City and county both prioritize roads and set snow depth thresholds regarding plowing

JASON CHANEY - Snow storms can be tough to keep up with during the daytime.

When the winter storms hit, people depend on city and county crews to keep the roads as clear as possible for day-to-day travel.

But to keep traffic flowing safely as the snow mounts, personnel with the City of Prineville's public works department and the Crook County Road Department have to prioritize roads and work all hours of the day and night.

Such priorities for the City of Prineville start with what they call "lifeline routes," which include those taken by fire, police and EMS vehicles responding to emergencies.

"Our job is to make the streets as safe and accessible for emergency services as possible," says City Street Supervisor Scott Smith.

These top priority streets include Loper Avenue, Oregon Street, Hudspeth Road, North and South Main Street, Elm Street, Combs Flat Road and Southeast Fifth Street next to St. Charles Prineville.

Smith said that during snowstorms like the two that have occurred during the past month, it takes about three hours to plow those streets one time, if everything goes smoothly. Such efforts make use of every piece of snow removal equipment the city owns, including two road graders, two sander trucks, three backhoes, one dump truck and one loader. In addition, every member of public works is expected to pitch in as are the city engineer and assistant city engineer, for a workforce of 13.

City crews then move on to their second priority list of streets, which serve as the main access roads for local schools. They include Knowledge Street, Fairgrounds Road, Fairview Street, Southeast Second Street and Lynn Boulevard. Plowing those roads take another four hours at best.

From there, crews work to uncover arterial and collector streets such as Northwest Ninth Street, and the downtown core roads as well as Lamonta Road, Peters Road and the streets accessing the Baldwin and Tom McCall industrial parks.

The city has set a threshold of 5 inches of new snowfall before they begin plowing. Up until that point, they sand the roads, using the same road priority established for plowing.

Smith said the 5-inch threshold is based upon standard curb height and a driver's ability to see the edge of the roads and the sidewalks.

"A standard, brand-new curb has 6 inches of concrete sticking up from the asphalt," he explained. "Once you lose that visual aid, then you are starting to cause damage, you are starting to get up on sidewalks. Once it gets up to 5 to 6 inches, people lose any type of visual aid to park along the curb."

Because these priority streets take multiple hours to clear and sometimes require additional passes to remove additional snow, it can take a long time for crews to get to residential roads. As a result, the city has faced complaints from residents.

Chief among those complaints is that the city plowing efforts throw a berm of snow back in front of driveways that occupants have recently shoveled clear, and Smith understands the frustration. He acknowledges that the city has done a poor job early on of communicating with the public regarding how they operate regarding snow removal and how they can avoid getting their driveway blocked.

"By the time we get to (arterials and collectors) and out into residential areas, people have already cleaned their driveways and we haven't even plowed," Smith said. "Then, we come and plow it back in and that doesn't make people very happy."

Smith recommends during major snowstorms that if people don't have to leave their home that they hold off on shoveling their entire driveway until city crews can plow their road. He added that when they send plows out to residential areas, they try to follow them with backhoes and clear snow from in front of as many driveways as possible.

"Don't hesitate to call City Hall and tell them if your driveway got plowed in," Smith added. "We try to get somebody down there within the hour."

The Crook County Road Department is not faced with the same challenges when it comes to residential streets, but nearly all of their resources during the winter are committed to continual snow removal.

Road Master Bob O'Neal said that they maintain all of the county roads outside the city limits and do not plow or sand residential neighborhoods — they are not legally allowed to — nor state highways, which are maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Consequently, the Road Department continually works to keep Juniper Canyon Road clear — a road that O'Neal jokingly calls his nemesis during the winter months.

"I have one guy assigned to Juniper Canyon and that is all he does," he remarked.

Other county-maintained roads include Davis Loop, Lamonta Road outside the city limits, Lone Pine Road and Barnes Butte Road.

While the county has an official 6-inch threshold before they are required to plow roads, O'Neal said they will often start plowing before snow gets that deep in order to keep up with the snowfall.

The top priority for the road department is to make sure that the routes used for attending school get cleared first and then deal with other remaining roads thereafter.

"If there is snow on the ground, we are going to be out plowing," O'Neal said. "We want school buses to stay safe, and we want everybody to get to work safe."

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