Anchorage is still struggling to remove snow weeks after winter storms

A high snow berm comes almost to the centerline of a slushy street.
Snow clogs a lane along University Drive on Thursday. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage officials say they’re continuing work on widening roads and hauling snow away after a trio of storms brought more than 4 feet of snow to the city last month.

But some residents and city leaders, like Anchorage Assembly vice chair Chris Constant, say they’re unhappy with the amount of snow still covering some streets and sidewalks.

“Snow is still a mess all over town,” Constant said Tuesday morning. “There are still lanes that disappear as you’re driving down traffic. We’re, what, three weeks out from the last major snow event?”

Anchorage just had one of its snowiest Decembers on record, and snow from the three back-to-back storms has long clogged roadways, leading to fewer drivable lanes and longer commutes. City officials say crews have made progress over the past few weeks. They’ve cleared thousands of truck loads of snow off the streets so far, and the work continues, but there are challenges.

“We know it’s not perfect,” said city spokesman Hans Rodvik.

Rodvik said he understands residents’ frustrations, but the city had to first focus on major, busy streets when it began to tackle the snowfall. Then, it moved into neighborhoods.

“We did that with single-grader teams, more or less making one lane through neighborhoods to provide that access,” Rodvik said.

He said many crew members worked more than 20 days in a row, day and night, to clear snow. Even over Christmas weekend, a smaller group continued to work.

But, Rodvik said, it did initially take time to get enough people and equipment onboard.

“I think it just took us some time to source other contractors and get other help to begin these widening operations,” he said. “So I imagine some of that traffic backup that people did experience was attributed to that.”

As of Thursday night, acting Municipal Manager Kent Kohlhase said the city had hauled 320,000 cubic yards of snow, which he equated to 320,000 Maytag washing machines. In an email to the Anchorage Assembly Friday, Kohlhase said the contractor the city has been working with since the fall has “been challenged in his ability to provide the number of trucks ordered on a daily basis.”

As a result, Kohlhase said, the city pulled snow dump trucks from the Chugiak-Eagle River maintenance contractor and is using drivers from the city’s water and waste services to operate vehicles.

Kohlhase said the city is currently accepting bids on an additional snow hauling contract, and Mayor Dave Bronson has shortened the 14-day bid period to just a week. Officials are also using trucks from a “miscellaneous services” contract to remove snow in the more than 1,300 cul-de-sacs in Anchorage, he said.

Crews are currently focused on hauling snow from main streets that are near schools, said Kohlhase’s Thursday email. He said he hopes to get every school cleared by the time classes resume on Monday, Jan. 9.

Assembly member Constant said another area of concern is snow covering sidewalks, the snow piles making it difficult for walkers and bus riders to safely reach their destinations.

“Yesterday, I was driving and I saw a woman standing 8 feet high on a snow berm walking up Northern Lights, like it was her only way to go,” Constant said. “There is no access right now.”

Rodvik, the city spokesman, said he doesn’t have an exact timeline on when the city will finish clearing sidewalks. He said there have been difficulties.

“A couple weeks ago, it was my understanding that we had to pull some of the sidewalk blowers off because they were getting stuck and it was getting too dangerous because the berms and the spillover was getting too high,” Rodvik said.

Kohlhase said two major issues are standing in the way of the city being able to haul snow effectively. The first is snow-covered cars in the roads which can hamper snow plow efforts. The second: private snow haul contractors pushing snow into public roads, which goes against city code. He said the ability to haul snow is also determined by the distance from snow dump sites. He said there are currently six available sites.

On Thursday, Rodvik said it doesn’t look like the snow dump sites will fill up any time soon.

“My understanding is we’re working to get some bulldozers out to the sites to push the snow back,” he said. “Normally, hauling doesn’t happen until January-February timeframe, so we’re a little early. But right now, I think we’re doing okay.”

Bronson’s administration has faced criticism in recent weeks over the local equipment operators union warning city officials this summer of potential snow plow troubles due to long-standing staffing and retention issues.

Constant said during Bronson’s tenure, the Assembly has had trouble getting up-to-date information on a variety of topics. However, he said, he was happy with Kohlhase’s snow haul update.

“It’s the most thorough briefing that we’ve received from the administration in writing probably since June 2021,” Constant said. “And so, I appreciate the fact that they are now making an effort to communicate to us in a way that we can get out.”

Kohlhase recently took over as acting municipal manager after Amy Demboski was fired last month.

The Anchorage Assembly has scheduled a work session on Thursday to discuss city snow removal efforts with members of the Bronson administration.

Alaska Public Media

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