By JOSH NEWTON
A small group of city officials met Tuesday morning to discuss putting a written plan in place for clearing streets of snow and ice during winter weather.
City officials came under fire recently when a winter storm brought a blanket of ice and snow to Tahlequah. Many residents complained the streets had not been cleared as quickly as they wanted, but Street Commissioner Mike Corn said his crews worked as hard as they could. He said the layer of ice beneath several inches of snow presented a major problem for road graders.
On Tuesday, Corn met with Mayor Jason Nichols and Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson to talk about the city’s response. Nichols has said the city needs to be better prepared for winter weather, with a written protocol in place and a map dictating how the city clears streets.
“We’ve got to get our act together,” Nichols said. “You could take a map of this town and a highlighter, or maybe several highlighters, and say here’s Priority 1, Priority 2, and Priority 3, and maybe several of each. Knowing the rate at which we could work, we could give people a pretty good estimate on how long it would take to get each set of priorities done.”
Corn defended his crews, saying the street department responded well after the last snow and ice.
“I don’t think we really need any changes,” said Corn. “It was just a certain amount of ice we got.”
Nichols told Corn some residents feel the roads weren’t cleared in a timely manner. Dozens of those people complained on the Daily Press’ Facebook walls and elsewhere.
“Well, there’s a certain amount of people that would agree with what we’ve done,” said Corn. “I got a lot of compliments on what we done. It’s just the way that ice came down; there just wasn’t anything you could do with it.”
Corn later agreed to meet with Dotson and other city officials later this month to put a written plan in place, and to map out the street priorities. Nichols asked that the plan be ready by mid-January for council approval. Dotson agreed the plan needs to be in place “right away.”
“It’s supposed to be a bad winter,” said Dotson.
Dotson suggested emergency services, such as roads around hospitals, be cleared first when winter storms hit.
“Our No. 1 priority should be our main thoroughfares and emergency services, including police and fire and the hospitals,” said Dotson.
Dotson checked with other communities, including Muskogee and Tulsa, and learned their street departments do not clear residential streets immediately following a snow storm, but instead focus on higher-traffic outlets and emergency routes. In Tulsa, one study suggested the clearing of residential streets presented an average cost of about $400 per hour, Dotson said.
According to Corn, the street department considers its priority roads to be Muskogee Avenue, Choctaw Street, and Downing Street. Later, crews will attack secondary streets, like College and Water avenues. If schools plan to open, Corn said his crews will work around the school sites.
“Then we’ll come back and start working the residentials,” said Corn. “We try to get a lot of the hills and stop signs. We just work all the major hills, the bridges, then we’ll back up and start going into the residential areas.”
Corn said he has previously considered buying snowplows for the street department’s sand trucks.
“More than likely it would worth it, but they sit all year, like the state’s equipment,” said Corn. “Theirs sit out back all year long, but when they need it, it’s there.”
Corn estimates each snowplow attachment for a sand truck would cost more than $13,000. The city’s sand trucks are not equipped with the hydraulic attachments that would be needed for snowplows, and those would cost an additional $10,000, he suggested.
Nichols recommended Corn consider putting all four sand trucks on the streets during winter weather, rather than the two or three that were running during the last storm. Corn said he had two crew members in each truck for safety reasons, but is willing to consider placing one employee into each truck.