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Bibb administration promises improvements to Cleveland snow removal process

Plow truck working to clear Willey Avenue on Cleveland's Near West Side.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Plow truck working to clear Willey Avenue on Cleveland's Near West Side.

Cleveland officials acknowledged the city’s response to major snowstorms, like the two that passed through the region the last three weeks, needs to be fixed.

During a Monday meeting of city council’s Municipal Services and Properties Committee, councilmembers all described fielding calls from their constituents during and after the storm about impassable streets and inaccurate information from the city.

“In my tenure here at the city, I don’t think I’ve ever received more phone calls regarding any event than I did over the last 48 hours,” Ward 16 Councilman Brian Kazy said during Monday’s committee meeting.

Kazy was particularly critical of the newly launched plow tracker, which appeared to provide inaccurate information about snow plow progress. He also criticized a claim from Mayor Justin Bibb’s office, sent out Saturday morning, that 94 percent of the city’s residential streets had been plowed.

“The tracker was the problem,” Kazy said. “I think the policy has worked for so many years, I think what has been added is the transparency of the policy and the mayor’s office misleading the public regarding posturing bogus misinformation to the public.”

After a snowstorm of more than six inches, the Public Works Department starts by clearing all main roads, with the goal of making those passable 16 hours after a snowstorm. Then they start on residential streets, with the goal of making the roads passable within 72 hours.

Plows will make two passes on all residential streets, the first with a plow only and the second with a plow and salt.

Administration officials told council they met those requirements.

“Is that good enough? It doesn’t sound like it is,” the city’s new Chief Operating Officer Bonnie Teeuwen said to council. “What can we do to improve our process so there’s better understanding between our residents and what we’re trying to accomplish?”

Teeuwen told council the administration did not have answers to those questions yet. She said they are considering increasing the fleet size and reducing the age of plows in the fleet. After the snowstorm over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the city launched the plow tracker and repurposed five trucks from the water department.

In total, there are 61 plows in the fleet, about 10 of them are out-of-service at any given time. Mayor Justin Bibb’s proposed budget for 2022 proposes spending about the same amount on road maintenance in 2022 as in 2021 and about $4 million less than in 2020.

Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek questioned whether there was enough money in Bibb’s proposal, which was submitted to council a week ago, to address the shortcomings.

“Because if nothing changes in this budget, if there’s no additional purchases of vehicles, then it’s all air at this table,” Polensek.

Teeuwen said the city has already begun holding meetings with companies that provide “route optimization” software so plows are used as efficiently as possible. The city is also considering increased staffing so managers can oversee crews instead of being sent out to drive.

“With the new administration, we’re all in as far as, how can we improve this process? What do we need to do? How can we help you? How can you help us?” Teeuwen said.

Commissioner of Streets Randall Scott and Interim Director of Public Works Michael Cox also appeared in front of council Monday. Cox announced he is stepping down from his position in April after 50 years of service.

Copyright 2022 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.