Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter weather preparation and response in the city of Bartlett - an interview with Public Works administration

City of Bartlett logoRecently I had a chance to sit down with Assistant Director of Public Works for the City of Bartlett, Mike Adams. For those not from the immediate area, Bartlett is a 26.6 square mile suburb of Memphis, TN with a population of 50,000 residents, situated nearly centrally in Shelby County. There are several major thoroughfares throughout the city, five fire stations, a hospital, two police precincts, a municipal center, a recreation complex, and all the amenities of a bustling suburban area.

Our discussion centered on planning, preparation, and response to the January 9-10 winter storm that dropped 3-4" of snow across the city, beginning Sunday evening and continuing into early morning Monday. The snow storm was enough to close Bartlett (Shelby County) schools Monday and Tuesday and Bartlett city services on Monday.

Beginning on the Wednesday before the storm (January 5), Public Works administration was aware of the potential for accumulating snow and notified the General Maintenance division, which is responsible for snow removal and treatment of roadways and public areas. As forecasts continued to indicate the likelihood for snow late in the weekend, Adams said part of Friday was set aside to verify that all equipment was in working order, including checking five trucks equipped with spreaders and snowplow blades (three with 7-ton capacity and large blades and two with 2-ton capacity and smaller blades). General Maintenance personnel were put on standby for the weekend to be called in as soon as problems were reported.

Adams indicated that the City of Bartlett does not preemptively treat their roadways with salt brine, though a few of the primary arteries with state highway designations that traverse the city do receive this treatment from the TN Department of Transportation of Shelby County road crews.

Public Works crews are typically activated by Bartlett Police Department dispatchers as soon as reports are received from patrol officers of slick spots developing, though in this case monitoring weather radar and seeing the trends in nearby area allowed the General Maintenance manager to call up crews before any real trouble spots started developing. Adams recalled that within an hour of the initial call-up, spreaders were on the primary thoroughfares in Bartlett treating the lanes with a 50/50 mixture of sand and salt to loosen the accumulating snow and speed the melting process, which was aided by traffic.

In addition, the largest arteries in the city were plowed after enough snow had accumulated to warrant pushing the snow. These main arteries include Stage Road, Bartlett Boulevard, Kirby-Whitten Parkway, and Summer Avenue/Highway 70, among others. Adams said that the salt/sand mixture was also spread on the drives leading into the city's hospital (St. Francis-Bartlett) and snow clearing was done at the fire stations and police departments, as well as City Hall. The spreading and plowing continued until 1am Monday morning, beginning again at 5am to clean up areas that needed additional attention. Since the possibility of light snow or freezing drizzle existed Monday night, one person from General Maintenance was kept on call in case crews were needed again. Fortunately, no precipitation of consequence fell Monday night and additional clearing or deicing was not necessary.

Regarding the mixture that is dropped on the city streets from spreaders, Adams indicated that a 50/50 sand/salt combination seems to work the best as the mixture is most effective between 25 and 32 degrees (temperatures hovered near freezing all night and throughout Monday) and the salt helps to accelerate the melting process, especially when coupled with traffic. It also allows the plows to be more effective. For this winter storm, five Public Works trucks spread a total of 138 tons of salt/sand on Bartlett roadways.

In ice storm situations, plows are not used and the mixture that is spread on roadways only does so much. Freezing rain truly is the worst of all situations. Additionally, when ice is forecast, Adams said that all available equipment, including chain saws, backhoes, etc. are tested before the event and crews are made available to help with debris removal, which is not necessary in regular snow events.

Adams had one piece of advice with regards to snow removal and road treatment for those traveling the roadways during winter weather: provide plenty of room for snow equipment to operate! Do not tailgate plows or spreaders. Should they have to hit the brakes, your vehicle could easily become a permanent part of the spreader, especially given the reason they are out there in the first place - slick streets! So, exercise caution, give them room to operate, and be sure to say thanks the next time you see public works personnel making the roadways safer for all of us!

Many thanks to Mike Adams of Bartlett Public Works for his insight and recollection of last week's events and allowing me to share them with you.

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