DeKalb official addresses concerns over unplowed side streets
DeKALB – Fifth Ward resident Alison Matykiewicz got home from work just after 2 p.m. Wednesday, and figured Gayle Avenue would be cleared of snow by that point.
“I just got home thinking everything would be plowed, and it hasn’t even been touched,” Matykiewicz said. “I don’t understand why it takes so long to get to us when all the other streets are completely cleared.”
By the time the flurries ceased, the city got five inches of snow since 7 p.m. Tuesday, on top of Saturday’s half-foot of snowfall, and city officials are clearing up such resident concerns.
Tim Holdeman, the city’s public works director, said Wednesday afternoon that his team worked around the clock to make the roads passable, and the top priority is always the “arterial roads.” Main roads in the city such as Fourth Street, Lincoln Highway, and state Route 23 are prioritized over side streets and residential roads, because those main routes can exceed 5,000 cars per day, according to the city’s snow map.
Holdeman said the freezing rain and resulting ice Tuesday didn’t help matters.
“We had a number of issues that presented us challenges on this snowfall,” Holdeman said.
DeKalb had five inches of snow by the time the storm tapered off around noon Wednesday, according to Gino Izzi of the National Weather Service. City plows arrived to plow Gayle Street around 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Holdeman said the city only operates with one crew operating 15 plows, who have to split up six routes in six areas.
Plows were out at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, and Holdeman said the city put down 400 tons of salt. By the time they finished salting, the snow had arrived, and Holdeman’s crew was out plowing until 10 p.m. Tuesday.
“We only have an A team; we don’t have a B team – it’s them or nothing,” Holdeman said. “So we sent them home at 10 p.m. to get some sleep, and they went back out at 4 a.m. [Wednesday].”
For the DeKalb snow plow crew, the primary focus was getting in front of Wednesday’s storm for the morning rush hour.
“And we accomplished that,” Holdeman said. “I drove the routes this morning, and they were very good. The snow was not so thick that you couldn’t move through the residentials to the arterials.”
DeKalb resident Jonathan Merritt agrees.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Merritt, who lives on Stafford Street. “I kind of expect [to wait for plows]. We are a small side street.”
Temperature drops aren’t helping the situation, either. With Friday’s high expected to be two degrees, plows need to clean up any remaining slush as soon as possible.
“This storm is going to be tricky in particular because it’s going to get real cold, and we don’t want that slush to freeze and create that real ragged ice on the streets,” Holdeman said. “Our plow drivers will continue this operation until it is completed.”
Holdeman said he expected his team to be out until at least 7 p.m. Wednesday in the “clean-up phase” to ensure roads are cleared before the cold comes. The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill watch from Thursday evening through midday Friday. Wind chills are expected to reach 30-below Friday, and a high of two degrees is predicted. Thursday will be comparatively balmy, with a high of 19 – although overnight the low is expected to reach 10-below.
When the DeKalb City Council approved the budget in December, it discontinued a contracted service which had historically removed snow from Central Business District sidewalks and alleys. The city has taken on that responsibility, but it is low-priority compared to the other routes, Holdeman said.
“The Central Business District is a particular challenge because moving snow into piles doesn’t necessarily solve the problem,” he said. “We end up taking up parking spaces, so another part of our operation is to move that snow out of downtown areas.”