports didn’t include the many instances of sliding off the road or minor crashes not reported.

Councilman Ed Cockrell said he thinks the council should first set a policy, deciding how what the city’s goals should be, then let administrators recommend how to reach it.

He said he was leaning toward an idea of hiring contractors when there is freezing rain.

“If you have an ice event, hire contractors and put them on residential streets as quickly as possible,” Cockrell said.

Johnson said he liked the idea of investing in wing plows.

The committee decided to share the report with the rest of the council and continue working on the issue at its February meeting.

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