Portland already more than halfway through winter snow-clearing budget

A city worker in a sidewalk snow plow drops salt on pedestrian surfaces on Dec. 9, 2013 in Portland.
A city worker in a sidewalk snow plow drops salt on pedestrian surfaces on Dec. 9, 2013 in Portland. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 07, 2014, at 1:59 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Less than three weeks into winter — but after dealing with five winter storms — the city has already spent more than half of its annual budget for snow clearing and other seasonal work.

Director of Public Services Mike Bobinsky on Monday told city councilors that his department has so far used $524,000 of its $1 million budget for this year’s winter operations.

Each winter, DPS crews are responsible for clearing 566 lane-miles of roads, 95 miles of sidewalks and trails, and dozens of city-owned parking lots and driveways.

Last winter, DPS cleaned up after 11 storms, which dumped a total of 93 inches of snow on the city, according to Bobinsky, more than in any of the three previous years. A third of the snow fell in the mid-February blizzard that shattered a 1979 snowfall record for a single storm.

As a result, DPS was forced to spend $1.2 million on 2012-2013 winter operations, about 33 percent more than was budgeted.

This winter has already produced 38 inches of snow, more than fell during all of the 2011-2012 season. And there are still 10 weeks of winter ahead.

Despite Mother Nature’s recent fury, Bobinsky had some reason to be optimistic.

“The public has been very cooperative, patient and responsive,” he said, noting that fewer than 50 vehicles were towed during the Jan. 2 emergency parking ban issued after the latest snowfall. In recent years, the city often towed more than 200 vehicles for parking ban violations.

Overnight parking is sometimes banned on city streets so that DPS crews can clear heavy snow more effectively. But drivers can park in city lots and other designated areas that are open during the bans. This year, the city has added such parking along small portions of the Eastern Promenade, Western Promenade and Marginal Way.

The new parking areas have been added on a trial basis. Bobinsky said a few vehicles were parked last week outside the new areas, but “by and large, things went well.”

Councilor Ed Suslovic suggested expanding the use of parking bans, at least in off-peninsula areas such as District 3, which he represents. While the bans are unpopular with some peninsula residents who must regularly park on city streets, residents of outlying neighborhoods often park in driveways and so are not inconvenienced by the bans.

Bobinsky said DPS would consider the suggestion, but changes in the use of the bans probably won’t happen this winter.

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