The town will be removing snow more often from local sidewalks this winter.
Thanks to changes to the provincial Minimum Maintenance Standards (MMS), which came into effect back in May, the Operations and Facilities division has had to revise its winter maintenance policy.
One change is the requirement to have the sidewalks cleared within 48 hours of a three-inch (7.5-cm) snowfall, manager of Operations and Facilities Travis Rob told the Times.
“Historically, sidewalks for winter maintenance have not been mandated,” he noted.
"Basically you had to show reasonable due diligence.
“This has changed now where—from the time accumulation reaches three inches on the sidewalks—we have 48 hours to address that accumulation [i.e. remove it],” Rob explained.
A second new requirement is that the town must address icy sidewalks within 48 hours of becoming aware of them.
These changes to sidewalk winter maintenance will have the biggest impact to winter operations from a cost standpoint, both manpower and equipment-wise, Rob said.
“We've always focused on the roads first, and the sidewalks and lanes came second,” he remarked.
"Unless we were really behind, we've never run our sidewalk machine during our night shift.
“It takes us about four days to get our sidewalks done in town after a snowfall, well in excess of 48 hours,” Rob added.
“So because of that, we had to hire more staff so that we can run our one sidewalk machine day-shift/night-shift, as well as potentially run both sidewalk machines during the day—depending on manpower and whatever else is going on.”
As well, in the 2019 budget, the Operations and Facilities division will be budgeting for a spreader for the one of the town's two sidewalk machines that does not have one.
This enables the machine to spread sand behind it as it goes.
The new requirements also mean updated routing for the sidewalk machines.
“We're going to be working through that this year, working the bugs out of the system to make that as efficient as possible,” Rob said.
“People are going to notice that are sidewalks are getting cleared faster, which is overall a good thing,” he added.
“It's bad because it costs us money but overall it's a good thing.”
The revised policy also includes updated protocol for the declaration of a “significant weather event.”
“Under the event that there's a storm coming that is of sufficient size that Environment Canada issues an alert—a winter storm warning, a special weather statement—we have the opportunity to declare a 'significant weather event,'” Rob noted.
“What that means, basically, is that we're going to put a declaration out that say, 'There's a significant weather event coming. We're anticipating dangerous road conditions and are urging users to stay off the road for their own safety.'”
Under the MMS regulations, this gives the town more time to address the sidewalks and the roadways.
Under normal circumstances, once a snowfall event hits three inches, the clock starts and the town has 48 hours to clear the sidewalks and priority roads.
If they declare an event, the clock starts at the end of the event.
“The idea is, by declaring this 'significant weather event,' we've alerted the users,” Rob explained.
"Those who don't need to be out on the roads will choose not be out on the roads, which has two benefits—it's going to ensure their safety and it's going to help us by reducing traffic and making it easier to get the roads clear.
“Historically, we try to get our plows out in the middle of the storm, to get started,” he noted.
"That part's not going to change. You're still going to see our plows out, getting the priority roads done, ensuring access to the hospital, making sure emergency services can get out.
"But this will afford us a little bit of additional time during those really big events.
“We always seem to get nailed around Christmas time, when there's lot of staff on holidays,” Rob added.
“At times like those, it's going to help us.”
Rob reiterated that with the changes to the MMS and the town's operations during the 2018-19 winter season, the amended protocols will be tested out.
If the town determines that more changes need to be tried through the winter season, his division will make those changes and make any required policy amendments prior to next winter (2019-20).