The transition to winter weather driving can be frustrating to motorists.
It's equally frustrating for the employees of the Nebraska City Streets Department, especially when they are faced with the unusual start to winter weather that Mother Nature provided during last week's blizzard.
The first blizzard of the season has left Nebraska City residents frustrated and city street crews trying to clean up the mess before another storm arrives.
Several inches of ice, topped by 10 inches of snow, proved a challenge for the seven employees of the Nebraska City Street department.
Nebraska City Street Commissioner Vic Johns, after conferring with the street crews and Mayor Bryan Bequette, called a snow emergency on Sunday morning, which meant there was no parking in downtown Nebraska City until Monday to give crews a chance to clear the emergency snow routes.
These are the city’s snow emergency routes, as designated in the Nebraska City City Code: Central Avenue from Second Street through Sixteenth Street; cross streets from First Avenue to First Corso, from Sixth Street through Tenth Street; First Corso from Sixth Street to Eleventh Street; First Avenue from Fifth Street to Eleventh Street; Fourteenth Street from Fourth Corso to Central Avenue; Fourteenth Corso from South Eleventh Street to Thirteenth Street; and Grundman Boulevard from South Eleventh Street to 1301 Grundman Boulevard.
Crews started working on the city’s streets early Sunday morning and eventually applied 150 tons of salt to the city’s streets, according to Nebraska City Construction and Facilities Manager Marty Stovall.
For comparison purposes, Stovall said city crews use about 30 tons of salt after a typical winter storm.
“It’s like it snowed 3 inches every day from Sunday through Thursday,” said Stovall in explaining the salt usage.
City reserves of salt and sand are down by half, said Street Foreman Lonnie Horstmann, with a replacement delivery of 180 tons of salt expected in two weeks.
Stovall said the street-clearing process begins as soon as snow starts accumulating in the streets.
If the snowfall begins at night, Stovall said that the Nebraska City Police Department or the Otoe County Sheriff’s Office makes Horstmann aware of the need to start clearing streets, especially if the 11th Street viaduct becomes icy.
City Administrator Grayson Path said Street Department employees clear the arterial streets, such as South 11th Street, 4th Corso and Central Avenue, first to ensure public safety vehicles can respond to emergencies.
Once the arterial streets are cleared, street crews transition to their assigned districts within the city limits to clear the streets in a grid pattern, said Horstmann.
The crews clear the main road in each of the six districts first, said Horstmann, in case emergency vehicles are needed in a district.
The street crews use two large front end-loaders, a skid loader, four single-axle dump trucks, a tandem-axle dump truck and three pickup trucks for snow removal, said Horstmann.
Citizens can help the street crews in several ways, said Stovall, including planning ahead and staying off the roads during snowstorms.
Stovall noted that before all-wheel-drive vehicles were readily available, residents used to be unable to get out in wintry weather so they were forced to go home early and stay home until crews had the streets safely cleared.
Stovall and Johns also asked for Nebraska City residents to be sensible and yield to snow-removal equipment while they are driving.
Citizens should also not confront city employees who are driving snow-clearing equipment, which may or may not be able to stop short on icy roads.
“It’s all about community,” said Stovall. “The winter weather didn’t just affecct the Street Department. It affected all of Nebraska City.”
Stovall added that, while citizens may be frustrated, a 10-inch accumulation of snow with ice underneath cannot be cleaned up overnight, and he asked for patience from Nebraska City residents during future winter storms.
Residents can also plan ahead and move their vehicles off the city’s emergency snow routes beforehand, said Stovall.
He added that having the snow emergency routes vehicle-free helps crews clear the streets more quickly.
Finally, residents should have sturdy mailboxes and posts in front of their houses because the city’s snow-removal equipment may hit the posts while the crews clear the streets.
Stovall said that the current city budget does not allow for pretreatment of Nebraska City streets before a winter storm.
“The money for the Street Departmentcomes from state aid,” said Path., who added that the city could do more in terms of storm cleanup if property taxes were increased.
The current city budget calls for $30,000 for the purchase of salt, said Johns, who added that the city also spent about $50,000 last year to construct a salt storage shed.
Looking ahead, Stovall said he may have to approach the City Council for additional money for salt, given the winter weather forecast.
“At this rate, we’re going to need more salt,” he said, adding that he thinks the street crew will have “lots of practice” at snow removal before spring.