Improving Omaha’s plowing efforts during snowy commutes and replacing an aging snowplow fleet were the focus of City Council members’ questions to public works officials Tuesday.
Mayor Jean Stothert said efforts to fix plowing during commutes are already underway, and she said she wants to see a plan before the city starts making changes.
But officials agree that Omahans expect better snow removal than they’re getting.
“The city’s snow removal has not been up to many of our constituents’ opinion,” said Councilman Chris Jerram.
Councilman Garry Gernandt added that he’s received a “boatload” of complaints.
Both Stothert and the council have said they want to review the city’s snow removal standards amid a winter full of escalating complaints from Omahans about plowing.
Those complaints reached a peak after a storm last week that closed West Dodge Road for about an hour.
The council also voted 7-0 to approve the purchase of six new plows Tuesday, which would likely replace old plows rather than add new vehicles to the fleet.
Jerram, the chairman of the public works committee, said he would like to see the city’s snow removal plan include guidelines for how fast snow should be cleared from roads during busy times of day.
The guidelines now say Omaha roads should be in good enough condition that drivers can go the speed limit within six hours after the snow. But those standards don’t address time of day.
Jerram also said he’d like to see the city publish GPS tracking data of snow plows on the Public Works Department’s website.
The councilman suggested the city needs to find a way to replace snow plows faster.
Even with seven plows bought last year and the six plows approved Tuesday, 22 out of more than 100 plows are older than 12 years. Fleet manager Mark McCoy said that’s about the time when plows start getting too old.
He said an older plow is more likely to go out of service during a snowstorm and need to be repaired.
He said fleet maintenance employees, which serve almost all city vehicles, have been working around-the-clock for two weeks.
Council members tasked public works employees with coming up with proposals for improved service.
City Engineer Todd Pfitzer noted that improvements in service are likely to come with increases in cost. He said he’d provide council members with options and related expenses.
Stothert, in an interview, said that when she proposed previous city budgets, neither council members nor the Public Works director suggested that the city needs more plows.
She said she’s open to increasing funding for snow removal, but she’d like to see a plan rather than dipping into reserves as Jerram suggested.
Stothert said her administration is already exploring ways to improve rush hour snow removal.
“We’ve already started that,” she said. “That’s not rocket science.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1084, firstname.lastname@example.org