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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Snowplows busy as winter brings abundant moisture

Jan 31, 2023 02:32PM ● By Cassie Goff

The Cottonwood Heights Public Works team prioritize main streets to maintain safe travel for the largest volume of traffic. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood Heights)

Residents of Cottonwood Heights have been navigating a heavier winter with more snowfall than what they have grown accustomed to over the past five years. Forty-three inches of snow dropped in December alone. Twenty-five inches of winter fluff accumulated within the first two weeks of January. 

These weather events have created a busy season for the Public Works Department and their snowplows. They have traveled over 15,000 miles clearing city roads so far this year, with 2,799 miles traveled in November and 12,000 miles traveled in December. Over 825 tons of salt has been dispersed on the city’s roads. 

“We do try to record all the data we can during these five to six months out of the year and compare year after year going back to when we started in 2016,” said Public Works Department Director Matt Shipp. 

The Public Works Department even measures the snowfall in the Public Works yard themselves, so they know exactly how much snow has fallen within the city.  

Cottonwood Heights is divided into eight main snowplowing areas with specific trucks and individual drivers assigned to each. Trucks are divvied based on the geography of those specific areas. Four-by-fours tackle the steep hills on the east bench while bigger trucks clear the flat areas in the valley. 

Four 10-wheelers are reserved for the main arterial roads. When running in tandem with wings attached, they can quickly clear Fort Union Boulevard, Creek Road, 3000 East, 2700 East, 2300 East and Highland Drive.

Each individual driver maintains a relationship with their snowplowing vehicle as they routinely clear their assigned area for each snow event.    

“We do that so the driver gets to know the area,” Shipp said. “There are certain places where you can’t push snow.” 

During a significant winter event, however, drivers will shift to prioritize keeping the main, still, and through streets clear. If there is an emergency situation within the city, the 911 dispatch will notify the snowplow drivers and they will clear the roads ahead of the emergency vehicles. 

“If we are getting up to an inch of snow per hour, by the time we get from one end of Fort Union (Boulevard) to the other, we could have close to half an inch of snow on the areas we just plowed,” Shipp explained. 

Cul-de-sacs are usually some of the last pieces of city road to be cleared. Shipp explained that turning into a cul-de-sac, even to run through it briefly, takes about 15 minutes. That would prevent the main roads from being open and cleared. 

“The crews have done a phenomenal job in our community,” said Councilmember Shawn Newell.

The Public Works Department will transition into shift work during a winter storm spanning more than 24 hours. During those shifts, at least six drivers will be in their snowplows clearing roads at any given time.

“They will run anywhere from 12- to 16-hour shifts where they have to cover their area, plus another area, plus I have to let them sleep. They’re not machines,” Shipp said. 

Five new drivers were hired for this winter season. They are continuing to learn the best strategies for their assigned areas. Public Works Assistant Director Danny Martinez has been out plowing the roads too, as he has been filling in for a driver who is recovering from a broken foot as a result of having a snowplow dropped on it. 

“We probably hit four mailboxes on this last storm and blocked in a few driveways,” Shipp said. “We do try to learn and fix our mistakes.” 

“It’s hard to not push snow in front of the driveway. I know you get calls 24/7. There are a lot of people that expect the impossible. You do a very commendable job,” said Councilmember Doug Petersen. 

The Public Works Department’s policy is to have every street within Cottonwood Heights opened within 24 hours after the end of a winter storm. 

“It may not be pretty but there will be access. Four passes is generally what it takes to get snow back to the curb. (The drivers) will continue to go out and push snow afterwards,” Shipp said.  

The Public Works Department continues to emphasize that the snow has to go somewhere. They don’t remove the snow—they push it. 

“I want to publicly acknowledge my staff and the work they do. They have put in a tremendous amount of time and effort. They have given up holidays. I get to go home and go to bed at nights now because of them,” Shipp said. “Thank you to our staff for the heavy lifting that’s occurred.”