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Beating snow plows into swords

Little Rock’s snow cleanup rankles residents

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Five days after a Dec. 22 storm left a layer of snow and ice on Little Rock’s streets and sidewalks, the city’s Department of Public Works was still responding to citizen requests to clear pathways to their homes. “We got six to eight calls this morning,” said Eric Petty, the department’s operations manager, on Dec. 27. “They say their streets are icy and patchy, and they are wondering why it is taking so long to clean it up.” Although most of the city’s main roads were safe for vehicular traffic by Christmas, many residential streets were difficult to navigate long after that, especially if they were north-facing or otherwise shielded from direct sunlight. A steep incline on top of that rendered some routes completely unpassable. Petty said that the city responded to the situation according to its established procedures, with a full complement of vehicles and materials, but that the unusually low temperatures limited their ability to reduce the accumulation of ice. Ten trucks circulated 24 hours a day from Dec. 22-26, all of which spread sand and salt, and four of which also had plow blades to break the ice (although Petty said the blades are often ineffective on the kind of low-lying, tightly packed ice that plagued Little Rock’s streets). “We had plenty of sand and salt, all of our drivers showed up, and we ran all of our trucks,” Petty said. “But this was a temperature deal. The ice would not thaw and drain off.” Sand is used to provide traction for tires, and salt lowers the temperature at which ice will melt. However, Petty said temperatures stayed consistently low enough to prevent most ice from melting, and even ice that melted during higher daytime temperatures would freeze again at night. The city trucks operating in the days after the snowstorm continuously drove seven different routes that prioritize collector and arterial roads, as well as bridges and overpasses. Most of these areas were treated twice a day, while smaller streets only eventually received attention. According to Petty, his department does not clear sidewalks, except for those in front of City Hall and select public facilities. At noon on Dec. 27, Petty estimated that 95 percent of the city’s roads were free of ice. However, many of the calls from residents that day concerned streets that had not yet been treated, and the public works department responded by dispatching trucks to those places. “We are running four trucks in select locations, as we receive calls,” Petty said. Some main thoroughfares within Little Rock’s city limits, like Cantrell Road, are actually state highways, and therefore are the responsibility of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. Still, most of the long-term problems concerned smaller streets, and Petty emphasized that the city did everything it could do. “Normally, in Arkansas, by day two, with the sun, the ice is gone,” he said.

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