The city of Madison has released a new report on snowplowing (PDF). It offers some expensive remedies like hiring more staff and buying better equipment, but also suggests smaller things the city can do.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz called for the report in the wake of heavy criticism after a snowstorm on Dec. 8, 2009, which dumped 18 inches on the ground in two days.
The most expensive recommendation is to hire 20 more street division employees over the next three years. Nobody thinks that idea - which would cost an estimated $1 million a year - has much of a chance.
"It's a little bit unrealistic to believe we're going to get an additional 20 street staff in the next three years," says Al Schumacher, Madison streets superintendent. "But we'll take whatever extra bodies we can get."
Ald. Chris Schmidt, who worked on the report, says the streets department staff has been too thin in recent years, as demands grow. Although he expects "fights" over funding, the needs are such that "even just to provide the same services next year, we have to raise taxes."
Fortunately, Schmidt says, some steps can be taken without incurring major costs. The report recommends installing pavement temperature sensors, at a cost of just $26,000, to help determine when to spread salt and pre-wetting agents.
And the report, which will likely go to the Common Council this summer, suggests that many problems can be assuaged through better communications. Schmidt says the relatively mild winters in the past 20 years have led to an unrealistic expectation "that we clear the roads right away. We clear them as quick as we can, but sometimes we can't beat Mother Nature."
Schumacher fears changes wrought by global warming may make winter seasons more difficult: "We may have warmer conditions overall, but we're going to be getting some bigger storms."