Facing 100 Inches Of Snow, Boston Looks North For Snow Removal Lessons

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Snow removal operations in Montreal. (Doug Caribb/Flickr)
Snow removal operations in Montreal. (Doug Caribb/Flickr)

Congratulations, Boston. You've now hit 100 inches of snow this season — more than double the average snowfall for the city.

With the record snow to clear, Boston is borrowing ideas from other cities that have more experience dealing with this sort of snow.

One hundred inches of snow is not unheard of in Montreal, where city workers not only plow roads, but physically remove snow from streets and sidewalks.

"We will load it off in trucks and take it to dump sites that are spread all over the city," said Montreal Planning Advisor Jacques-Alain Lavallée "That is about 2,200 pieces of equipment, and 3,000 employees."

After it's removed, the snow is dropped into pipes that take it to wastewater treatment plants, where it's melted, cleaned and comes back out of city faucets.

To remove the snow, Montreal has what are essentially giant, truck-mounted snow blowers that come through streets after major storms and shoot snow into waiting dump trucks. See video here:

The whole process, Lavallée says, takes about four days after a snowfall of about 8 inches.

"It's a top priority," he said. "Montrealers are known not to be very patient when it comes to snow removal operations."

Through an entire winter, that translates into about 300,000 truckloads of snow. Boston, for comparison, has removed just 30,000 over the past month.

But it's not cheap. Montreal spends the equivalent of $123 million on snow removal.

Boston's budget this year was $18 million — though the city's easily spent more than double that.

Lavallée says Montreal has to remove the snow, since temperatures don't consistently get above freezing until April — March, if it's lucky.

"You never really reach the concrete level unless the temperatures are getting milder," he said.

Boston has been using similar measures, but on a more limited scale. It has turned to snow farms at vacant lots, where snow piles are as much as six stories tall.

The city also has six of those truck-mounted snow blowers that fill up a dump truck in 30 seconds.

All of those pieces are currently on loan, but the city of Boston was already scheduled to negotiate new snow removal contracts later this year.

"Having seen the six that MEMA has helped us get, it's something that I would love to put in our arsenal," said Boston Public Works Commissioner Michael Dennehy

But he also cautions against going overboard. Dennehy said the city can't afford to spend millions of dollars on a fleet of new equipment that might not even be needed next year.

"Probably four times in a decade you get yourself to where you need consistent removal operation," he said. "So what do you do with that piece of equipment the rest of the time?"

Even other American cities that typically get this much snow have been struggling.

Buffalo has also gotten about 100 inches of snow this winter. While that's not uncommon, Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak said what is unusual is the lack of a thaw.

"We usually get a meltdown in January and in February," he said. "Right now it's the third coldest month in the history of our region."

With narrowed streets and giant snowbanks, the cold has left Buffalo looking a lot like Boston does right now, Stepniak said.

Even though Buffalo has dedicated snow removal contractors, there's simply too much snow to remove all of it until the spring thaw.

This article was originally published on February 25, 2015.

This segment aired on February 25, 2015.


Jack Lepiarz Reporter and Anchor
Jack Lepiarz was a reporter and anchor at WBUR.



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