Message from Mayor Smith: Clearing Our Streets and Sidewalks

As winter has arrived early, I want to share with citizens some changes we are making to our Public Works Department. These changes focus on safety of pedestrians, drivers and cyclists, and of our intention to improve snow operations this winter. Service to residents is at the very core of what we do and snow removal is one of the most important and costly parts. Constructive feedback from many residents over the past two years has been consistent: they want improvements to services and improved safety for mobility. Public Works management and I agree with residents; we can do better.

Insufficient maintenance on buildings, sidewalks, roads and parks will ultimately cost the City more than investing in the right people to care for them. We can improve services in a significant way by adding to the team and making the department structure more efficient.

Irregular weather patterns are also a challenge for our Public Works Department, particularly snow removal operations.

Last year, we had eight snow loading operations and 11 periods of freeze/thaw cycles. This made it difficult for the City to fulfill its commitment to clearing sidewalks, public spaces, public steps and staircases of snow, ice and slush in a timely fashion. On average, it was taking us five to six days to clear a 20+ centimetre snowfall. Understandably, this was a source of frustration and a safety concern for many residents.

Our Public Works team along with Council and the Administration have assessed the situation and identified the following key hurdles:

  • New provincial laws further restrict access for heavy vehicles: the trucks that are waiting to be filled up with snow cannot access certain streets, which slows down our snow removal operations;
  • Extended time to get to snow dumps due to work on Turcot interchange;
  • Limitation on overtime hours for truck drivers for safety and security reasons;
  • Outsourcing issues due to the management of contractors and to the recruitment of qualified manpower at their end.

We have concluded that both our maintenance practices and snow removal process can be improved with additional staff. For that reason, it was decided to significantly increase investment in Public Works operations in 2019-2020 – on a provisional basis.

As part of these provisional changes, we are adding a fourth snow removal crew, as well as a dedicated overnight team. This is to ensure that the clearing of snow on City sidewalks, and of the areas surrounding schools and the commercial sectors, is done as quickly as possible.

To implement the plan, we have hired a night superintendent and have budgeted to hire 19 seasonal staff members to join the Public Works team at an approximate cost of $700,000. This addition to the workforce will be comprised of auxiliary part-time employees. By hiring these additional staff we are able to better manage operations and stop outsourcing some contracts which cost the City close to $300,000. Therefore, the impact on the budget for winter 2019-2020 is an increase of $400,000.

Additionally, to ensure pedestrian safety, the City has purchased new equipment, such as plows and ice breaker machines to clean and clear sidewalks in order to increase walkability.

These changes should allow us to reach our goal of ensuring that a major snow removal operation is completed over a four-day period. Residents love our outdoor rinks. An added benefit is that our outdoor rinks will be usable within 48 hours of a storm, three days earlier than in previous winters.

We will measure and expect improved services to residents. The safety and mobility of residents who are walking, driving or biking has been the guiding principle in this investment of additional staff to our Public Works team. We cannot control the weather but we hope these changes will lessen its impact.