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Published: Wednesday, 12/21/2005

Mother Nature gives cold shoulder to area road crews; deep freeze hurts street clearing

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If property owners are expected to clear sidewalks of snow and ice within 24 hours of a storm's ending, why can't the city of Toledo do the same for streets within five days?

Cost is the simple answer, David Welch, the city's commissioner of streets, bridges, and harbor, said yesterday.

And four straight days of a deep freeze have not helped, either.

Toledo hasn't had a temperature above 25 degrees since Friday, and such cold renders salt, which Mr. Welch said is the city's primary ice-melting tool, fairly ineffective.

"Usually, by now, we'd have gotten a break from the cold," the streets commissioner said.

During the 6.2-inch snowfall - occasionally mixed with rain and sleet - that hit Toledo late last week, city crews broke away from plowing main thoroughfares earlier than usual and ensured that a plow had traveled every Toledo street at least once within 48 hours of the storm, Mr. Welch said.

But one plow pass does not a clear street make, nor does the city consider bare pavement on every street to be a practical goal.

By the time plows get to the side streets, there has been enough traffic on them that snow is packed down in the travel lanes. Salting a street after that happens, Mr. Welch said, sometimes serves only to create a layer of ice on top of the snow.

Furthermore, the trucks that work the side streets are smaller vehicles from other city divisions. They are fitted with plows but don't have salt spreaders.

"We don't salt every residential street. Our [truck] routes are designed to provide a clear street within two to three blocks of everyone," Mr. Welch said. "If we were to salt every residential area every time, it would require a lot more manpower and a lot more salt."

Paying for that level of service, the streets commissioner said, would force the city to triple or quadruple its street-clearing assessments.

A key difference between clearing streets and clearing sidewalks, Mr. Welch said, is that sidewalks don't get enough foot traffic to compact the snow as solidly as vehicles do on a roadway.

Complicating matters in the latest storm was that much of the snow in parking areas turned to slush and froze into ruts when temperatures dropped again.

Since last week's initial snow-fighting effort ended, Mr. Welch said, Toledo's street crews have been working exclusively to address icy-condition complaints.

Phyllis Wallace, who made one such complaint about ice in the 1100 block of Norwood Avenue, said a salt truck did come by, but the melt water its work produced only refroze farther down the street because a storm drain was plugged.

"We called the sewer people, and nothing happened," she said. "They need to come and fix the sewer, then somebody needs to come and get rid of the ruts so we can park."

Steve Ivancso, general foreman for street cleaning at the city's division of sewers and drainage, said his office had received no complaints about Norwood but that he would send a crew to the 1100 block this morning.

Suburban side streets have also been slick in recent days, although Jon Eckel, Perrysburg's director of public services, said the primary culprit in his city has been overnight "black ice" from condensation, not frozen hard-pack.

"We got all the snow off our streets. But on the extremely cold evenings, moisture in the air has been freezing on the streets," Mr. Eckel said.

Perrysburg strictly uses salt for de-icing, he said.

Both Mr. Eckel and Mr. Welch said once ice bonds to pavement, the only way to get it off is to melt it.

Street crews throughout the region should be getting a boost from Mother Nature as the week wears on.

According to AccuWeather Inc., a private forecasting firm based in State College, Pa., local temperatures should crest in the upper 20s today, the mid-30s tomorrow, and reach the low 40s on Friday - with rain or snow likely to return for Friday and Saturday.

Many communities require residents and business owners to clear their walks - though a court records check yesterday showed that in Toledo, at least, enforcement is rare: just six citations since January, 2002, and three of those were dismissed. The three who were convicted of the minor misdemeanor were assessed $46 fines.

No court records could be found yesterday of any prosecutions for violations of a Toledo law requiring operators or owners of parking facilities to clear adjacent sidewalks and forbidding them to deposit any snow or ice on the paved public right-of-way. A violation of that law is cited as a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Officials at Toledo-area hospitals said yesterday they've seen modest increases in slip-and-fall injuries during the month, which at 18.9 inches so far is the seventh-snowiest December on record in Toledo.

"St. Vincent, St. Charles, and St. Anne have all seen increases in falls, all pretty much in the last week and for all ages," said Sarah Bednarski, spokesman for Mercy Health Partners, which owns those hospitals. "It's not out of the ordinary, but we've obviously seen an increase."

The situation is much the same at ProMedica Health System's three Toledo-area hospitals. Toledo Hospital and Flower Hospital have each been averaging about 10 fall-related injuries a day in their emergency departments, which is a little more than normal, according to ProMedica spokesman Jenny Goldberg. Bay Park Community Hospital in Oregon is averaging about four a day, which is more typical, she said.

Blade staff writers Luke Shockman and Christina Hall contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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