Potholes and inadequate snowplowing are consistent criticisms of city government. How are you addressing these issues?

A lot of it is weather-dependent. But if you have a winter like we had last winter, snow plowing is an issue and potholes and road repair is an issue.

We’re always trying to strike a balance. We could staff and equip for a daily snow event and get every street plowed every day (but) that comes with tremendous expense. So we’re trying to strike that balance of making sure folks can get where they need to get as effectively as possible without having a road district that charges an astronomical amount.

Beyond that balance, Brian Hensel, our street superintendent is — based on our experience with residential plowing last year — looking at some alternatives to the way we get residential plowing done, with an emphasis on getting those residential streets cleared sooner.

With regards to general road repair, the city of Missoula has not had a full-on road inventory in decades, to my knowledge, so this year we’ve budgeted for an infrastructure analysis so we can understand which streets are in what state of repair and then begin to really prioritize those streets and know what we’re up against in infrastructure investment.

Those tools will go a long way toward us being much more methodical about the way we take care of streets and we should see some results from that.

We’re also making some additional investments through the new state gas tax program. The challenge has always been (that) the cost of materials has continued to rise, to the point that it’s not an exaggeration to say that constructing a new road is probably about a million bucks a mile.

We’re also changing our philosophy a little bit in terms of what jobs we contract with the private sector to do and what we’re using our crews to do in terms of maintenance. We’re (the city) going to lean more toward maintenance and contracting those larger jobs.

Are changes to snowplowing happening this winter?

Yep. We have the benefit of our new public works director (John Wilson). Every time we bring new experience to the municipal operation we get new ideas, and he has some experience in different communities, Whitefish in particular, in regard to snow removal. 

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