In that bag held by SDOT manager Charles Bookman – little rocks of salt, scattered a few inches apart. That was a prop he used while briefing us (during a series of media interviews) about the new snow plan that SDOT is unveiling – completely overhauled, the department says, from last year. Instead of the “sand and plow” strategy of the past, Bookman explains, it’s all about getting to “bare pavement” – and they’ve mapped out which streets are to be completely bare within 8 hours of a lull in the storm, plus which ones will have one “bare” lane each way. The “Snow and Ice Readiness and Response Plan” we were given is not online yet, nor are the maps (4:07 update – the map is now online), so bear with us as we give you the quick highlights of the hourlong personal briefing we just got (including a snowplow ride!) downtown – as well as information on public meetings where you can get the briefing firsthand (and ask questions) – read on:
After making our appointment for today’s briefing, we asked in the WSB Forums whether anyone had particular questions they wanted to be sure we asked. One, from “lighthouse,” involved additional equipment. The city has bought two more “small” snowplows to add to the previous fleet. Our biggest question was regarding communications. They showed us their “situation room” – where Metro and Seattle PD will each have reps at desks (photo above), along with SDOT managers moving in and out of the room, which is equipped with video monitors showing where their vehicles are as well as traffic cameras around the city. (Among them, public information officer/s, who will be sending information out by Twitter and “blogs.”) Here’s video of Bookman explaining the situation room to us:
They also plan to staff an additional dispatcher in the dispatch center:
Their communications methods have changed dramatically, Bookman says – they will communicate with snowplow drivers by text message as well as by radio, and they will use GPS to track their locations – we rode in a GPS-equipped snowplow at the end of our briefing and will add that clip later.
In addition to having Metro “in the room” as the situation is discussed, they also have changed their plan for which routes get plowed, to align with Metro’s snow emergency routes. “We want people to take the bus,” Bookman emphasized. Their past plan, as it became painfully obvious last year, did NOT align with Metro’s snow routes.
So what’s their strategy for achieving “bare pavement”? According to Bookman, “If we get a 50 percent probability of snow within the next 24 hours, we will pre-treat.” They have roads classified by levels – “Level 1” includes the West Seattle Bridge and 35th SW, and those are to be completely “bare pavement”; “Level 2” includes California and Admiral Way, with 1 lane in each direction to be bare; Level 3 streets will be sanded for traction.
They’re changing the materials they use, too – what you’ll see coming out of trucks like these:
For “anti-icing” ahead of a storm, according to Bookman, it’ll usually be liquid salt brine, 25 gallons per mile (what they used in the past, Geomelt, won’t be used much this time around – salt brine is supposed to be as effective if not more so); the arsenal also will include “aggregate salt, pre-wetted” – what’s used will depend on whether it’s raining before snow is forecast, etc. During a storm “granular, pre-wetted salt” is the primary method, 150 to 300 pounds per mile. If you’re still worried about those environmental concerns, Bookman says they worked with Seattle Public Utilities environmental scientists and got the “green light.” In order to deal with the change in materials, the liquid-storage capacity in the SDOT yard has been quadrupled (the city stores materials at 4 locations, including a facility by Westcrest Park) and there have been “plumbing changes” on the trucks, to deal with the need to “pre-wet” salt before it goes onto the road. (The big “flusher” truck shown above, by the way, can cover 2 lanes at a time while going 20 mph, Bookman says.)
After a storm, they will tend to pedestrian areas as well – according to Bookman, 25 “hand crews” will get out to as many as 1,000 intersections within “a day, day and a half” of a storm to clear walking routes. He says the priorities are synched up with the city’s new Pedestrian Master Plan.
Another question posed when we asked WSB Forum members what they would want to know involved street closures. With the different strategy for “bare pavement,” Bookman expects fewer will be necessary, though he says some streets will remain almost impossible to clear, such as the Queen Anne counterbalance area. They’ll still distribute the “street closed” signs this year – within a few weeks – as they have in years past, but “if we don’t need them within a year or two, we may stop that.”
We asked about a price tag for the big change – the year-to-year budget remains about the same, Bookman said, but he did mention a $400,000 “one-time investment” covering added equipment and technology.
Next step: Four public meetings, including one in West Seattle, where you can hear the briefing for yourself, see the maps, and ask questions. The WS meeting will be at 7 pm Wednesday, October 21st, at Delridge Community Center; you are also welcome at any and all of the other three meetings – Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill 7 pm 10/20, Queen Anne Community Center 7 pm 10/27, Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall 3 pm 10/28.
And SDOT promises the full snow plan, maps and all, will be online soon – the maps hopefully by day’s end – we will add the links as soon as that happens.
We also will write a followup report later, as we intend to read the entire plan (about an inch thick), plus we have video of our ride in a snowplow with West Seattle native Will McMurtry. 4:07 PM UPDATE: The map is online now – it’s linked from the right side of hte page here.