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Dec-26-2008 17:25printcomments

City Begins to Thaw: Transitional weather Poses New Challenges

The next phase of storm response is to prepare and respond to the melt-off to prevent drainage problems and street flooding.

Snow plow

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - Today marks the thirteenth day of a full callout operation that entails two 12-hour shifts in a 24-hour period in the city of Portland.

"Our crews continue to be dedicated to providing the best service possible to the citizens of Portland under extraordinary circumstances to keep commerce active and the City's transportation infrastructure functioning," said Mayor-Elect Sam Adams.

Sanding and plow crews worked through the holiday to keep the roads drivable so citizens could be with family and friends. City crews continue on full callout today.

Transitional weather is starting to take shape over the region, but it will take time for the accumulated snow and ice to melt off. The approaching rains and warmer temperatures, expected to last through the weekend, will bring their own challenges, especially wherever melting snow and ice cannot flow directly and quickly into storm drains. It's likely to bring some street flooding as catch basins are plugged up with snow and ice.

The City's goals this weekend are to keep priority routes open for commerce and mass transit and to prevent drainage problems and street flooding. Maintenance Operations crews will be focusing on several road treatments:

* Snow removal, especially downtown, to enable commerce activity and transportation to downtown Portland. * Stormwater management to facilitate efficient drainage and prevent street flooding; crews will be clearing catch basins and creating channels to facilitate efficient stormwater drainage.

* Plowing priority routes to provide a wide and smooth driving surface and continue to peel away the layers of slush, packed snow, and ice.

* Sanding on very slick spots to provide traction for motorists and help break down the ice.

* Assist TriMet by plowing streets and snow berms at intersections to re-open service lines on neighborhood streets.

* Provide additional service in the West Hills to enable access for utility crews and residents.

* Sand and gravel cleanup will not start until streets are clear of snow and ice. Street sweepers cannot effectively pick up sand and gravel until temperatures stay above 40 degrees. The combination of sand, gravel, and ice just tears up equipment and sweeper brushes.

Advisories to Property Owners and Contractors:

The next phase of storm response is to prepare and respond to the melt-off to prevent drainage problems and street flooding. The warmer rainy weather we are expecting, on top of the recent heavy snowfalls, could present a threat for roof collapses, as well as localized street and basement flooding. There are several actions residents and property owners can take to help.

Clear Sidewalks and Driveways:

* Clear your sidewalk of snow and ice as soon as possible, according to City Code. Maintain at least a 3-foot-wide path so pedestrians and transit users have a safe place to walk.

* Clear your driveway along the pedestrian path and sidewalk. City crews will not respond to requests for plowing and sanding residential neighborhood driveways.

* When removing snow from sidewalks and driveways, please pile shoveled snow where it can be absorbed into the ground, not on the street and public right-of-way.

* Businesses who are hiring private contractors to clear lots are advised NOT to dump snow and ice on the street and other public rights-of-way; please store it on your property.

Inspect Property and Roof:

* Icicles overhanging doorways and walkways can be dangerous and should be carefully removed. Please make arrangements to post an advisory to pedestrians (sign or sandwich board) and eliminate the hazard.

* Check your property for signs of earth movement, such as leaning trees, or cracks in the soil and under sidewalks. If you have a problem, contact a soils engineer (see the Yellow Pages, under "Engineers-Geotechnical-Soils") to evaluate the situation.

* Check your roof gutters and down spouts for "ice dams" that may have formed, causing water to back up through roofs and seep into homes and commercial buildings.

* Be on the alert for large accumulating snow build-up or snowdrifts on your roof. If roof snow can be removed, do so with caution.

Clear Catch Basins:

* Clear storm drains on your neighborhood street to minimize local flooding problems from the melt-off. When storm drain grates are blocked, snow melt and surface water do not have a place to drain properly. Use a shovel clear the snow, slush, ice, and debris.

* Keep gutters and downspouts clear of snow, ice, vegetation, and debris to allow melting snow to drain.

* Always take precautions when working alongside roadways.

Advisories to Motorists, Pedestrians, and Bicyclists:

Changing weather results in variable road conditions. Warming temperatures, more vehicles on the road, and the melting process are creating very slushy conditions and deep ruts on roads with heavy snow accumulations.


* If you abandoned your vehicle during the storm this week, please recover it as soon as possible and move it off a major route to a side street. Vehicles parked along major streets (legally or illegally) impede the City's plowing and sanding operations and both public and private snow removal efforts. Owners of these vehicles are advised to dig your vehicles out of the snow as soon as possible and move them to a side street so plows can completely open up the major streets.

* Travel cautiously and be prepared to respond to rapidly changing conditions.

* Be alert for standing water on roadways as snow and ice begin to melt. Do not drive through areas of rapidly moving water. Be aware that standing water may cause hydroplaning.

* Stay on main roads as much as possible; side streets continue to be challenging, especially for two-wheel drive vehicles.

* Bus routes and intersections, in particular, have a lot of rutting with 4-5 inches of snow compacted. Slush could grab your tires and pull you into a rut, causing fishtailing when you try to turn off the rut. Merge slowly and avoid abrupt movements to avoid skidding.

* If possible, park your car off-street to allow snow plows to remove snow for the general public and emergency vehicles; plowing activity could trap you in.

* If driving downtown, consider parking in a SmartPark garage in lieu of on-street parking to allow for public and private snow removal.

* Maintain at least three car lengths distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you to provide additional reaction, braking, and stopping time.

* For road conditions and closures, visit, select Portland and the link to Portland Winter Travel Info.

* Share the road responsibly. Bike lanes may still have snow in the initial stages of cleanup.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists:

* Be careful and cautious in these rapidly changing conditions.

* As the snow and ice start to melt, you will see snow on top with really cold water underneath. The melting typically occurs underneath the snowpack and drains underneath as well.

* Do NOT walk in the middle of the street, but instead walk off-street on paths and sidewalks.

* Make yourselves visible – wear retro-reflective clothing, use front and rear lights on bicycles, make eye contact with motor vehicle drivers, signal your movements.

* Cross the street at intersections.

* Observe traffic signals.

* Dress warmly.

* Share the road responsibly. Bike lanes may still have snow in the initial stages of cleanup.

* Call 503-238-RIDE (7433) for TransitTracker information for TriMet buses, MAX light rail, and the Portland Streetcar.

Social Services:

This prolonged severe winter weather has impacted vulnerable individuals and families, especially the elderly and people living on the streets.

* Check on your neighbors, pull together, and help each other out.

* Anyone seeking shelter should contact 211Info by dialing 2-1-1. 211Info will be available to identify available shelter and warming centers.

* People stranded in their homes and unable to get out of their neighborhoods are advised that many local markets are delivering groceries to residents. Phone the markets directly or check their web sites for information.

Budget and Costs:

Transportation's FY 08-09 budget includes one million dollars in contingency for any type of emergency response – snow and ice, flood, fire, or natural disaster. Costs for this severe winter weather event will certainly exceed that budget. Officials estimate costs to be two million dollars.

Mayor-elect Sam Adams emphasized today that Transportation's primary source of discretionary operating revenue is the State Highway Trust Fund, the "gas tax." The main components of Highway Trust Fund revenue are motor fuels tax, weight-mile tax, and vehicle registration and titling fees. Since none of these sources is indexed to inflation and with vehicles becoming more fuel efficient and more people using transportation alternatives to the one-person occupancy vehicle, discretionary revenues are projected to be declining in coming years.

There is a wide gap between the maintenance and safety needs of Portland's transportation system and the City's resources to meet those needs. Simply reallocating resources will not close that gap. In addition, Transportation cannot rely on reserves to fund short-term budget gaps or support costs due to emergencies such as landslides, floods, and this current unusual snow and ice event.

Transportation has at a minimum a $422 million maintenance backlog in addition to roughly one-half billion dollars deferred road maintenance. This backlog will continue to grow and have a serious impact on Portland's transportation system until we are successful in securing new and sustainable funding sources for our maintenance operations and safety programs. Budget shortfall for FY 08/09 is $5.5 million. Budget shortfall for FY 09/10 is $6.4 million.

Adams said he understands the public's frustration with current road conditions due to heavy snowfall and ice formation. "Crews have been doing an excellent job under extremely challenging conditions." Portland has widely varying terrain and can have widely varying weather conditions throughout the city. It is not uncommon to have a significant amount of snow accumulation in one part of the city while only a few miles away there is no snow at all or just ice. Hills on both the east and the west sides of the city increase motorists' difficulties and require special attention from Transportation crews.

Portland does not get a "predictable" annual snowfall. Adams said, "We cannot afford to purchase equipment that would simply sit idle in the yard most of the year perhaps for years." He also acknowledged that if global climate change contributes to a trend of more severe winter weather events in Portland, the City will have to develop a new Snow and Ice Plan and find a way to invest in additional equipment to respond. "We have to keep commerce active and transportation moving; it's what we do."

Source: City of Portland

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.