Is KC worse at snow removal than neighboring towns? After 3 days of ice, some say yes

Many KCMO streets are still an icy mess. Why are two city trucks in Kansas?

Many residents were complaining that Kansas City side streets were still covered in ice, snow and slush Wednesday as two city trucks were spotted spreading salt at 41st Avenue and Eaton Street in Kansas City, Kan.
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Many residents were complaining that Kansas City side streets were still covered in ice, snow and slush Wednesday as two city trucks were spotted spreading salt at 41st Avenue and Eaton Street in Kansas City, Kan.

Three days after nearly six inches of snow blanketed Kansas City, residents said they were unhappy that their streets remained mired in ice and snow.

Some said Kansas City’s streets were worse than surrounding cities. One morning commuter posted a photo online of State Line Road, with the Kansas side clear and the Missouri side still snow-packed.

Kansas City Public Schools canceled classes for a third straight day while most other districts went back to class.

Still, city officials defended their snow removal efforts. Kansas City faces challenges their smaller neighbors don’t, spokesman Chris Hernandez said.

Kansas City has more miles of road to plow and narrower streets than the suburbs. And although the city asks residents to park all on one side of residential streets to make way for plows, many don’t.

City Council members mostly defended the city’s work, recognizing the nasty combination of rain packed into ice beneath the heavy snow that followed.

Councilman Scott Wagner knows their frustration firsthand.

North Park Avenue, the street he takes from his Kansas City, North, home, was a slog, he said, until he passed into the next town over.

“In Gladstone, that same street is clear,” Wagner said. “People are asking what’s happening and why. I understand that frustration. In 7 1/2 years (on the council) I’ve yet to understand the difference, how one does better than another.”

The public’s frustration boiled over Wednesday morning when Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte announced on Twitter that crews had completed snow removal operations.

Schulte’s tweet puzzled Courtney Lewis, because when she looked out her front window there had been no progress on her street — it remained a sheet of ice. She and her neighbors have been getting stuck out there.

“It makes you feel upset and abandoned,” said Lewis, who lives in the Troost Plateau neighborhood near 57th Street and Virginia Avenue. Lewis said she appreciates the thankless job the road crews are doing. She just wishes the city manager’s tweet had been clearer.

On Twitter, other residents pointing to their own snow-covered streets. Many posted photos.

“Haven’t even touched autumn ridge neighborhood between ambassador and green hills and 88th street to Tiffany springs — not one plow not one time,” one resident tweeted. “Doesn’t look like snow removal operations are completed at all.”

“My kid’s school is closed for the third day due to poor road conditions,” posted jenhurst (@hipaaviolation). “Working parents are suffering because of poor street cleaning management.”

The city later clarified that crews continued to address slick or missed streets.

“Public works is still out and about and have been since 7:30 a.m. working as fast as they can to address slick spots,” Beth Breitenstein, a spokeswoman for the city, tweeted. “All that has changed is they aren’t running full routes. … Operations haven’t ended.”

Hernandez said road crews had switched their focus Wednesday from running regular routes to attacking icy, snow-packed neighborhood streets.

“If you read the entire tweet, he (Schulte) went on to explain what we are doing,” Hernandez said. “He was just saying that established routes that they run during the storm, they have done that. So what they are doing now is changing their tactics or plan of attack and concentrating on the neighborhood streets and responding to 311 calls.”

On Wednesday, the city had 70 trucks in the neighborhoods trying to break up the ice and clear snow, especially at the corners, intersections, hills, curves and other slick spots that had been called in, Hernandez said.

“They know the neighborhood streets still need some work,” he said. “So they are working on it.”

“What we are doing now is mostly tackling the calls that are coming in,” Hernandez said.

Those neighborhood streets were the reason Kansas City Public Schools remained closed on Wednesday, said Ray Weikal, district spokesman. District and bus officials made the decision after touring city streets Tuesday night.

“There were too many side streets that our buses would not be able to get down, and we just did not feel comfortable that we could get students to school in a safe and timely manner,” he said.

Neighboring Raytown got students back to school on Wednesday. But along with Hickman Mills district leaders, Kansas City Superintendent Mark Bedell chose to hold off “because of the high percentage of students we have that are bus riders,” Weikal said. “There is a big difference between operating a car on an icy road and operating a school bus full of students on an icy road.”

The closing of the city’s public schools Wednesday meant the closing of charter schools as well because they share bus service. Several Academie Lafayette parents on Facebook called the decision “ridiculous.”

“I am sure parents would rather be forced to take their kids to school one day as opposed to staying home with them,” a parent wrote.

Hernandez said city officials weren’t prepared to guarantee that all streets would soon be completely free of ice and snow.

“The goal is to get through and get cleared off what we can get cleared off by passing through the neighborhood,” Hernandez said. “That doesn’t mean we will always get down to cleared pavement.”

To report an area that needs to be treated, residents can contact the 311 Action Center at @KCMO311 on Twitter, dialing 311 or 816-513-1313, or filling out an online form.

This particular storm has been a challenge, Hernandez said, because of the way it moved. Rain came first and then it quickly froze. That bonded snowpack to the pavement.

The snow fell quickly, and strong winds blew it back onto already-plowed roads.

“We have crews working hard today; they will be working hard tomorrow and they will be working hard the day after that,” Hernandez said.

At times, city trucks stray outside the city. Two city trucks on Wednesday afternoon crossed State Line Road near Westport and treated Eaton Street in Kansas City, Kan., before returning to the Missouri side.

Hernandez said the trucks were using the residential neighborhood to turn around at the end of a route segment.

Several City Council members acknowledged residents’ frustrations but highlighted the efforts of city workers.

“I know it’s a big deal,” Councilman Quinton Lucas said. “Public schools are canceled. People are working hard to get the streets clear, but we always have a residential street problem. I hold us to a higher standard. This is one of those basic public services people are entitled to.”

Councilman Jermaine Reed applauded the overtime work crews have been putting in on the roads, adding that residents have a role to play as well, keeping cars parked on one side of residential streets.

“It takes all of us working together so trucks are able to plow streets in an efficient manner,” he said.

Said Councilman Lee Barnes: “When you have a blizzard and ice, you’ve got to understand there would be some delay in getting streets clear.”

Kansas City has two main disadvantages, compared to neighboring cities, when it comes to snow and ice removal.

First is size. Kansas City is 320 square miles with 6,400 lane miles to cover. Smaller suburban cities can cover their routes with higher frequency even though they have fewer trucks. That allows them to get down to clear pavement sooner.

In addition, suburban streets are wider, so larger, more powerful truck can be used.

In Kansas City’s central core, roughly from the Missouri River south to 80th Street, the streets are narrow. On top of that, people park on the streets.

“That’s why we ask people during a storm to park only on the north and west sides of the street,” Hernandez said. Doing so allows the smaller trucks to get through the streets faster, which also gives them more power to push the snow.

“What we need,” Councilman Dan Fowler said, “are some warmer temperatures and sunshine. Until then it’ll be awful hard to clear the ice-pack.”

Districts that canceled school this week won’t know until after the winter season has ended whether they will have to make up the snow days. Districts often build a few days into their calendar.

Under a new Missouri state law, next year districts will have more flexibility in how they could make up snow days — meaning they would no longer have to tack on days at the end of the school year.

The law, which kicks in for the 2019-2020 school year, will measure instruction time in hours rather than days. Districts may choose to extend the school day an hour or more each day until the end of the year.

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