Champaign City Council discusses clearing snow sooner from streets, sidewalks

By Angelica Lavito

The Champaign City Council discussed changes to its snow and ice control plan at Tuesday’s study session after the city faced one of its harshest winters on record this past year.

Representatives from the Public Works Department presented their proposed changes to the council, which they think will provide better customer service and align current practices with the plan, according to the study session report.

“I think the whole basis for any of the changes we’re suggesting here is customer service,” said Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt. “Winter can be kind of stressful, and if there’s something we can do to make it a little less stressful, we’d like to do that.”

Two new additions will be made to the snow and ice plan this winter: City alleys will be cleared when four or more inches of snow have fallen and snow will be removed from sidewalks and parking lots downtown when the forecast indicates the snow will not melt and poses a problem to businesses in the area.

Among the changes being made is the shortening of snow removal times — city parking lots will be cleared within 12 hours after a storm instead of the current 48 hours. For storms that drop more than two inches of snow, sidewalks on city property will be cleared within 12 hours instead of 24 hours. 

Beginning in the 2015-2016 season, cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets will be cleared within 24 hours, as opposed to the current 36 hours, in snowfall events that accumulate two or more inches of snow.

“As Dennis mentioned when he spoke about customer service, a lot of these are essentially things that we already do,” said Ernesto Salinas, operations divisions manager. “We’re essentially trying to get our formal plans to match up with our current practices.”

For storms that produce less than two inches of snow, secondary routes, cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets will be cleared in conjunction with regular or overtime shifts starting next year. Before the change, these streets would be cleared during regular work shifts when the shifts were within 24 hours or on an overtime basis. 

The plan will also eliminate emergency snow routes, which include University Street, Randolph Streets, State Street and parts of Church Street, in 2015. Emergency snow routes require vehicles parked on the streets to move or else the city will tow them without any cost to owners.

“We would remove the signage and there would be no more emergency snow routes in the City of Champaign,” Salinas said. “At this point in time, we will take a closer look at it this winter — that’s why we’re delaying it a year — but we think from our evaluations that it really isn’t a benefit.”

The changes for the 2014-2015 season will have no impact on the budget because they reflect what Public Works is already doing, according to the study session report. 

Shortening the time required to clear roads from large-scale weather events will require more funds, but the elimination of emergency snow routes could save the city money. These changes will not be budgeted because they are dependent on large-scale winter weather events that are hard to predict and thus account for in the budget. 

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]