How was the snow cleanup process in your Waukesha neighborhood during last month's snowstorm? Many aldermen and residents in the city felt it wasn't up to par, and they want better results the next time there's a big snowstorm.
They expressed their concerns to Department of Public Works Director Fred Abadi and his staff during an open-forum style discussion at a public works committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7.
"I feel we have a gap," said Alderman Aaron Perry, who said he fielded 10 complaints, the first time he has ever received calls from residents in his southwest side district after a snowstorm. "We've had storms that haven't had this poor of a performance.
"If (it's a) financial (problem), let's not try to make excuses because there was a gap in services. Let's identify that, let's address it and let's fix it."
In the snow works
Abadi, who along with other city staff members gave an overview of the department's snow plow efforts, said his department isn't making excuses. But Abadi also defended the department's practices, while at the same time acknowledging it can do better.
"Every snow event is different and unique," Abadi said. "We did everything we could and will continue to do all we can. Do I wish this was a much better outcome? Absolutely. Are we going to do better? Absolutely."
But he did indicate some of the challenges the snowstorm — which also included high winds, rain and freezing rain — presented to his department. The duration of the storm and the amount of precipitation were factors in the length of the cleanup.
"(It) plays into how fast you can handle the situation," Abadi said.
Abadi said his department had all of its trucks ready by 7 a.m. the morning of the Dec. 28 storm. The trucks hit the streets at 9 a.m. when the storm began and stayed out on the roads until 8 p.m.
Since the storm was going to continue through the night and his crews had already been on the roads for many hours, Abadi made the decision to pull his crews off the streets to rest and had them return at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. The city had the roadways cleared by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Abadi said.
Besides the amount of snow, Abadi also said one reason for a potential delay could have been due to multiple trucks breaking down — some multiple times.
He said 12 of the 39 trucks and front-end loaders broke down at different times during the storm. One of the front-end loaders that broke down is now no longer functional, Abadi said.
In every other situation, Abadi said the trucks that broke down were temporary issues and returned to the roads. However, in those situations, Abadi said those trucks would be off the roads for a minimum of two hours while being fixed.
Alderman Terry Thieme said equipment is breaking down because it has been "neglected for years."
"We are seeing a product of an inadequate vehicle replacement plan with the number of breakdowns that we had," Thieme said. "If there's a weak link in the chain we find that out."
Alderman Joe Pieper, chairman of the finance committee, said problems in the snow cleanup "absolutely" relates to finances.
"Every budget time, I'm probably one step above begging the finance committee and common council to replace a dump truck (or) buy another end loader to keep up with current needs," Pieper said. "Right or wrong, we're seeing what kicking the can down the road has done for us from an equipment standpoint."
More roads, same help
Moreover, the city is also plowing more roadways.
Abadi said as a result of the West Waukesha Bypass the city took over jurisdiction of Highway 18 for the first time. These areas included Summit Avenue, St. Paul Avenue and Moreland Boulevard. No additional drivers were hired to cover this area.
He also said there were four drivers not available due to vacation or illness, though, he added, having four people out of work is not unusual.
Some of the residents who expressed their displeasure live in a cul-de-sac, particularly in District 13, located on the city's west side. Abadi and his staff said while these areas eventually got done, they were not the department's top priority since they are not main roadways.
One reason for a more noticeable delay in District 13 could be due to one less driver covering this area. Four years ago, DPW staff said because of budget cuts this area was trimmed from two drivers to one.
More info and feedback
Alderman Vance Skinner, who said he wasn't satisfied with some of the main roads as well, also suggested there should be better communication from the department to residents.
Skinner said it would be beneficial if the department would allow its residents to track where the plows are at any given time on the city's website.
Abadi said while the city has the capability to track its trucks through a GPS system, it has not discussed opening this up to residents.
"If we have the ability to do robocalls, posting an update on the city's website or even providing GPS information, I think that will go a long ways in satisfying (residents') needs of wanting to know information," Skinner said.
Skinner also said there needs to be more of an assessment from city staff to evaluate performance, rather than just having a meeting with drivers before a given season.
"There's an opportunity to assess things after the events happen, because the further you get out from that the more you have the tendency to forget what happen," Skinner said.
Because of the snowstorm's magnitude, the city, more than 10 days later, was still in cleanup mode, including hauling snow from cul-de sacs and downtown parking lots and fielding calls from residents.