Piling high

Critics plow through Boston’s winter misery

March 02, 2015

Ten feet high is my ceiling, but I wonder what numbers they produce in Canada, Germany and Russia . . . no, make that Siberia?


Could there possibly be an international winter game that showcases how much air you can get under a load of shoveled snow? I’m not talking an Olympic event, because athletes guzzling down steroid slushies in order to pick up another half-inch on their toss will only strip the game of the pure talent displayed at the ends of driveways everywhere. Of course, one needs to find the perfect place to train when reaching for universal glory, and last year that spot was Chicago. The 2013-14 campaign was the most grinding of my manual snow-throwing career, and if I had a coach I probably would be looking for a replacement heading into this season. Ten-feet-high launches were no longer cutting it. By mid-January the personal records stopped rolling in, and for the next six weeks I just watched helplessly as remnants of my toss rolled right back down what seemed like ice skycrapers at the end of my driveway.


Boston is the site of this year’s snow-piling games, and after back-to-back-to-back storms more than 5,600 complaints over snow removal have been filed with the city because there are those who have just given up—or have not even bothered to try at all. 


Public works officials do not have a choice when it comes to tending to winter-maintenance duties, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 10,000 complaints have already been stored in the city of Boston’s cloud this year. 


With more than 50 in. of snow smothering the New England area in the month of February alone, which at one point had street-maintenance brass wondering where they were going to put it all, the opinions began to pile up. What I do not like to see during times like these is mainstream media offering up their tweet-like mentality. In a recent column, Scot Lehigh of the Boston Globe gave the city a failing mark because even though this upper corner of the East Coast has experienced record-breaking snowfalls, it’s not, in his words, “the heavy, high-wind-driven, impossible-to-keep-up-with, Blizzard of ’78 variety.” No, Mr. Lehigh, it has been, in my words, “the impossible-to-keep-up-with Blizzard to the Third Power of 2015.” 


Mr. Lehigh is perturbed at Boston’s attempt of moving snow far enough over on the curb. Apparently too much of early plowing was done by contractor-grade pickup trucks instead of heavier equipment, and now the piles of weather waste are creeping back on the streets. The plow-piled banks also were not moved quickly enough, according to Lehigh, and the sidewalks have been all but ignored. 


Just a few years ago, the city of Denver enacted a program that uses contractor-powered pickups, the drivers of which mostly handle low-volume-traffic roads, and the results have been very positive. Of course, there is only so much you can do in the trenches of an American city where the roads were designed prior to the Revolutionary War. The plow-piled banks fall down in the pecking order when you are dealing with three consecutive snow poundings in a single month, as do sidewalks, which really should be the responsibility of the respective businesses they front anyway. 


Mr. Lehigh obviously does not know what goes into a snow-fighting plan. Plows were called in from as far west as Pennsylvania and Ohio—and that still was not enough. The true measure of Boston’s frigid grit will come when it’s all over. Could the operations have been done any differently? How? Is the U.S. the new Siberia? R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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