5 things to know about how Hamilton battles winter storms

Here's look at the expensive, complex and system for how Hamilton tackles winter storms.

Road and sidewalk priorities and GPS tracking? Here's what you need to know

The public will not be able to track snow plows via GPS this year, but read on to find out which streets will be looked after first during snow storms. (John Rieti/CBC)

There are thousands of kilometres of roads, sidewalks and bike trails to be cleared and hundreds  city and private vehicles devoted to doing it as fast as possible. Here's a look at how City of Hamilton battles winter storms and deploys its army of snow and ice clearing equipment.

Why are some roads cleared before others? Will GPS tracking be available? And just how much salt is used in an average winter? All those questions and more are answered below.

1. Road priorities

It should come as no shock that some roads are more important to clear immediately than others, but how does the city prioritise which roads receive service first?

Well, there's a number of factors that go into the response time and amount of attention the snow plows will give to certain roads. Those factors include the amount of snow, the required treatments and the amount of maintenance required on a road to be considered "completed."

For example, plows do not need to tend to residential roads until eight hours after 8 cm of snow has accumulated on the road. After those roads have accumulated eight cm, plows are given 24 hours before they must complete the job on residential roads.  

Those roads fall fifth on the city's priority list when it comes to snow maintenance. Below is the full prioritised list, including how crews treat certain roads.

TypePriority numberSnow amount that
requires response
When they have
to respond
When they have to 
complete the job
Targeted road conditions
after plow
Linc/Red Hill/Arterials1Immediate2.5 cm4 hoursBare pavement
Escarpment crossings1Immediate5 cm4 hoursBare pavement
Primary collectors2A4 hours8 cm8 hoursBare pavement×
Secondary collectors2B4 hours8 cm8 hoursCentre bare×
Residential3R8 hours8 cm24 hoursBare pavement×
Hard surface rural roads38 hours10 cm24 hoursCentre bare×××
Loose top rural roads38 hours10 cm24 hoursSnow packed×××

The priority order is not set in stone, however, and is adjusted depending on the storm. For instance, if snow or wind speeds increase, or there's prolonged freezing rain, residential roads move up the list and take the same priority as collectors. 

2. More priorities

But it's more than just street maintenance that the city prioritises. During a storm, the city's plan first accounts for the street types listed above, and then focuses on sidewalks, crosswalks and courts. After roads are cleared, the city's next priorities are as follows:

  1. Sidewalks, bus stops and schools
  2. Intersection cleanup for crosswalks and sight-lines
  3. Maintenance calls for snow on sidewalks
  4. Court cleanup—snow removal and disposal of stock piled snow

3. Route tracking still unavailable

As of Nov. 2, 2015, route tracking will not be available to the public for the upcoming 2016 storm season. It is still listed as an "initiative" of the city moving forward.

Route tracking has been available in other jurisdictions for years now. Despite pressure from the public and city councillors a couple years ago, the topic still remains up in the air for Hamilton's snow maintenance. 

4. Tons of salt

The city maintains 6421 lane km during any given storm, which is the equivalent of a one-way drive from Hamilton to Anchorage, Alaska. To help maintain all those kilometres for an entire winter, the city on-average has to use just under 70,000 tons of salt, over 15,000 tons of pickle mix (combination of salt and sand), and 250,000 litres of salt brine. 

5. Tons of employees

To help distribute all that salt and maintain Hamilton's roads, the city employs 329 full time/seasonal employees, with additional contracted employees bringing the total to over 800 people ready to operate equipment in a storm. The city has 110 city plow trucks and 299 contracted pieces of equipment at the ready for this coming winter. The breakdown for those contracted workers and equipment is as follows:

  • 36 contractors and 153 pieces of equipment must be available to the city 24/7 and are therefore paid a monthly standby rate to be available
  • 30 contractors and 197 pieces of equipment are on-call for clearing snow from sidewalks, bus stops, the fronts of schools, cul-de-sacs etc.


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