'It challenged us': Cities struggle to clear streets

News-DemocratJanuary 8, 2014 

Three days after a massive storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the region, some communities appeared to have a handle on clearing main thoroughfares and side streets, while others were struggling to finish the job.

While some side streets in O'Fallon, for example, were plowed on Monday, many neighborhood streets in Belleville were snow-covered Wednesday morning. Shiloh appeared to have a good handle on its streets and roads, while Edwardsville schools were canceled for a fourth straight day Thursday due to the "poor" condition of side streets.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert called the storm "unique" when 14.3 inches of snow fell in a 24-hour period.

"This is a 30-year event," he said, mentioning that crews and equipment in Belleville are used to plowing and treating roads with 2-3 inches of snow, not a foot or more.

"It challenged us," he said.

Sanitation Department workers used shovels and helped repair snow plows during Monday and Tuesday when there was too much snow to collect the trash, Eckert said. Also, the Parks Department workers focused on keeping police and fire lots clear so those workers could respond to emergencies. And extra blades were put on pickup trucks to have more plows available.

"Everybody is pitching in," he said.

Even with that extra help, it took twice as long to battle the massive amount of snow, Eckert said.

"Everybody's got their jobs to do, and they've all done a great job. They've just all had bigger challenges," he said.

Plows were focusing on side streets Wednesday. Some of those roads and subdivisions had such compact snow that they needed to wait for some thawing, Eckert said.

Eckert said he hopes to see "significant improvement" by Thursday.

Eckert said he knows residents are concerned about streets: "Some people are extremely understanding and others are extremely nervous and anxious."

Katie Gilroy, who lives in Meadowdale Heights, said a Belleville plow spent just minutes clearing her street and left large piles of snow blocking driveways.

"My neighbors and I had to dig ourselves -- and each other --out, and in some instances our task was made worse by the plow's efforts. I'm fortunate that my spouse and I are young and healthy, but this is downright dangerous for older residents," Gilroy said.

"Would the city subsidize a snow plow attachment for a volunteer's truck, so we can do a thorough job ourselves? Will they hire backup plow operators to be on call for extreme weather conditions, so the current staff isn't so overburdened and rushed? It seems far more likely that we'll be left on our own to truly care for our neighborhood."

Some complained that three days after the storm, streets downtown such as Church and Charles streets looked as though a plow had not even been down them. But other said they thought Belleville workers did well battling the storm.

"Considering the conditions and the substances that the crews have to work with, I think they did a very good job," Kevin A. Wagner said on the News-Democrat's Facebook page. "Yes, the roads were snow-packed, but when the salt won't work in subzero temps, they did the best with what they had to work with."

Devin Kaemmerer was not happy with the condition of roads where he lives: "Three days after the storm and my street, 44th Street, is still snow covered. A plow hasn't been down my street since halfway through the storm on Sunday. This is completely unacceptable!"

Public school officials in Belleville said schools had to close again Wednesday due to the road conditions; by late in the day, no decision had been made on whether they would be closed again Thursday.

Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the biggest challenge for the district is the condition of side streets, which would impact the ability for school busses to access bus stops.

"There are not enough safe accesses for students who have to walk," he added. "We thought kids would be walking in the streets, and we didn't want that."

The side streets also were a concern for Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier.

"With the side roads and the bus routes, we just didn't think it was safe to put the busses out," he said.

Dosier said district officials were concerned about student drivers traveling the side streets as well.

Both Dosier and Klosterman said they thought the city street crews have done a good job in the last several days.

"I think they did a pretty good job given the amount of snow and the cold weather," Dosier said. "It was just a very bad storm. I can't complain at all about the work they have done. The cold temperatures created so many problems."

Temperatures on Monday and Tuesday fell below zero across the region.

"In the city's defense, we haven't seen this kind of snow and temperatures in 20 or 30 years," Klosterman said. "We know they are doing the best job they can."

Klosterman said school facilities are ready to accommodate students with snow removed from sidewalks and parking lots. "Our guys have been working really hard the last couple of days," he said.

District 201 is working to remove snow from Belleville East and West, according to Dosier. "We are still having problems moving the big piles of snow," he said.

While major thoroughfares such as U.S. Highway 50 and Green Mount Road were snow-free on Wednesday, most school districts in the region remained closed Wednesday due to side streets that were deemed unsafe for bus travel.

East St. Louis School District 189 spokeswoman Kim Roberson said the subzero temperatures Sunday and Monday compromised the fire suppression sprinkler systems at East St. Louis Senior High School, the East St. Louis Ninth Grade Center and James Avant Elementary School in Washington Park.

"Sprinkler systems in all buildings must be fully functional for the safety of staff and students prior to resuming classes," she said. "Water damage from compromised building mechanics also occurred at East St. Louis Senior High School, and repairs and clean up efforts are currently underway."

District 189 will be closed again on Thursday.

In Fairview Heights, firefighters responded to a flood in the lobby of the Four Points Sheraton hotel after the building's fire suppression system was activated, possibly because of a frozen pipe or sprinkler head. The damage was restricted to the common area and none of the hotel guests were evacuated.

Bitterly cold temperatures moved out of the area Wednesday, when the high reached 32, allowing salt to help melt the snow and ice on roadways.

In Swansea, traffic on Illinois 159 in Swansea was no longer restricted by Wednesday midday near the village government building.

Swansea Police Chief Mike Arnold said the water main that burst Tuesday has been repaired and the roadway is fully open.

A main broke due to extremely cold temperatures Tuesday.

Arnold estimated that there were 6-8 inches across the five lane highway at one point. He said the water didn't have any place to go because sewer drains were clogged with ice and snow.

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