Posted on November 24, 2015 - at 11 : 00 am
The saviors of winter
They are the unsung heroes of the winter. Although they don’t ride on top of a white stallion, they do control beasts that are more than twice the size of a car, weigh a whopping 40 tons, and have an appetite for snow and ice.
When snowflakes begin to take siege of the city, snowplow operators quickly make their way onboard their behemoths, ready to clear the path for eager motorists.
But with over 275 kilometres of roadways to care for, clearing the city’s arteries of snow is truly a daunting task. “It gets very difficult at times,” explained Simon Pare, one of the three senior operators sitting in the small conference room of a city building.
“Our biggest concerns are people and cars,” quickly pointed out Claude Landriault, sitting in the back of the room.
Clean-up crews often face other obstacles while trying to complete their tasks. These can include motorists trying to pass snowplows, vehicles parked on the street and vehicles parked in driveways blocking the sidewalk.
“They (the operators) would love to have the cooperation of motorists,” explained Paul Rochon, supervisor of Roads section for Cornwall.
When snowplow operators encounter these obstacles, it limits their ability to clear the snow and forces them to slow down or come to a complete stop.
“We sometimes have to go around cars that are parked on the streets,” says Gary Swenson. “It’s then more expensive for the City. We have to go back later and clear that part once the car is gone.”
In addition, Swenson then goes on to explain how, some years ago, an individual was walking in the road instead of on the sidewalk. “I had to follow him for four blocks,” he said, obviously frustrated. “He just wouldn’t move over. I even used my air horn, but he wouldn’t budge.”
The city employs 11 operators and 15 independent contractors. “The contractors are usually the ones who clear the residential parts of town, whereas the city plows tackle what we call our main roads,” explained Rochon.
When faced with a major winter storm, the operators can work in shifts lasting 16 hours. “Because of regulations, the maximum they can work is 16 hours and then they have to stop for eight hours,” explained the supervisor.
Yet Swenson is quick to say that before regulations were in place, some of the operators, including himself, could sit behind the wheel of the big plows for over 24 hours straight. “It would make for long shifts,” he admitted, laughing.
The City provides two levels of service based on minimum maintenance standards. The City has eight primary routes and fourteen secondary routes. The snow clearing activities for both the primary routes and secondary routes are independent of one another and respond to winter events in a timely fashion based on their own triggers and time lines.
With all the heavy work demanded from the plow trucks, it’s no wonder maintenance is such an important factor to the big machines.
“The biggest problems we have are wipers and hoses, especially the hydraulic system,” said Pare, smiling. “We always go up and down, you know,” added Swenson. “There are a lot of bumps.”
In addition, the operators also have to watch out for ice. “Although we have pretty good brakes, it’s still a very heavy machine,” expressed Landriault.
Bring on the salt
Although the three senior operators love to plow, they also must sometimes salt the roads.
“I don’t love salting as much as I love plowing,” said Pare. “When you salt, you have to be extremely careful of where you drive.”
Normally, primary roads are salted after snow has started to fall and before the road surface ices up. Once the primary roads have been cleared of snow, they are salted again to obtain a mostly bare pavement condition. Secondary roads are normally salted after snow has fallen and before icing begins. Once the secondary roads are cleared, salt is applied to provide adequate vehicle traction. During freezing rain events, all roads are treated as soon as possible.
“The City goes through an average 7500 tons of salt a year,” explained Rochon. “That’s $600,000 worth of salt!”
Winter parking restrictions are in effect for a reason
Like many other communities, Cornwall has parking restrictions in place during the winter season. These restrictions are necessary in order to ensure snow clearing activities can be completed. In recent years, the City has modified the winter parking restrictions in order to provide more flexibility to motorists whenever weather conditions permit.
From November 15 to December 14, parking on any roadway between the hours of 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. is prohibited only on days when a snowfall of 5 centimetres or more is forecasted by Environment Canada. During this restriction period, residents are encouraged to keep an eye on the weather forecast and local media reports.
From December 15 to March 31, parking on any roadway between the hours of 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. is prohibited regardless of weather forecast.
From March 1 to March 31, the Infrastructure and Municipal Works Department may make an exception to the overnight winter parking restrictions based on the status of existing snow accumulation and the weather forecast.