After a record-breaking snow season last year, the City of Surrey isn’t taking any chances this winter.
Surrey’s engineering operations manager Ray Kerr said after regional road salt shortages last year, the city has increased the amount it keeps on hand.
“Although the City of Surrey did not run out of salt (last year), our inventory was being depleted with no guarantee we could get the road salt replaced quickly, as major shipments to the suppliers were delayed,” explained Kerr.
“We have since procured an increased amount of road salt available to the City this winter season which will provide us greater assurance that the City will not run low on salt supply should we need it.”
The city has more than 14,000 tonnes of salt in its inventory, which is “more than enough for a normal winter season,” said Kerr.
A typical season would use 6,000 tonnes, he said. Last year, the city used more than 20,000.
During a 44-day cold snap from Dec. 4, 2016 to Jan. 16, 2017 temperatures in Surrey were at or below zero degrees Celsius, the longest duration of freezing temperatures since 1984. And more snow fell in the city after that.
The city had to resort to a salt-and-sand mix near the end of last winter. The rationing was to ensure salt didn’t run out.
“Should we have an anomalous winter such as last year we have additional salt available,” Kerr said. “We also have a total of 63 pieces of snow clearing equipment available to respond to storm events during the upcoming winter season.”
Kerr said city staff will be using the city’s social media channels to increase communication to the public in real town as winter storms unfold.
“These messages will include forecasts, roads to avoid, status of winter maintenance efforts, etc.,” said Kerr.
Last year city hall was inundated with calls to clear roads and sidewalks.
Surrey used nearly all of its $3.5 million budget for snow in 2016, and had to eat into funds from the 2017 budget in January.
At one point, the ice was so thick in some areas that some residents took to ice skating on their streets.
This year, the city is already over budget.
While the 2017 winter maintenance budget is $3.6 million this year, the city has already spent $5 million to date.
“This overage will not be reflected in the level of service we provide to residents, as the winter maintenance work is completed according to weather and road conditions, not budget,” explained Kerr. “In past years when the city does not expend all of its winter maintenance budget, the remaining is placed in a reserve so when there are winter seasons such as what we had last year, there are funds available.”
Some residents expressed frustration that their residential roads weren’t cleared during last year’s storm. The city explained it doesn’t usually deal with residential road clearing because the weather usual warms up or rain will melt the snow.
“We have been deploying staff to local roads on a priority basis,” Rob Costanzo, who was the operations manager at the time, told the Now. “So if there’s a medical emergency type issue, or a road with grade where it’s challenging for people to get up and down, we will plow those. We are also dealing with waste collection routes. So if waste collection contractors have trouble on local roads then we’ll deploy trucks there.
“We are dealing with local roads this winter to the best of our ability with the resources we have,” he added, but stressed the city is still focusing its efforts on roads with greatest risk factors, such as high traffic volumes or high speeds. “We are taking calls, but we can’t promise we’ll get to every local road… We prioritize.”
Costanzo added that snow clearing on local roads can prove complicated due to on-street parking. This “severely restricts” the operation of snow plows, he noted. Though some colder Canadian cities limit parking to one side of the street in winter, Surrey doesn’t, due to the disruption it would cause locals.
Snow plowing local roads requires trucks to slow from 50 kilometres/hour to just 20 because they’re narrower, according to Surrey’s Snow and Ice Control Policy.
“It is estimated that servicing local roads would be four times more time-consuming and costly per lane kilometre than the higher priority roads,” the policy states.
And, Costanzo reminded residents that clearing sidewalks is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, after many requests from the public to clear sidewalks during last winter’s storm.