9 parked cars hit by plows since ‘08

Published 1:40 pm Saturday, February 20, 2010

With winter comes snow plowing, but with snow plowing can sometimes come nicked, scratched and dented cars.

So far in 2010, Austin has had four reported incidents of a plow hitting a parked vehicle along its route. Since 2008, that number is nine. The damage has cost the city roughly $11,000 in insurance claims, with the 2010 amount still to be determined.

City engineer Jon Erichson said the goal is always to be accident free, but he said plows will inevitably hit a car every now and then.

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“It’s a credit to (plow) drivers, truthfully, that there aren’t more accidents,” Erichson said.

The engineer said there are a number of factors that make incidents hard to avoid.

For one, plows naturally have to come out during the worst driving conditions. Secondly, many roads in Austin are quite narrow, an issue compounded by cars parking on both sides.

But that doesn’t mean that Austin plow drivers don’t strive to be accident free. Erichson said all drivers have their Minnesota Commercial Drivers Licenses, which are issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. On top of that, Austin crews go through training in the fall where they drive through their routes and take note of potential problem areas.

“Plowing snow is one of the most difficult jobs our drivers encounter,” Erichson noted in a memo to city council.

The engineer said increased staffing would certainly help, but because of state and local budgetary concerns, that possibility is far-fetched at best. Instead, Erichson’s department will have to run with what they have. Currently, that means 23 primary plow drivers, but also parks and recreation department employees, as well as waste water treatment plant employees, as needed. Everyone who drives a plow has their CDL, Erichson added.

When a plow hits the streets, it only has one person on-board, again a factor of strained budgets. Erichson said a second person would help, but noted that the city hasn’t operated that way for many years.

City administrator Jim Hurm said it boils down to local officials — and residents — picking their poison.

If people want more staff for plowing, that would come at a cost to taxpayers, as does paying for damaged cars, Hurm said. Currently, the problem of damaged cars does not seem to outweigh the cost of hiring more staff, but the administrator said the city would monitor the issue.

“We’ll keep an eye on it,” Hurm said.

However, city councilman John Martin said he thought the issue deserved more immediate attention.

“I think we can reach zero (incidents),” Martin said. “We as council owe it to our employees driving those trucks to help them.”

Like Erichson, Martin acknowledged that narrow streets are a big factor. To address that, the council member said stricter parking enforcement — especially during snow emergencies — should be looked at. Martin also said the city could consider changing parking rules in areas that are especially troublesome for plows.

“I think it’s one of the variables we need to look at,” he said.

In addition, Martin said more training, both for regular drivers and for those called in to help, can never hurt.

“I don’t think you can over-do training,” he said. “Do our guys know how to handle these huge plows?”

2008- Four incidents, $9,937.32 total in claims

2009- One incident, $1,305.08 in claims

2010- Four incidents, claim amount to be determined

Source: City of Austin