Big snows challenge city plows, budget

BY ALEX HOLT

On average, Takoma Park gets 5.7 inches of snow every February. But National Weather Service weather spotters in Takoma Park reported over 10 inches of snow from last week’s massive snowstorm alone. With just over a month to go in what has proved the coldest and snowiest winter the Washington region has seen in years, the Takoma Park Department of Public Works has been kept constantly busy dealing with the effects of the snow.

According to its director Daryl Braithwaite, the Department of Public Works typically budgets for about three snowstorms per year. Just over halfway through February, they’ve already exceeded that.

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Not the city’s doing – the State Highway Administration plows state roads such as this Takoma Old Town section of Carroll Avenue (Rte. 195). Six days after the Feb. 13th snowstorm, a dozen parking spaces remain inaccessible.

“Depending on how you count, we’re on our fourth or fifth snowstorm,” Braithwaite said.

One of the consequences of this winter’s weather has been the heavy use of road salt. Braithwaite estimated that before last week’s storm, the DPW had used over 300 tons of salt in this season’s previous storms.

Thankfully, that wasn’t as much of an issue last week, though Braithwaite still expects the DPW to run well over its typical budget for road salt.

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Around the corner from the previous photo, Laurel Avenue shows the city’s plow-work, which cleared the parking spaces.

“When you get a lot of snow, you don’t typically do a lot of salting because most of it’s pushing the snow off the street to get down the pavement,” Braithwaite said. “I mean we still applied salt but it’s not quite the same as the previous storms that were so icy.”

Not that clearing the approximately 32 miles of road that the DPW is responsible is any easier.

“The narrower the road is, particularly those with parking on both sides, the more challenging it can be to plow,” Braithwaite said. “Seeing as the cars are parked and we’re trying to get our plows through, it can be a little tight.”

And then if the DPW ends up plowing on one side, it sometimes creates a “snow burr” where they end up limiting the road width that cars have available. Since most of the city streets are actually quite narrow, Braithwaite said the DPW keeps most of its equipment at a fairly modest size so that they can accommodate the streets.

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City snow-plows on lower Maple Avenue near Sligo Creek Park did not clear the parking lane, despite it being a snow-emergency route.

In addition to making sure the streets are cleared, the DPW is also responsible for clearing sidewalks that are adjacent to city-owned facilities and parks. The DPW sends out its garden staff to take care of most of that, along with a couple of temporary laborers they bring along to help out.

One of the side effects of all these snowstorms is that the DPW hasn’t been able to get some of the construction projects it had planned done, although it doesn’t take on as many of those during the winter.

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Residential Willow Avenue, shown 6 days after the snow-storm, was plowed by the city.

“We had a storm water project that we ‘ve been waiting on for a few weeks,” Braithwaite said. “That’s been delayed because of the snow.”

Still, even with the demands this winter has placed on the DPW, they’ve largely been able to keep up with the weather, even during last week’s snowstorm.

“This storm followed the predictions so that made it helpful,” Braithwaite said. “It pretty much came when it said it was going to come and then the amount was pretty much what was predicted.”

About the Author

Alex Holt
Alex Holt is a first-year graduate student in the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and a recent graduate of Ithaca College. When not at school, he lives in Baltimore, Maryland and he hopes to eventually pursue a career in sports journalism.