Sunday, December 9, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
During a regular board meeting on Dec. 4, Maywood Public Works Director John West addressed some complaints regarding snow-plowing that residents and non-residents alike fielded after last month’s blizzard dumped at least four inches of snow on the village.
People complained of snow piled up in front of their driveways, streets that they felt were not properly salted and sidewalks with entry points that were blocked by mounds of snow.
West said that special circumstances, including the facts that crews needed to quickly retrofit equipment, that the storm touched down the Monday after Thanksgiving and that the department lacks sufficient manpower contributed to some of the challenges his department experienced.
“I would appreciate if [village workers] would not leave the snow that they’ve collected from the street, in front of the driveways,” said Maywood resident Loretta Robinson. “All the driveways have snow piled up in them, because they have failed to clean in front of driveways.”
One woman, from nearby Oak Park, said that her wheelchair-bound son was unable to get his haircut at a barber located near 5th Avenue and Main Street, because mounds of snow had blocked off access to an area sidewalk.
“Imagine being on a sidewalk only to get to the other end and realize you can’t get back out,” she said. “You see people riding in their wheelchairs on the street and you wonder why.”
Trustee Antonio Sanchez, who placed the snow-plowing issue on the night’s agenda, said that he had fielded “a ton of phone calls” about street plowing. Sanchez said that the most common complaint among people, particularly residents of the village’s north side, were the unsalted roads.
West said that the salting equipment on trucks is typically located “either far right or far left of the truck,” which means that the center of streets don’t receive as much salt as the peripheries. West added that the presence of cars only complicates matters.
Addressing the Oak Park woman’s complaints, West said that “sidewalks are the last thing we do,” because of the department’s insufficient manpower. Workers, he said, usually focus on clearing the village’s main streets and side streets.
Second among plowing priorities, he added, are alleys, village-owned properties (such as the police department, village hall and village-owned parking spaces) and the homes of senior citizens who are signed up for the village’s senior snow removal program.
Senior residents can register for the program by calling the village manager’s office and paying a $100 fee. When it snows, village workers clear snow from the sidewalk up to the entrance to their homes. West explained that workers will not, however, clear out driveways or the all of the sidewalks around corner houses.
“We only [clear out] enough space for them to get out [of their homes,” West said, adding that the snow removal program often causes logistical headaches for workers because people can sign up at any time.
The lack of a hard cutoff date for registration “creates multiple problems” that “never stop.” After every snowstorm, he said, “someone signs up and we have to [re-assign workers]” to different zones, throwing whatever schedule had been established for workers to complete houses in the senior snow removal program out of whack.
West said that workers clear sidewalks only after they’ve handled those higher priorities.
“The sidewalks are last, because of manpower,” West said, explaining that the village’s 17 public works employees are represented by two different unions.
Five workers are responsible for high-priority tasks like plowing main streets and alleys while the other 12 workers deal “with everything else.”
West said that the department has only one plowing machine that can “go up and down sidewalks without causing significant damage.” During last month’s storm, he said, that machine was broken, leaving workers to use a larger plow for the sidewalks.
Typically, he said, workers clear sidewalks along Madison, from 1st Avenue to 17th Avenue; and along 5th Avenue, from Lake Street to Quincy Street. They also clear off the sidewalks on highway overpasses.
The Oak Park woman said that when she called West about the blocked sidewalk, he told her that he could not get anyone out to clear the snow immediately.
“I told her that we’d get someone back out, but the workers had already worked,” West said. “We have state rules to [abide by]. We can’t work workers past 16 hours without giving them an eight hour break. At that point, I couldn’t call anybody back in.”
Addressing Robinson’s complaints about her blocked driveway, West said that her home “faces Harrison Street,” which is not plowed by the village, but by Cook County.
Regarding complaints by other residents about snow blocking driveways, West said that “[it’s impossible] for us to not put snow in the driveway.”
He said that last month’s storm “put down four inches of snow, with drift-back.” The storm, West added, started as rain, before turning into a mixture of water and snow as temperatures dropped rapidly, causing the streets to freeze.
The conditions required workers to employ two trucks down each street, “because there was ice underneath,” and to salt each street “heavily.”
West said that the department’s response to the storm was also hampered by timing. The blizzard touched down a few days after Thanksgiving and less than a week after workers had been focusing on leaf pickup.
“We were doing leaves [on the Wednesday before the snow storm], so we had to come in Saturday to quickly connect lots of equipment and it only left us with a few trucks [for snow removal].”
Going forward, West said that his department is well-stocked with about 500 tons of salt for future snow storms. The department is currently waiting on an additional truck to get delivered from an auto body shop, bringing their large plowing capacity to six vehicles, he said.
West said that the board can discuss whether or not to hire an additional worker or to spend more money on additional equipment during the upcoming budget talks next year. VFP
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