CHICAGO (CBS) ― Your neighborhood could look very different this winter. Mayor Richard M. Daley said Tuesday that city crews will cut back on plowing side streets this winter in an effort to save money. The mayor said the city will only plow side streets during weekday union business hours this winter, rather than during overtime hours. But as CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports if there’s one city service Chicagoans demand, it’s outstanding snow removal.
“I expect for the streets to be cleaned for my tax money,” said Chicago resident Sarah Lockhart.
“That’s the kind of spending we need to maintain,” said Chicago resident Madeline Norris.
During the snowstorm on Monday, the city Department of Streets and Sanitation was tested for the first time this season under extremely tight budgetary constraints.
City Department of Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi, according to the release from Streets & San, pointed out that Monday’s moderate snow, which brought 2 1/2 inches to the North Side and 1 1/2 inches to the South Side, still cost $490,000 to clear because of high costs for equipment ($143,000), salt ($295,000) and workers ($51,000).
“Our full route system covers 9,456 lane miles and during a full snow program is patrolled by 274 snow-fighting trucks which use gasoline, spread salt and are operated by salaried drivers, so costs will naturally mount whenever we go out,” Picardi said. “Our challenge is to find as many ways to provide this important service while still working to reduce costs.”
“That was only 1.5 inches, 2.5 inches of snow. It’s almost half a million dollars just like that,” Mayor Daley said.
So cutbacks are necessary and the side streets will feel it first. They’ll still be cleared, but not using Streets & San workers on overtime.
“Let’s say we’re on the main streets till 9, 10 at night. We’re gonna wait until 7:00 the following morning to attack the side streets,” Picardi said. “So there’ll be a period when the side streets will be covered with snow.”
On Monday, Snow Command helped cut costs by using state-of-the-art technology to track the storm and coordinate deployment of the snow-fighting fleet to just before the actual storm system arrived. They also avoided extra overtime charges by promptly pulling the fleet off duty at 3 p.m. once side streets were cleared.
“We have literally become victims of our own success,” Picardi said, “because residents always expect to see main streets fully cleared and grow impatient when side streets aren’t cleared immediately, but everyone needs to know that this high standard of snow removal comes at a very high cost. We ask our residents to be patient during snow clearing operations and to drive with caution on our side streets until we get to them.”
“While safety remains our number one concern,” Picardi said in a release, “cost containment is also very important in this age of shrinking revenues and increasing costs.”
“That’s not an area I’d like to see services get cut in because it would affect a lot of people,” said Chicago resident Howard Williams.
It was voters’ anger over the city’s inept reaction to the snowstorm of 1979 that swept Michael Bilandic out and Jayne Byrne into the mayor’s office.
Ever since, snow removal has been a budgetary sacred cow with mayors spending whatever it takes. And voters’ attitudes haven’t changed.
“It could be a little dangerous, politically speaking,” said Chicago resident Angie Shansky. “The people of Chicago want their streets cleared.”
The city is also asking your help regarding side streets: keep your sidewalks shoveled, dig your car out and throw the snow on the parkway, not into the street.
There is one area where the city’s saving big-time on snow removal costs: salt. Suburbs are paying $140 a ton for salt. The city’s only paying $40 a ton, because it signed a two-year contract before prices skyrocketed.