Snow and Ice Removal

The substantial snow and ice event that occurred over the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday is not common for the Front Range. The volume of snow and moisture content were high for this time of year and the temperature dropped substantially as the snow accumulated. The timing of the snowfall also contributed to challenges in this storm as traffic packing the snow throughout peak hours caused ongoing compaction. The trends that were seen in Littleton were similar across the Front Range. The effects of this storm created a bonding effect to the asphalt. The city hasn’t had a storm with these conditions in about a decade. One question that comes up in a storm scenario like this is “why can’t the city break up the compacted ice with a snow plow?” Plows do not have the capability of breaking the bonds with the asphalt, generally a motor grader is needed, and the City of Littleton owns only one. More importantly this damages the underlying asphalt leading to tens of thousands of dollars of future repair compromising the long-term viability of the roadway surface. In Colorado snow removal experts also rely on Mother Nature. The warmup is a key component of snow operations in the Front Range. This also is a core tenant in why cities generally do not plow residential streets unless volumes exceed six to eight inches. In this storm, Public Works leadership decided not to tackle neighborhood street plowing on Thanksgiving Day as this is one of the days when on-street parking is at its highest across neighborhoods. Plowing these streets would have actually exacerbated the situation by plowing in thousands of vehicles, creating difficulty getting over large frozen snow ridges.

The city makes this determination in each and every storm based on conditions, predicted temperature, and operational limitations. With every Littleton snow event, the Public Works Department develops a one page summary that outlines hours of operations, manpower and equipment utilization, materials employed, and notes of key operational issues. They compile these over the course of each snow season to create a final annual operational overview. The snow removal season does not directly align with budget years so the department tracks costs and operations across the winter. The public works team collaborates with the Littleton Police Department (LPD) to begin operations. The department runs five to seven trucks in each event depending on weather conditions, manpower availability, and other factors. The team switches to 12 hour-shifts for team members and supervisors. The joint work with LPD is a partnership allowing as many eyes on the ground as possible to successfully judge conditions across the city. The city also utilizes grounds personnel to address city facilities, and some bridge and sidewalk areas. The Trailmark neighborhood is far from the city’s operational core so it is contracted to a third-party firm. This is the only area of the city where this occurs. This storm cost $35,000 which is not the most expensive storm of the year. An early storm had less accumulation but required more material due to ice conditions. Through the snow and ice season thus far Littleton has spent $116,778.

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