Capital Transit gets new equipment to clear snow from Juneau bus shelters

Bus shelter
Capital Transit bus shelter in front of the Marie Drake school. A picture circulating on social media shows another bus shelter with a large berm and chunks of ice and snow in front of it. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

This month’s heavy snowfall has complicated travel and access for Juneau drivers and pedestrians. For people who use Juneau’s public transit, they’ve also had to deal with bus stops blocked by snow berms. But the city has purchased new equipment to clear out bus shelters and nearby sidewalks.

A recent social media post highlighted the difficulty of the elderly and disabled accessing a Juneau bus shelter with big chunks of snow and ice piled in front of it.

“That was a twist. I’ve never seen that before. Not that the snow was plowed into the bus stops. That was a new trick,” said Cheryl Putnam, a Juneau disability advocate.

A bus stop in the Mendenhall Valley blocked completely by snow in mid-March. Juneau resident Patrick Williams said shelters would be blocked like this for days at a time. (Courtesy Patrick Williams)

Putnam says she has used a heavy electric wheelchair for the last 12 years. She remembers getting unstuck from snow at bus stops and on sidewalks many times thanks to the kindness and help of strangers and drivers for Capital Transit and Juneau AKcess, formerly Care-A-Van.

Katie Koester, director of the CBJ’s Engineering and Public Works Department which oversees Capital Transit, said they have 49 bus shelters around town.

“It’s absolutely essential that people of all ages and ability can access the bus stops,” Koester said. “However, we — sometimes on heavy snow days — do have challenges keeping up.”

Koester said they clear bus shelters of snow first thing in the morning. But most of them, about 95%, are located on state thoroughfares which are usually cleared by state Department of Transportation snow plows.

“We don’t always know when that snowplow is going to come by. So we could have just cleared out a shelter, and the plow would come by and rebury it,” she said.

A state Department of Transportation official for Southeast Alaska said it is the city’s responsibility to keep bus stops and shelters cleared of snow.

Koester said they have one employee dedicated to snow removal, but they call up other Capital Transit employees to help out on heavy snow days.

Koester said Capital Transit just ordered two specialized vehicles that are built for clearing snow from sidewalks and bus shelters. But she said they may not arrive for a few weeks, which could be after the snowy season ends.

Putnam said those vehicles were on their wish list when she served on a local ADA commission.

“It’s great. They couldn’t get it at the time. But that’s good to hear,” Putnam said. “If they do it right, they can cover a lot of ground.”

Koester said the $395,000 cost of the two vehicles was paid by federal and state grants and a small local match.

In addition, the CBJ Assembly on Monday approved spending $92,000 in federal and local funds for two trailers and a new truck to pull the vehicles, plow snow and wash down bus shelters.

Koester encourages anyone to report a blocked bus shelter at 789-6901.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

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