Columbus Has Fewer Plows, Spends Less Than Similar Cities

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The recent winter weather has made some question whether the city of Columbus is equipped with enough snow plows. Many side streets remain covered with snow. WOSU takes a look at some other cities’ snow plow fleets.

To be fair, it’s been a very difficult month for Columbus plowing crews. Just in the first 16 days of February, the city has gotten almost 26 inches of snow. That’s more snowfall than is expected for the entire winter season.

It’s Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman’s “snow warriors” who have that job of putting all that snow in its proper place.

While most of the city’s main thoroughfares are plowed by now, many of the side and residential streets remain covered in snow.

Columbus has 6200 lane miles to plow. A lane mile is one mile of pavement for each lane on a roadway. For example, on a two lane roadway, there are two lane miles for every mile. So again, Columbus has 6200 lane miles, and it has 60 plows. That’s one plow for every 103 lane miles.

Some may wonder if that’s enough, especially since many roads remain unplowed.

Columbus’s Department of Public Services assistant director Rick Tilton said in the best of worlds any city could use more plows. But when it comes to the city of Columbus, “We have the plows that we can afford.”

Indianapolis gets about the same amount of snow on average per season as Columbus. And it has about the same number of lane miles. But Indianapolis has 30 percent more plows than Columbus.

Steven Hardiman speaks for Indianapolis’ Department of Public Works. He said their 91 plows get the job done but,”We’d certainly love to have more vehicles in the fleet. But trying to work within the budget that we have it’s been a challenge to replace some of the vehicles that we have, but we’ve been able to find some cost savings.”

Indianapolis has a budget of $6.8 million. Columbus’ budget is $8.4 million. When Indianapolis gets six inches of snow it hires scores of private contractors to clear the neighborhoods. And Indy puts plows on garbage trucks if necessary. Columbus does not use private contractors or garbage trucks to plow. Indy does have another advantage – it does not have to plow state roads. Columbus plows 315, 33 and 104.

Closer to home, Dayton gets about the same amount of snow Columbus receives, but it’s much smaller. Dayton has about one-third the lane miles of Columbus. But Dayton has the same number of plows.

Fred Stovall heads up Dayton’s Department of Public Works. Despite all of the recent snow he said even main residential streets are clear.

“Those are pretty much in good condition where you got spot areas where you have snow accumulation, but they’re all pretty much down to bare pavement,” Stovall said.

When asked if Columbus could use an additional 30 plows – to bump it up to as many as Indianapolis – Rick Tilton said,”Well, the better question is where would we get the money for 30 more plows? These trucks are expensive. We also have to staff the trucks. That’s expensive. We have to pay salary and benefits to every driver that we have.”

Tilton said extra trucks ready to plow the snow, would just sit idle the rest of the year.

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