SASKATOON – City crews are unable to prevent street maintenance equipment from breakdowns due to extreme cold weather, according to city officials. Temperatures this past weekend in the -30s caused 10 of the city’s 19 sanding vehicles to breakdown, days before many city roads turned incredibly icy.
“Other than control the weather, no,” said Pat Hyde, the city’s public works director, when asked if there’s anything crews could have done beforehand.
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“Hydraulics is susceptible to breakdowns at that kind of conditions and we just had a bit of string of bad luck there for a short period of time,” said Hyde.
Enough sanding vehicles were up and running to service roads on Tuesday, according to Hyde. That day 53 crashes were reported after a temperature drop caused icy road conditions. The city prioritizes its snow and icy clearing efforts, and serviced streets every two, four or six hours, depending on their rank.
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“We were able to keep the level of service up; we just weren’t able to accelerate that level of service beyond what we normally could,” said Hyde.
“We have a fleet of 19 pieces of equipment that are capable of sanding operations and we did have at one point, we had ten that were down, but that was prior to the Monday night event.”
Hyde said that at least 12 sanding vehicles were active on Monday and Tuesday. However, having roughly half of your fleet breakdown is “unacceptable,” according to a University of Saskatchewan transportation expert.
“The idea that you would have a heavy duty vehicle that is designed and built for extremely cold weather, because that’s what these vehicles do, to have 50 per cent of them go down on a weekend has to be an age, infrastructure and maintenance issue,” said Carl Kuhnke, managing director of the Saskatchewan Centre of Excellence for Transportation and Infrastructure.
“You would have to then look at how old is this fleet and should the city be looking at more up to date vehicles,” he added.
The city’s sanding vehicles vary in age and breakdowns are not rare in extreme cold temperatures, according to Hyde. He also noted that adding more vehicles wouldn’t have changed the priority frequency scale that was employed on Tuesday.
“A larger fleet wouldn’t have changed that level of service, it would just put more trucks on the road,” said Hyde.
Kuhnke pointed out that driver error accounts for roughly 90 per cent of all accidents, but said that doesn’t mean the city has no role to play in helping prevent a day like Tuesday.
“Driver behaviour is an important aspect, however, the basic question is, how many decades have we tried to change driver behaviour,” said Kuhnke.
“If you cannot change driver behaviour, in the case of snow removal, can you change the needs for snow removal and clearance so that … cars do not get into accidents as much as they did.”