Portland could get salty this winter
People shouting from the rooftops for the city of Portland to use salt on the roads will get their wish, should the region see snow like last year.
In a new plan announced Tuesday by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Mayor Ted Wheeler, they pledged improvements since last year's fiasco — when roads were impassable due to a shortage of plow trucks to clear them and salt to help melt it.
"First off, we will be deploying salt, if conditions warrant," said Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the bureau. "We tested salt successfully on a limited basis earlier this year, and we want to do so more widely and more consistently this year."
Now they've amassed 300 tons of road salt, a brown substance that looks like dirt.
Last winter, drivers were stuck on freeways for hours, businesses were closed for days on end, and at least four homeless people died from the harsh weather conditions.
(The Tuesday press conference only addressed transportation measures — an announcement about homeless shelters is planned at a later date. Michael Cox, mayor's office spokesman, said they'll be working more closely with other jurisdictions as well as are making a concentrated effort to get volunteers for emergency shelters.)
"We've added more crews, more equipment, and more trucks covering our routes. We're working with local school districts, TriMet and the central business district to ensure routes are prioritized in major snow and ice events," Saltzman said.
Officials say individual Portlanders also need to be more prepared and take more responsibility.
"Most of us are unprepared for severe winter weather events," said Wheeler, discussing lessons learned from winter 2016-2017. "One of the focuses this year is to help inform Portland residents of the steps that all of us can take to get ready for winter storms."
He added, "Don't wait until a snowstorm hits, start preparing now."
City officials had a table laid out with items people should consider keeping on hand in their vehicle in case of severe winter weather, including tire chains, a requirement for travelers on West Burnside and Sam Jackson Park Road when conditions warrant it. Wheeler also said people should remember to shovel their own sidewalks, and help neighbors who may not have that ability.
The city has purchased new plow blades and salt spreaders to boost snow- and ice-clearing capacity, employed more drivers and, through an agreement with the Portland Water Bureau, more trucks. The city now has 25 twelve-yard trucks with plows; 21 six-yard trucks with plows; and ten 1.5-yard trucks with plows. There are 58 sand spreaders, seven anti-icing trucks and six salt treatment trucks.
The Bureau of Transportation received $30,000 in general fund dollars to fund some of these new services and $300,000 for contingencies. That's significantly lower than its original request for $1.2 million.
PBOT also has an agreement "with Seattle Department of Transportation to bring in more fleets of snow plows, as needed.
The city plans to release an interactive map to help folks plan a route to work or school based on snowplow activity and alerts.
Weather experts foresee similar patterns as last year, predicting a cooler than usual winter. Portland meteorologist Kyle Dittmer predicted five snow events for the region starting in December, at the 25th annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference last week.
Experts have also warned that because of climate change, the United States could see more extreme weather events.
Of course, Mother Nature can always take her own route, going against predictions.
Reporter, Portland Tribune
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