Toward improving speed, efficiency of snow removal

When it comes to the weather, what a difference a year makes. Mahoning Valley residents sailed through the winter of 2016-17, enjoying relatively mild temperatures and remarkably low snowfall totals.

Old Man Winter, however, returned with a vengeance this season, sinking temperatures and dumping about 45 inches of snow on our region so far.

Heavier snow, of course, has placed heavier burdens on street departments at all levels of government. Many of them face the thankless and daunting task of doing more with less. Strained budgets have reduced the number of drivers and snow plows to clear major roads and side streets as quickly and efficiently as possible.

That’s why we were pleased to hear improved reports on the performance of street-clearing crews in Youngstown during the most recent heavy snow earlier this week.

“Everything seems to be running pretty smoothly,” reported Youngstown Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward, in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s storm. “We’re staying ahead of the weather.”

Well, not quite.

Although street crews in the city did a better job at more quickly and fully clearing main roads in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s snowstorm than in a similar storm last month, many side streets remained snow-clogged one or two days later. Indeed Youngstown City Schools were forced to close Thursday – 24 hours after the storm lifted – because of the inability for vehicle traffic to move easily on many secondary roads.


Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works for the city, said the best way to improve snow removal would be to purchase newer trucks and hire more employees. Given the city’s grave financial struggles, that’s likely a pipe dream.

That’s why city leaders in Youngstown – and in other communities in the Valley facing similar problems – should commit to strategic planning on means to more quickly and fully clear all roads of snow without breaking the municipal bank.

Contracting with private snow-clearing services for side roads rises as one less costly option than hiring employees with union-scale wages and benefits. Labor from jails and prisons in the region could be used to help cleanup efforts, including extricating vehicles stranded on clogged back roads or helping senior citizens remove snow from their driveways or sidewalks.

Of course, not all of the burden can be placed on public workers. The driving public must do its part to ensure maximum safety during snow emergencies.

First, parking bans must be obeyed. Disobeying them only makes the jobs of snow-removal crews all the more difficult. In downtown Warren this week, dozens of vehicles openly flouted the law, wreaking havoc on snow-clearing efforts.

Also, safe-driving practices must be followed. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 1,300 people are killed and 116,800 injured annually in snow- or ice-related crashes.

To avoid becoming a statistic, slow down and leave greater following distances. Stay at least five car lengths behind snow plows. Watch closely for emergency vehicles. Do not use cruise control. Above all, use patience and common sense by leaving plenty of extra time to reach destinations.

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