Santa Fe Fights Limited Snow, Tight Deadlines

Sept. 1, 2001
WESTERN states have been experiencing the latest throng of westward expansion from America's continuously shifting population. This has resulted in increased

WESTERN states have been experiencing the latest throng of westward expansion from America's continuously shifting population. This has resulted in increased service demands being placed on local governments. For the municipalities in popular resort, retirement, and growing bedroom communities that do receive winter's snowfall, the timetables are becoming increasingly tighter for cleanup and de-icing activities.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, sits high in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Lawrence Ortiz, Director of Streets and Drainage for the City of Santa Fe, readily admits that “The City Different” doesn't receive the critical amounts of snowfall that many of his colleagues have to deal with just a little further to the north.

Nevertheless, what concerns Ortiz and his department isn't the amount of snow and ice Santa Fe receives; it's the time it takes to clear it.

Demand Shifts

“People are moving to the Santa Fe area because they want to be close to nature,” says Ortiz. “But it helps to understand that sometimes nature can inconvenience us.” Ortiz says that Santa Fe's population has grown by approximately 12% every ten years. According to recent US Census figures, he's accurate in his estimate.

Immigrating populations can cause new problems or at least issues that might not have been so large when the lifestyle of the area was a little slower. For Ortiz and his group, the problem is one of inconvenience for the residents.

“Some of our citizens have migrated to Santa Fe from places where there wasn't much snow, and some have migrated from places that had a lot of snow. What everyone seems to have in common is that when it does snow, they want it off the roads as soon as possible. Santa Fe has a highly mobile lifestyle, and our customers, the taxpayers of the city, don't want that lifestyle slowed down.

“In addition, Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico,” says Ortiz. “In January, once the legislature starts, downtown becomes an area of fulltime activity and traffic. Any major snowfall at this time can cause real problems because people aren't used to driving in the snow and ice.”

Full Range of Equipment

Santa Fe doesn't have the arsenal of equipment operated by Buffalo, New York, but it is very modern and updated equipment, Ortiz says. His department works very closely with the manufacturers and distributors of snow and ice removal equipment to keep updated on the latest ways to combat severe weather.

“We want to keep informed of what's economical, environmentally friendly, and what will have a high degree of efficiency for the type of snow and ice issues that we face in this part of the world,” says Ortiz. “We work with the equipment distributors and equipment manufacturers to gain knowledge and get the right fit of equipment for the right job.”

Ortiz has 13 dump trucks that are used in his department. By October, the trucks are prepared for any snow removal task that they might be called upon to perform. Six trucks are fully mounted with front plow combinations and spreader units. Two are heavy tandem axle dumps, and four are single axle trucks designed to be easily maneuvered in the very narrow streets of old town Sante Fe. Additionally, Sante Fe operates three motor graders for clearing more than 75 miles of unpaved roads within the city limits.

“Currently, we are using Henderson and Swensen V-style spreaders with joy-stick control,” Ortiz says. “The joy-stick control saves a lot of time for the drivers. That's important for us. We have to save time because although we have the quality of equipment, we don't have the quantity of pieces that a city in the snowbelt might have access to. Time is how we compensate for that.”

The spreading mixture for the trucks is also engineered for the particular needs of Santa Fe. “Again, many of our citizens aren't used to driving in snow storms. Because of this, we use a granulation mixture that works for booth de-icing and allows drivers to obtain maximum traction,” says Ortiz. “Plus, it has a reddish tint to the mixture so that drivers know that the road surface has been treated.”

That mixture is a combination of scoria (lava rock) and rock salt. The compound is mixed at a 4-1 ratio, four parts scoria to one part rock salt.

For snowplowing, Ortiz says that his group tries to cover every major roadway immediately after any storm activity. “Our citizens expect to get around in the city without major interruptions.

Various Surfaces

“Our snowplows handle a variety of surfaces, and they are designed to save us time. We are using Monroe plows that incorporate a reversible motion,” says Ortiz. “Santa Fe is different in both its street construction and layout. We have eight lane highways, major residential and commercial avenues, huge rural cross-section roads, residential streets, tight side streets for commercial and residential use, unpaved roads that are used by everyday citizens as thruways, and some challenging hill-type roads.”

Some of the current streets were first envisioned by the founding father, Don Pedro de Peralta, Governor and Capitan General of Mexico, upon his arrival at the current site of Santa Fe in 1610.

“The biggest change to our operation in the past twenty years has been the expectations of our citizens concerning their time,” Ortiz says. “Santa Fe may look like a relaxed community. For most of the year it is. But after a snowstorm hits, it's a community that has city employees working in three shifts, around the clock, and using a specially designed set of tools to remove the snow and ice from the roadways. After a snow, Santa Fe citizens want cleared roads so they can go about their business. And that's what we do.”

About the Author

John Nahas