Public works leaders field multiple requests for plowing to middle of roads and not the sides

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Snow is removed from a street in downtown Prineville last winter.

The people have spoken and the city is abiding by their wishes.

Public works crews will once again plow snow to the center of most roads in the downtown core after pushing it to the sides of the roads the prior winter.

City Engineer Eric Klann and Streets Superintendent Scott Smith broached the topic of snow removal from local streets at a Prineville City Council meeting in late October. Klann explained that long-term weather forecasts are calling for a winter similar to the significantly snowy one that hit the community a year ago. Three consecutive snowstorms buried roads, forcing city crews to plow each time and pile snow high against the sidewalks.

Klann noted that plowing to the curb last winter was a first after years of plowing snow to the center of the street. While this change alleviated some issues the city has faced in past winters, such as motorist visibility at intersections, it managed to create other challenges, particularly for pedestrians trying to access local businesses.

So going into this winter, Smith and Klann said they are weighing the pros and cons of each method to determine the best fit.

In addition to the safety concerns created by plowing to the center of downtown streets, Klann told the council that piling snow in the middle causes it to pile up more quickly and need removed more frequently. Smith added that center piles create a need to sand roads more often because the snow melts, flows onto the road and freezes.

Klann said it costs the city about $10,000 each time they remove plowed snow from the downtown core, which is comprised of all roads between First and Northeast Fifth streets and Elm and Deer streets.

No decision was made at the October meeting, but Klann and Smith made it clear they were seeking feedback from the council as well as downtown business owners and the public. People didn't hesitate to respond.

"I received quite a few phone calls and quite a few emails – Scott did too – and 99.9 percent of the people said plow to the center," Klann said, adding that the additional expense for removing the snow did not sway their preference. "By far, people are suggesting that it's just the cost of doing business."

Backing up that belief was Bryan Iverson, an owner of two buildings on Northeast Fourth Street who came to voice his support for plowing to the center.

"I strongly support plowing to the middle," he said. "Last year, we know that was an anomaly with the snow we had, but it was a real challenge for pedestrians to even walk anywhere."

Iverson went on point out that plowing to the curbs can result in damage to the sidewalks. Not only will plows fail to the see the curbs and potentially hit them, but businesses often turned to ice-melt to clear the sidewalks, which causes the pavement to deteriorate.

Smith stressed that the decision will not apply to all roads in the downtown core. Because it is a state highway, Third Street is maintained by ODOT, and they have always plowed to the curb. Snow will also get pushed to the curbs on Main Street to keep the center turn lane available to motorists.

"That center turn lane gets used way too much to put snow in the middle," Smith said.

City crews will do the same on Elm and Deer streets, which also feature center turn lanes.

In addition to the downtown plans, public works leaders are considering a new way to let residents know when snow plows will come to their area.

Klann pointed out the wide reach of the Prineville Police Department Facebook page, and said crews might coordinate with the agency to provide social media posts about where plows are going next so people can move vehicles or garbage cans or prepare in other ways.

"We could definitely utilize their help," Klann said. "I am excited to see how well that could work."

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