This week’s visit from the Polar Vortex was more than snowy and bone-chillingly cold; it was expensive as well. According to numbers released today, the city has spent $11.2 million plowing and salting streets in the first 10 days of 2014. That includes $10.2 million, half of the $20 million allocated for the entire year. It also includes a leftover $1 million from last year’s snow budget.
This, despite complaints in the last several days from many aldermen and residents who say their side streets have remained unplowed.
“We had been spreading salt on side streets since Monday,” says Streets and Sanitation Department Spokeswoman Molly Poppe. “Unfortunately, mother nature was not in our favor.”
Poppe says the brutally cold temperatures limited the effect of the salt, and that blowing snow made efforts at plowing largely futile. She says the conditions didn’t stop the city though from deploying all of its resources to keep arterial streets plowed.
“They should’ve gone in half a day earlier,” says Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), a frequent critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Once they knew it was going to go to that superfreeze on Monday, there was no way the salt was going to stick.”
Waguespack agrees that trying to plow during the deep freeze was futile. He says two plow trucks broke down and one got into an accident.
“Our program has been the same for a while now,” says Poppe. “Arterial streets are plowed first. In the initial phase, we want residential streets to stay passable so vehicles can safely access arterial streets.”
That means the department’s goal isn’t necessarily to remove every flake of snow from a side street. "Passable," according to Poppe, means there might be a layer of snow on the ground, but densely packed enough for cars to safely navigate.
Poppe says that once the temperatures climbed out of Arctic Siberia, plow trucks were more successful at attacking side streets; 200 trucks have been deployed each of the last two days.
The above-freezing temperatures and rain aren’t hurting the effort to clear side streets either, but Waguespack says this is where the department should be saving money.
"They’re using 100 percent of their fleet now while its raining," he said. "We’re sitting here, going ‘what are you doing?'"
And, in a city where politics and snow are inextricably linked, did Waguespack feel they played a role in plowing his ward? He says no.
“Most of the criticism would fall back on the mayor because people generally know he has tight control over snow removal," he said.