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Extending sidewalk snowplowing comes at a cost

Plowing all sidewalks in Greater Sudbury would add $420,000 annually to the winter maintenance budget, in addition to $900,000 in new equipment costs.
The city's sidewalk plowing routes haven't changed since amalgamation, members of the operations committee were told this week. The issue has led to several complaints from residents this winter, especially since two major snowfalls left city crews struggling to catch up to clearing sidewalks in some areas. File photo.
Plowing all sidewalks in Greater Sudbury would add $420,000 annually to the winter maintenance budget, in addition to $900,000 in new equipment costs.

Members of the operations committee were told Monday that 325 of the city's 425 kilometres of sidewalks are plowed and sanded in winter, within 24 hours after a minimum of eight centimetres of snow falls.

There are 19 snowplow routes, and 19 pieces of specialized snowplow equipment. David Shelsted, the city's director of roads, said more sidewalks have been added since 2007, a result of new subdivisions and a capital building program.

“We have added 28.5 km of new sidewalks,” Shelsted said.

They're plowed because they have been added to existing sidewalk routes. But much of the unplowed sidewalks are the wrong size for the city's plows, and to clear them, as well, would require buying new equipment and adding six new routes.

“In some instances, two separate sidewalk routes may be required within the same community because it involves maintenance of both 1.2-metre and 1.5-metre-wide sidewalks (i.e. Coniston, Copper Cliff, Garson and Lively),” the report says.

Plowing sidewalks on both sides of the street would also make already narrow winter streets even more narrow, the report said.

The report will go as an added budget option to the finance committee, for a final decision on whether to expand sidewalk plowing.

Ward 2 Coun. Terry Kett said the cost of more snowplowing is a reality check for many people in the city.

“Some reality is starting to pop in my head,” Kett said. “You just can't snap your fingers and make all of this happen.”

Before they spend any money, however, Kett said the long-awaited sidewalk policy should be completed first. But with the city budget hike already pegged at an unpalatable 4.9 per cent, Kett said adding service will be tough.

“That's a pretty big (tax increase) and council won't let that number stay that way.”

But Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau wondered when the city's automated vehicle locator (AVL) system will be operational on city plows. The AVL system will allow them to track where the plows actually go, how long it takes to complete a route and whether there are areas to improve. But first the system has to be installed.

“I've been telling people for years about this great AVL system, and I've yet to see it happen,” he said. “I'm disappointed with the time it's taken.”

For example, Barbeau said there's a four-kilometre stretch of sidewalk that gets plowed too much, while other areas languish.

“It was being done four freakin' times in an eight-hour snowfall,” Barbeau said. “That should not happen.”

And to accommodate more sidewalk plowing, Barbeau said an overall reduction of service level may help reduce costs.

“Is this too much of a Cadillac? Maybe it should be a 12-hour standard so we can get more done.”

A report on the new sidewalk policy should be ready by January, staff said. And the AVL system is currently being tested on the plows, a process that should be complete in the coming months.

Darren MacDonald

About the Author: Darren MacDonald

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