January 17, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 39

Cheney plows are a blessing in comparison

In Our Opinion

There are certain things we come to expect in life, and one of those is when the snow flies, the plows roll.

Recent sizeable snowfalls have demonstrated the value of having capable and dedicated street crews ready to get out no matter how treacherous the conditions are getting into work and prepare the roadways for our use. Particularly the crews in Cheney who did impressive work last week clearing the paths from a heavy overnight snowstorm Jan. 6-7.

We appreciate that there is an economy of scale when comparing plowing in Cheney with plowing in our large neighbor 15 miles to the northeast. Size and shape of the two cities, as well as the financial resources available, all dictate how quickly and efficiently streets are cleared for use and excess snow removed to reduce driving hazards.

Not to mention the work it takes to clear county roads.

But Cheney residents should feel blessed to have our street crews and other city personnel, and we extend kudos to them for their work, much of which was done between the hours of midnight and 6-8 a.m. so as to minimize interference with daily traffic.

It takes a lot to deal with winter in this area. Cheney Public Works director Todd Ableman said the city budgets about $40,000 a year for snow removal, a price that includes traction control additives such as sand and de-icer.

When you factor in staff time – and that doesn’t mean overtime – fuel costs, wear and tear on the equipment, it runs between $80-$100 per hour, per piece of equipment to remove snow in Cheney. In a midnight to 8 a.m. shift, that’s $640-$800 per rig, and with four graders and/or front loaders out, each day’s snow operation costs from $2,560 to $3,200.

Ableman said a normal winter usually sends the crews out between four and seven times over the November to February timeframe. The de-icer truck and sander unit are out more often, not only preparing for coming snowstorms but also laying down traction assistance when there’s fog or heavy, freezing humidity in the air.

Ableman said they try to be judicious with the application of traction control, focusing on danger spots such as stop signs at the bottom of hills for instance rather than spraying the entire street. And as opposed to plowing in Spokane, Cheney crews raise and lower a gate at the end of the blade that keeps snow from blocking driveway entrances to homes and businesses.

Businesses owners along First Street should be particularly appreciative of this since the street doubles as State Route 904. Plowing snow along the thoroughfare through town could fall to Department of Transportation crews to handle. Anyone who’s witnessed state plows at work, flying along roadways funneling huge plumes of snow so massive they could bury a small car in seconds, can visualize how this would affect businesses and pedestrians if done through Cheney.

Finally, the city seems to do a pretty good job of planning and preparation for snow since, barring something like the huge storms of 2008, we rarely hear Ableman and company going to the City Council requesting more money to deal with snow removal.

They’re not perfect by any means, but we think the Cheney crews do a good job keeping the roadways clear and safe for residents.

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