By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The late December snowfall - with the heaviest accumulation from a single storm in several years - caused some complaints about how the streets in Havre were cleared, Mayor Bob Rice said Wednesday.
Rice, during a quarterly meeting with the Montana Department of Transportation, said people complained that the city and state were piling snow on the sides of streets, blocking parking and access to sidewalks. He said he received more complaints about that than any other issue since he took office in 2001.
"It would be better if we could try something else," Rice said, adding that it might work better if the snow was pushed to the middle of the street, leaving intersections clear, until the snow could be picked up.
MDT and the city initially pushed the snow to the sides of the streets they worked on. A storm that began Dec. 26, plus other smaller storms in the following week, dropped accumulations of a foot or more of snow in Havre.
After people started complaining, Rice said, Havre crews plowed the snow to the middle of the street until they could get back a few days later to remove the snow.
MDT is responsible for maintaining First Street and Fifth and 14th avenues in Havre. The city clears other downtown streets and main traffic routes in the city.
Mick Johnson, administrator of MDT's Great Falls District, said in an interview Wednesday that decisions about how to remove snow are made on a case-by-case basis, with the method depending on the severity of the storm.
"The department is going to maintain traffic through town," he said. "If that means pile it to the side, we'll pile it to the side."
Jim Brenna, assistant manager of Havre Laundry and Dry Cleaning on First Street, said his business uses its own equipment to remove snow and provide access for customers. He said he wishes MDT would find an alternative to piling snow on the sides of streets.
"I do understand them having to plow the streets for sure," he said. "It would be nice if there was a solution."
If Havre Laundry didn't remove the piled-up snow, customers couldn't park, he said.
"We would have been without business, without customers," he said.
Russ Luke, owner of Pizza Pro on First Street, said he didn't think the piled-up snow hurt his business. He just cleared a path through it. He didn't notice any drop in customers, he said.
Rice said today that pushing the snow to the middle of the street seems like a better solution.
Most of the complaints he received were about people having a hard time climbing over the pile of snow to get to the sidewalk, and having to park farther out on the street because of the snow in the parking lane. The complaints were coming from both business owners and people trying to park and get to buildings on First Street and Fifth Avenue, he said.
Pushing the snow in the middle of the street creates two-lane traffic, but it makes it much easier to park and get to places downtown. It also makes it easier for crews to remove the snow, he said.
Rice said city crews Sunday hauled away at least 28 truckloads of snow on First Street from Fifth to Third avenues on First Street.
Johnson said pushing snow to the middle of the street also causes problems. People can't turn left in the middle of a block, and if the snow starts to melt the water will run through the traffic lanes, he said.
The primary responsibility of MDT after a snowstorm is to get all of the roads it maintains open and keep them open, he said, adding that removing the snow afterward is a secondary concern.
The department had to delay coming back to remove the snow because of problems on highways outside of town, he said. A main problem was a thick layer of ice and snow on U.S. Highway 2 from Havre to Fort Belknap and farther east that had to be cleared and kept off.
Dave Hand, maintenance chief in MDT's Havre Area office, said crews were out clearing Havre streets from the start of the snowfall on Dec. 26, and began removing the snow Monday.
He said he expects the crews to finish removing the last of the piled snow from Fifth Avenue today.
Johnson said in the interview that MDT received more calls thanking it for clearing the street than it did complaining about the snow. He said if people have problems with the way snow is cleared from state-maintained streets in Havre, they should call MDT.
Rice said at Wednesday's meeting that with major construction on First Street planned for 2006, it's important for MDT to have good public relations with Havre residents.
If people are unhappy about snow removal now, they could be even more unhappy when construction causes detours and delays, he said.
"The less bugaboos now the better," Rice said.