Review of Edmonton’s snow-removal program finds insufficient staff, equipment

A review of Edmonton’s snow and ice control program has found there are insufficient resources and equipment to meet the majority of current service levels outlined in the policy.

The review looked into the program’s current state and recent historical snow and ice operations from the 2017-18 winter season to now. It found that since 2016, administration has presented 21 reports and received 10 snow and ice-related motions from council. Seven of those motions directed changes to the policy or program direction.

Read more: City of Edmonton dealing with overflowing road issues after freeze-thaw cycles

Also since 2016, Edmonton has grown in geographic size by 11.7 per cent and has seen an 8.4 per cent increase in the population. The amount of roadways and active pathways within the snow-clearing network has increased by 21.2 per cent.

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“As Edmonton has grown in size, our resources have not,” deputy city manager Gord Cebryk said.

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The report outlines that the number of staff and equipment have not kept pace with the ambitions of the program. Equipment has been replaced at a one-to-one ratio while the approved budget and total number of staff within the program have both decreased 15.4 per cent and 13.5 per cent, respectively.

The service standard laid out in the policy is to clear arterial roads to bare pavement within 36 hours of a snowfall. Currently, that is taking city crews 127 hours to do.

“Priority one roads as an example, to clear to bare pavement within 36 hours, we don’t have the resources to do that right now,” said Craig McKeown, branch manager of parks and roads service.

“We highlighted the fact that Edmonton has grown in size but our resources haven’t. So we are not currently meeting our service levels with the resources that we have.”

Administration is proposing two options to improve service.

The first option would see an additional $27.1 million added to the existing snow clearing budget to bring in additional staff members. McKeown said that would increase service levels by about 45 per cent.

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The second option would add $71.7 million to the existing budget to boost staff and equipment in hopes of bringing snow-clearing up to the current standards laid out in the policy. McKeown said this option would translate to a roughly 70 per cent increase in service levels compared to what Edmontonians are currently seeing.

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The report also detailed preliminary findings of a pilot project that saw residential roads bladed down to bare pavement rather than maintaining a five-centimeter snowpack. Administration found that while blading to bare pavement eased rutting concerns, it led to significant flooding, sightline and accessibility challenges due to the windrows that piled up on the sides of city streets.

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The review comes after a challenging season for road crews, which saw several freezing rain events within a short time period, followed by an immediate and extended period of extreme cold. The drastic weather shifts resulted in compacted, thick ice that was difficult to remove.

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During any given snow event, the city was receiving anywhere from 100 to 300 notifications per day, in addition to councillor inquiries.

The report will be presented at the Community and Public Services Committee on April 25.

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