Municipal Snow Management During the Winter


Illinois, especially the northern part of the state, falls victim of a high abundance of snow during the winter. Massive snow fall not only creates inconvenience, but potentially dangerous conditions. Moreover, poor planning can deplete reserves and put a strangle hold on budgets as municipalities coop with maintenance of roads, snow removal, liability claims, paying public employees for their services, and much more. This piece takes a look at how Illinois’ largest municipality, Chicago, combats snow.

The Department

The city of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) is responsible for planning and administering snow removal strategies. The head of the department is John Tully and he has served in that role since November 2017, where then-mayor Rahm Emmanuel appointed him.

Coordination of snow removal is handled in DSS’ Snow Command Center. Here, municipal employees are equipped with computers and a Doppler radar to help track the movement of plows and what streets need the most attention. The department has about 287 snow plows, 50 garbage trucks with quick plows, and 26 4X4 vehicles at there disposal to manage the elements.

The Budget

The Department of Streets and Sanitation operates on a $273 million budget (2020) and about $27 million of that is allocated to the line item of Streets and Operations. This includes snow removal and is about 10 percent of DSS’ overall budget. The Motor Fuel Tax Fund helps the city pay for salt for snow removal. The city currently has about 400,000 tons of salt.

The Strategy

Parking Bans

Because snow takes up limited space, municipalities implement parking restrictions to ensure plows have enough room to due its job. The city of Chicago has an overnight parking ban from December 1st to April 1st on specific streets regardless of snow fall. Other streets have bans where snow needs to fall by a specific amount, such as 2 inches, in order for the bans to be in effect. For those who live on residential streets, there are signs at the end of each block informing residents on which side of the street they cannot park.

Snow Routes

Main roads and Lake Shore drive are the first priority when it comes to plowing streets. Once dispatched, the city’s Snow Command Center can determine streets and areas are in the most need for plowing through the use of multiple cameras scattered throughout the city. The Command Center has city staff to coordinate logistics between plows on streets and streets that are in need of maintenance. Residence can view the location of plows and salt spreaders through the city’s Plow Tracker.

Snow Removal

The city’s snow ordinance requires resident’s to shovel snow on their sidewalk. Space must be cleared at least 5 feet wide on all sidewalks adjacent to a resident’s property. For snow that cannot simply be pushed aside, the city has multiple designated locations where it can be dumped if needed. These dump sites very by year but are normally determined before winter starts.

When conditions get extremely bad, the city will procure additional services through private vendors. Due to the recent snow fall in February 2021, the city contracted with carriers to help assist with snow removal. This was also the case in 2015 and 2011 as well.

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