Surrey’s snow-clearing crews are at the ready with 62 pieces of equipment and literally tonnes of salt.
“We have a facility here that holds about 17,000 tonnes of salt and that usually lasts us throughout the winter season,” explained Harry Janda, Surrey solid waste and contracts manager. “We have used above that amount, if it’s a really bad season. For example in the 2016-17 season we used 20,000 tonnes.”
That was the year there was a chaos at a Vancouver fire hall as salt was handed out amid a shortage, with flocks of residents turning up with huge buckets in hand. Media dubbed it a “free salt frenzy.”
In Surrey, people were ice skating on city streets that winter, when temperatures in Surrey were at or below zero degrees Celsius for 44 days between Dec. 4, 2016 and Jan. 16, 2017. That was the longest duration of freezing temperatures since 1984, and more snow fell in the city after that.
But this year a rather mild winter is forecast.
“That’s what we’ve heard,” said Janda. “But any typical season, there’s still going to be a few breakouts with snow or ice.”
An online tool the City of Surrey launched last winter is continuing this year. It allows residents to keep tabs on where snow trucks are and to see which roads have been plowed.
“It’s called 511,” said Janda. “It’s a really awesome system, allowing people to track the snow plows online. It’s not in live time, but it’s very close.”
See it for yourself at 511portal.com/surrey, AKA Surrey Plow Tracker.
A sidewalk-clearing sidewalk pilot project will continue this winter in the City Centre area.
“It’s assigned to that area because there’s major pedestrian walkways, so we’ll be clearing sidewalks and walkways in that area this year,” said Janda, noting in future years, the city may extend the pilot to other areas of the city.
It’s just one of the 62 pieces of snow-clearing equipment the city has in its arsenal. Others include 22 one-tonne trucks, 24 “big” snow plows, six graders and 10 brine units.
A few years ago, Surrey started using liquid salt brine in addition to traditional road salt that puts a skim coat on the pavement, making it difficult for ice to form – and easier to plow. That will continue this year.
As always, when snowfall begins, city crews will operate under a priority system for the 4,500 lane kilometres they oversee.
When snow falls, Surrey’s roads are put into three groups to ensure major routes get cleared first.
There are “first-priority” roads in the city – key arteries that are used by large numbers of drivers. They include main roads, bus routes and roads with steep hills. Roads fronting and/or leading to schools and long-term care facilities are also included.
“Second-priority” roads are remaining arterial and collector routes. These include local connector roads in residential areas.
But if winter weather returns, crews revert back to focusing on first priority roads.
The city doesn’t typically deal with residential road clearing because the weather usually warms up or rain will melt the snow by time crews get to them.
According to a report to council this summer, the city has identified a number of ways it intends to improve services this winter, including improving response times to priority three routes (residential streets) in prolonged snow events; increasing business owner compliance for snow-clearing; and maintaining sidewalks next to urban forests and city-owned land.
Surrey’s snow-removal efforts are literally award-winning.
The city won the American Public Works Association Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award this year. It has only been won by two other Canadian cities; Calgary and Winnipeg. The award is based on materials/handling, equipment, technical, training, community outreach and environmental.
Meantime, Janda is reminding residents that it’s their responsibility to clear adjacent sidewalks when snow falls.
Failure to do so could mean a fine of $50 for residents, and $75 for businesses. During the epic 2016-17 winter, the city issued more than 80 fines.
The city urges residents to do so as soon as possible after snow falls, and reminds shovellers to pile it on their lawn — not the roadway.
The city’s website, surrey.ca, features a map showing priority routes throughout the city, so locals can see if their road is a priority for snow-removal crews.
The city has budgeted $3.7 million for snow control this year.