Back-to-back snowfalls slam city, state plow priorities

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Let's face it: The roads are rough. They're slick and packed with snow, making for dangerous driving and walking, too.

Some know this because they've slid through the parking lot of their workplace or already gotten stuck in the snow multiple times Monday. The proof, though, can also be found in the numbers.

The Anchorage Police Department reported 55 vehicle in distress calls Monday from midnight to 9 p.m., though only five accidents were injury crashes.

As for the plowing, why is it taking so long in a state that expects snow for much of the year?

For one, it's often the way the plow schedule is set up that makes it a little more complicated. Arterial roadways are tended to first; smaller streets go after that. If a severe weather system moves in, plows are pulled from the smaller streets and put back on the main roadways so that the path for more major commutes to work and school, as well as routes to area hospitals, is open.

Additionally, streets are sometimes plowed early on, and then must wait until other streets are addressed at least once before being plowed again. Timing can be everything.

"If there is an emergency situation or something like that," said Paul VanLandingham, Municipality of Anchorage Street Maintenance Manager, "obviously we have to re-prioritize what we're doing."

The Municipality is working with 30 graters, eight sanders, and 30 sidewalk tractors, according to VanLandingham.

"For the most part," he said, "we'll go through systematically and go through and get everyone cleaned up by (in this case) hopefully Wednesday or Thursday of this week."

[See the Muni's plow status map here]

The same can be said for the State of Alaska Department of Transportation, which maintains state roads within the municipality. DOT Spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said Monday that, like many agencies, they're having to do more with less, but doing the best they can.

"We used to have more plow operators on at any given time," she said. "Now we're covered by six plow operators and two sidewalk operators at any given time."

McCarthy said the DOT also has a prioritization system. Priority 1 roads, such as the Glenn Highway and Minnesota Drive, are to be completed within 24 hours of major snowfall. Skip to smaller, Priority 3 streets, though, and the window jumps to 48 hours.

[See Alaska DOT's priority map here]

Both McCarthy and VanLandingham said each team is doing its best to clear roads as soon as possible.

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