City Streets Superintendent Brian Hensel is a man with a plan.
After last winter’s continuous and overwhelming dump of snow, which had residents complaining — loudly — of awful driving conditions on residential routes, Hensel got to work on a new approach to plowing the city's streets, which he presented to the Missoula City Council on Wednesday.
For starters, in the past two years the City Council approved salaries for two additional street crew members.
“Without that additional staff, this would not be coming through,” Hensel said.
The extra crew members will be added to the night shift, which will bump up to 11 people (from eight), matching the day shift.
The new plan is based off a one-night experiment last winter, when Hensel saw snow predicted on a Sunday night/Monday morning and called in 12 street employees overnight just in case.
The snow fell as predicted, and by the time he got in to work at around 6 a.m., all Priority 1 streets and many Priority 2 streets were plowed and cleared, leaving his day shift crew to work on Priority 3 and residential streets.
A detailed map of street plowing priorities can be found by clicking the priority map link on ci.missoula.mt.us/558/Snow-Removal.
That will be the modus operandi this winter for the night shift staff, Hensel said: get Priority 1 and much of Piority 2 streets cleared by the morning commute, then clear Priority 3 and all residential streets within three days after a storm.
“That’s a lofty goal,” Hensel said. “Realizing, again, that that’s dependent on when it snows, when it hits and how much we get.”
He promised a “marked improvement” on residential street plowing, though he did warn there might be people surprised to have plow berms blocking their driveways or mailboxes after decades of their streets being passed over by city crews.
Homeowners will have to shovel those out of the way themselves, Hensel said, and they’ll make sure no one’s blocked in on their way to work in the mornings.
Between snowstorms, Hensel will have his crews clear berms from crosswalks, ADA ramps and other places where last year’s snow languished for weeks.
Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong suggested clearing bike lanes on main routes as well.
The unplowed streets last winter were such a constant source of consternation among Missoulians that they became a key part of mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke’s campaign to unseat incumbent Mayor John Engen.
Triepke included snow plowing in her list of “bread and butter” services she promised to expand, all while shrinking the budget and lowering property taxes.
In a recent interview with the Missoulian, Engen said he heard his constituents loud and clear and noted the change in approach was coming soon.
On Wednesday, Ward 3 representative Gwen Jones said it sounded as though Hensel was “preparing for battle.”
“We’ll now probably have a really light winter,” she said.
“I hope so,” Hensel answered.
The Public Works committee unanimously approved Hensel’s plan and it will be approved at City Council’s next regular Monday meeting.