Public Works is prepared for next big snowstorm

January 3, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Newcastle was greeted with a dusting of snow Dec. 18, but except for a two-hour delay for Issaquah School District students, the white stuff didn’t cause much havoc.

The relatively quiet debut of winter’s first snowflakes came as a welcome sight for Newcastle Public Works Director Mark Rigos, as memories of last winter’s sprawling snowstorm lingered in the back of his mind.

“We’re hoping to have the El Niño winter, which means warm and wet, which was predicted by a meteorologist,” he said. “So, if that happens, great, I’m happy about that. Hopefully, we’re done with snow.”

Newcastle’s snow-and-ice priority map determines which roads get plowed first, numbered in priorities from one to four, with priority one streets representing major arterials.

Last winter’s snow and ice storm kept city crews working around the clock, and several Public Works employees were forced to sleep at City Hall. Additionally, one of the city’s three snowplows malfunctioned during the storm, putting it out of commission for several hours.

This winter, however, the city has an interlocal agreement with the Coal Creek Utility District for additional snowplow support, just in case a big storm hits again, Rigos said.

The city is indeed prepared for the next big storm, whether it comes or not, already having stocked up on and salt and de-icer.

In the event of a snowstorm, it’s Infrastructure Maintenance Manager Brian Smith’s responsibility to track the weather and remain on call at the first sight of snow. Members of the Newcastle Police Department, who work 24 hours a day, alert Smith of any flakes.

If there is an expectation that the city will get snow, the day before it is forecasted, crews will go out and lay de-icer on some of the roads.

“That will prevent some of the snow from sticking and it melts it a little bit quicker,” Rigos said.

The city maintains three plows. They are not the heavy duty ones that the state Department of Transportation uses; rather, they are attachable plows that can be fixed to the city’s fleet of trucks.

Newcastle uses a snow-and-ice priority map to determine which roads get plowed first. The priorities are numbered from one to four, with priority one streets representing major arterials that transport large volumes of traffic.

Coal Creek Parkway, Newcastle Golf Club Road and Newcastle Way are all priority one arterials and would garner the focus of the city staff’s initial attention in the event of a snowstorm. Streets such as 116th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 79th Drive are considered priority two arterials. Priority three and four streets are more like neighborhood collectors, Rigos said.

During last winter’s storm, the city was able to maintain priority one and two routes pretty well, but found it difficult to keep up with priority three and four routes because the snow was coming down so fast, Rigos said.

In the event of a snowstorm, Rigos encourages Newcastle residents to drive slowly, use common sense and have patience as city staff works to maintain the roads.

“We’ll try and get to those priority three and four routes as quickly as we can after we clear off the priority one and two routes,” he said. “The Public Works Department is there to help out and we’ll get there eventually.”

Winter doesn’t end until March 19, so the area isn’t completely out of the woods yet; in fact, the brunt of last winter’s storm hit in January.

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