A Snowy Wednesday Morning With Rockville Public Works
Wednesday snowstorm gave city a chance to test upgrades, improvements to snow removal
It was shortly after 9 a.m. and Trish Powell, a snow emergency operations dispatcher, was nearing the end of a 12-hour shift. Powell’s workday began at 11 p.m. Tuesday. She spent those hours talking with the snow removal drivers on the roads, helping manage where they needed to go next.
“This is probably the biggest test that we've had this year because we really haven't had much snow,” Powell said, as she pointed to a computer monitor displaying a test run of a new snowplow mapping and tracking system the city has yet to formally implement.
“We can tell where the trucks are, we can track their progress, if they’re close to getting done,” Powell said. “We can tell if they missed a street. We can tell if someone needs help.”
Although the so-called snowquester didn’t bring as much snow as forecasters predicted, it was more snow than the area has seen in a while. The storm gave city workers an opportunity to test upgrades to the Gude Maintenance Facility and improvements made to the city’s overall snow removal efforts. Some of those improvements are the mapping system that is in a beta stage, bigger trucks that can carry three times the amount of salt, a new facility that can hold more trucks, and a new salt barn with nearly 2,500 tons of beet juice-laced rock salt.
The city's 2010 capital budget had set aside $4.8 million in construction funding to upgrade the city’s maintenance complex, the Gude Maintenance Facility, which is the second phase of a four-phase project to update the 40-year-old site. Budget references for the project go as far back as 1997, according to city council records.
Then came the 2010 winter storm dubbed “snowmagedon”.
The old fleet services building could not accommodate larger vehicles, and there was more time that vehicles were out of use due to the space restrictions.
“There was a lot of snow and a lot of it was coming down faster than our trucks could plow it,” said Public Works Director Craig Simoneau.
But on Wednesday, things seemed to be working just fine. By late morning, city snow trucks had dispensed nearly 300 tons of salt on the slushy roads.
Liquid salts were sprayed on thoroughfares as early as Monday.
“From where we came from, this is fantastic,” said John Davis, fleet services supervisor, from his office that overlooked a vast garage filled with trucks and machinery.
Operations superintendent Steve Sokol, who over sees the city’s snow removal efforts, said the city replaced old trucks with newer and better ones, including two tandem axel trucks that can carry three times the amount of salt than a regular hauler.
“If you have more salt on the trucks, then they have to make fewer trips back in the yard,” Sokol said. “They stay out on the route longer and, as a result, they can get more work done.”
Back at the Gude Maintenance Facility, department heads assembled for a 10 a.m. meeting, using the latest information they had on weather conditions to determine how to best direct the next 12-hour shift, which would begin in an hour.
They had planned to convene another meeting at 11 p.m.
Then by late afternoon, snow began to taper off. The National Weather Service eventually lifted the winter storm warning that was supposed to continue through Thursday morning—none of this necessarily translates to an early closing time for city workers.
“Snow stopping doesn’t mean roads are clear,” Simoneau said. “Sometimes if it’s coming down hot and heavy, you’ve got to go back around the city one more time.”