The snowplow report


If you spent any time trying to shovel the snow-sleet-slush-ice piles of Minnesota’s long Christmas weekend, you should appreciate the travails plow crews faced clearing streets and highways. At one point, 40 of St. Paul’s 100 pieces of snow-removal equipment were out of service because of breakage, said City Engineer John Maczko. 

The Yuletide storm broke Minneapolis’ snow budget, too, said Steve Collin, the city street maintenance engineer, exceeding the $7.4 million set aside for 2009. “We’ll have to find the money somewhere else,” he said. And as of Monday afternoon, crews were still cleaning up icy plow ridges at intersections, he added.

Maczko rated the Christmas snow emergency the most difficult in years, although only one St. Paul car was towed citywide. “We had very good compliance,” he said. “And we didn’t want to be Grinches at Christmas.” That helped keep costs down, too, because the city pays from plowing funds to have cars towed, but motorists’ fines and payments to get them back go to other pockets.

The holiday spirit wasn’t so strong in Minneapolis, where 1,279 vehicles were towed ahead of the plows Friday through Sunday. It’s likely a money-loser for public works in Minneapolis as well, Collin said, but it eased the job of clearing residential streets to the curbs for driving and parking.

State highways weathered the storm well, too, with just two crash fatalities reported by the State Patrol from Wednesday through Sunday. The average for the Christmas travel period is five highway deaths.

So here’s hats off to the many hundreds of public workers who kept most Minnesotans moving in safety over the holiday. Many worked 12-hour shifts for four days, leaving little time to enjoy Christmas with their families. On Monday, Collins was spending his eighth straight day on the job. Like another underappreciated group of public servants, neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.