The purse and the plow

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‘Dave,” the contractor who spoke to columnist Gordon Sinclair, Jr. about damage to city street curbs (Contractor calls out city for crumbing curb conditions, April 27), was spot on.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2017 (1985 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Dave,” the contractor who spoke to columnist Gordon Sinclair, Jr. about damage to city street curbs (Contractor calls out city for crumbing curb conditions, April 27), was spot on.

Council policy requires heavy-equipment operators — whether private contractors or in-house — to clear snow off city streets curb face to curb face. A sounder policy would require clearing “within a reasonable distance,” which would avoid the almost-predictable damage we see to curbs when the snow disappears each spring.

Ever shovel your own driveway and have your efforts interrupted by uneven paving stone, a raised driveway curb or separated concrete surface? Not fun, right?

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Curb-to-curb snow clearing can damage streets in the long run.

Now try doing that with a 25-tonne piece of heavy machinery in snow or a blizzard, where the only guide is what the operator “feels” as he or she plows residential streets to clear newly fallen snow or packed ice.

Quite apart from being costly and ruinous to the residential landscape, it is utterly foolish to maintain as a standard. It accelerates and prematurely destroys not just curbs but, more importantly, the surface condition of residential, regional or collector streets.

Streets are designed not just to carry traffic, but to quickly drain surface water. A street is designed to crown at its middle and to funnel water to the curb face and along the curb face into street gutters.

So the curbs, as bookends to the street, serve a design and engineering function.

This falls apart quickly when curbs are compromised.

A broken or crumbling curb, whether through damage by snowplowing or deterioration through decades of neglect — we’ve seen that, right? — allows water to seep under the street surface. The typical freeze/thaw cycle in the spring enables the water, now not guided into gutters, to expand and contract as ice under the street surface. That means the street crumbles and deteriorates. To visualize this, think of the plastic bottle of water you put in the freezer: it expands, distorts and sometimes cracks. That very same principle of freeze/thaw damages concrete or asphalt street surface.

And who pays for it all? We do. Whether it’s included as a cost in snow-removal contracts (the risk of covering such damage) or within the city’s budget itself (damage by in-house snow clearing), we all pay for this problem, which is almost entirely avoidable.

So let’s move to more rational, cost-effective option. The city should adopt the near-to-curb clearing policy, with good specifications that accommodate vehicles and active commuters, and that can hold snow-clearing contractors to account, so commuters move efficiently and smoothly after the big dumps, as soon as practicable.

This requires simple political direction, not advice based upon any engineering practice. This can and should be addressed by councillors. The heavy construction industry has made this case over and over.

We know it snows in Manitoba. We know heavy snowfall obstructs our streets and backs up the commute. We know that we have to drive to conditions. Damaging curbs wastes money — councillors know this.

It’s time they took pity on the plow — and the purse — and change the curb-to-curb policy. Tell your councillor to move on this now.

Don’t wait for the snow to fly again.

Chris Lorenc is the president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.

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