BELLEVILLE — To plow or not to plow? That is the question some city residents are asking after the massive snowstorm Jan. 5 that pummeled the region, leaving 14.3 inches of snow and clogged streets days after the last snowflake fell.
Specifically, residents along Indiana and Pennsylvania avenues are petitioning the city to turn their streets into snow routes.
"I don't want to go through the nightmare we had," said Mark Bauer, 31, who lives on Indiana Avenue. He said it wasn't until Jan. 9 that the city sent a plow down the street. To make do, Bauer had a friend come through with a small plow.
"I don't want to call my friend every time it snows. He was doing me a favor," Bauer said. "I want the city to do it."
City officials, however, said it was impossible to plow the street -- cars were parked on both sides of the road making it impossible for a snow plow to get through. From curb-to-curb, Indiana Avenue between East B and East A streets, measures about 23-feet-10-inches.
Fixing that is one of the issues the petition addresses in an effort to get plows to the area sooner.
Mayor Mark Eckert formed a staff committee to evaluate the city's current snow routes and to consider adding streets, such as Indiana and Pennsylvania avenues, to the list. No vehicles can park on designated snow routes if there is 2 inches or more of snow or ice accumulation until the street has been cleared. Violators could be ticketed $50 and have their vehicle towed.
The committee includes Police Lt. Col. Jim Spargur, soon-to-be Deputy Fire Chief Arthur "Bud" Jacobs Jr., Director of Streets Chuck Schaeffer and City Engineer Tim Gregowicz. It will make recommendations to the Traffic Committee. The full City Council must approve any Traffic Committee decision.
"I don't want to add so many snow routes to the point that we can't manage them during a storm," Eckert said.
Until then, Eckert says residents along streets can work together to ensure drivers only park on one side of the street when a storm is coming.
Eckert extended a sincere thank you to residents for their acts of kindness to friends and strangers alike -- from helping neighbors shovel sidewalks to pushing cars stuck in snow.
"There are an enormous amount of people who are just good people, who pitch in," Eckert said. "Can we be everything to all people? No. But I can assure you: Everyone's working hard and we're trying our best."
However, Jim Fetters, 58, a Pennsylvvania Avenue resident, said he would like the city's help in getting residents to park all on one side for the plow to get through, and then moving their vehicles to the other side for when the plow comes through again.
His street wasn't plowed until about 5 p.m. Jan. 9 after he walked door-to-door to get residents to move their cars off the block.
"I saw them go all around us: Douglas, A Street, B Street and East Main," Fetters said. "We're right in the middle of all that, and they wouldn't plow our street because there's cars parked on both sides and the plows can't get through."
He did say the neighbors he talked to are happy to move their cars to have the street plowed and he plans to contact more residents this weekend to sign the petition for a snow route.
Gregowicz said it is a good idea to evaluate the city's snow routes and see if other streets fit into the picture.
"I think the committee was formed so this isn't just a hodgepodge, so this makes sense," Gregowicz said. "We don't want to do two streets here and two streets there. I think we want to look at this as a whole."
Gregowicz said the staff committee will study average daily traffic counts on city streets to determine which warrant becoming a snow route. Currently, major thoroughfares such as 17th Street, Main Street and Illinois 159 are plowed first so first responders can get around.
But there are some major city roadways that aren't designated snow routes.
Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle said he is surprised that 37th Street/Royal Heights Road between Illinois 161 and West Main Street isn't already a snow route.
"When I looked at all the neighborhoods and streets in my ward and what funnels into North 37th Street, to me it seems like a great place to have a snow route because there's no parking on North 37th Street anyway," Randle said.
The street also gives access to North Belt West and part of the city's work force, the Street Department, is off Royal Heights Road.
Alderwoman-At-Large Lillian Schneider, however, said residents on North Indiana and North Pennsylvania shouldn't have to wait until February for the aldermanic Traffic Committee to make a decision.
"What good is it going to be?" Schneider said. "Winter will be over. If we get another big snow, they won't get their streets plowed -- again."
Other aldermen say the issue should be addressed but isn't a major deal. Belleville hadn't received this much snow in 30 years.
Eckert said the city's current policies work for typical winter storms that cover the region with just a few inches of snow.
Ward 8 Alderman Joe Orlet, chairman of the Traffic Committee, said it is more important for residents to remember to park their cars off the street during storms so plows can get through.
"Quite frankly how many people do you know who don't want their street to be on a snow route?" Orlet said. "Every person thinks their street is important enough to be on a snow route."
If every street was designated a snow route, then the city won't be able to clear all of them and residents would still have the same problem, Orlet said.
The priority for road crews are streets near hospitals and fire, police and ambulance services and areas with heavy traffic.
"We'd all like things to be perfect but when you get 15 inches of snow, we're not Chicago and we're not Minneapolis," Randle said. "We're just not equipped to deal with that much snow."
Going over budget
Between Jan. 4 and Jan. 10, the city spent more than $181,000 to treat and clear roads, Eckert said. The number includes $149,525 for salt and about $32,212 in overtime for 18 employees and does not include the cost of towing four trucks that slid into ditches and fixing four trucks with frozen hydraulic lines because of subzero temperatures.
"It's only the second half of January and we've already blown our winter budget for salt and overtime," Eckert said.
For snow storms, the city's plows and trucks go on nine different routes and employees do 12-hour shifts around the clock.
Aside from clearing streets, workers also make sure emergency vehicles can get in and out of city parking lots.
Crews also had to remember to take breaks because of the dangerous temperatures, Eckert said. At times, the wind chill was 30 below.
The city is due to replace some older equipment.
Eckert said he will recommend buying in the 2014-15 fiscal year a snow plow unit, an estimated $180,000, and two pickup trucks with blades, which are about $35,000 each.
The large tandem truck with a plow can be used to haul dirt in the summer, Eckert said.
But, if the severe winters continue to frost the city, more staff and equipment would be needed. Eckert noted the city has only 15 workers in both the Street and Sanitation departments, a total loss of 10 people since 2004.
Here are the snow routes designated by ordinance in Belleville:
*North 17th Street from West Main Street to H Street
*North 17th Street from West Main Street to 28th Street
* South 17th Street from West Main Street to Illinois 13
*North 28th Street from West Main Street to North 17th Street
*North 48th Street from West Main Street to West Park Drive
* East A Street from Illinois 159 to Oak Street
* West A Street from Illinois 159 to West Main Street
* Centreville Avenue from Illinois 13 to West Washington Street
* Dapron Road from North 57th Street to West Park Drive
* North Douglas Avenue from Illinois 159 to East Main Street
* Forest Avenue from East Washington Street to East Main Street
* Harrison Street from Illinois 159 to South Third Street
* Lebanon Avenue from Illinois 159 to Old Collinsville Road
* East Lincoln Street from Illinois 159 to Mascoutah Avenue
* East Main Street from Illinois 159 to Illinois 161
* West Main Street from Illinois 159 to Illinois 157
* Mascoutah Avenue from East Main Street to McClintock Avenue
* McClintock Avenue from Mascoutah Avenue to Carlyle Avenue
* Memorial Drive from East Park Drive to Royal Heights Road
* Oak Street from East A Street to East Main Street
* East Park Drive from West Park Drive to Memorial Drive
* West Park Drive from North 48th Street to East Park Drive
* Illinois 159 from Illinois 13 to J Street
* East Washington Street from Illinois 159 to Forest Avenue
* West Washington Street from Illinois 159 to West Main Street