Best idea: Formalizing snow and ice control



When Christine Walsh joined Beloit's Public Works Department 18 years ago, she quickly realized formalized snow and ice management procedures would save the city a lot of money. At the time, drivers basically jumped in their trucks, dropped the blades, and dumped salt. “It was very simplistic,” says Walsh. “There were no defined routes or assigned drivers.”

Her desire to improve the operation's response prompted Walsh, who knew nothing about the art and science of clearing winter roads, to make the city's snow and ice removal program one of the best in the country. “First we started checking and rechecking the cost of everything,” says Walsh. “We even looked at how many times we change snowplow blades per truck, and saved $19,000 a year.”

The heart of the operation is a Cargill Inc. AccuBrine automatic brine maker. Installed in 2008, the mixer enables employees to custom-blend calcium chloride, salt brine, and various organic materials from an onsite tank farm with a capacity of more than 100,000 gallons. The mixtures are dispensed into dump trucks as easily as filling a car's gas tank at the fuel pump.

“Every storm is treated as an independent event,” says Walsh. “We bring everybody together before it hits and lay out a game plan.” The department subscribes to multiple weather services, gets updates every 15 minutes via satellite, and retains a meteorologist for drivers to call. Employees work closely with other city departments, local TV stations, and newspapers to provide updates and photos taken from the road. Afterward, they talk about what went well and what they need to improve.

Many visitors tour the facility every year, and Walsh spends a lot of time explaining the program to her peers.

In addition to receiving APWA's 2009 Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award, the program consistently earns kudos from citizens, city council, and police. A resident's letter to the Beloit Daily News sums it up: “I might not be able to count on my Internet connection, my phone service, or even my friends at times, but I can always count on your group to get the streets plowed.”