Community Environment Government Transportation

How Gig Harbor prioritizes its snow removal efforts

Posted on December 2nd, 2022 By:

Winter came early this year, with snow and freezing temperatures arriving just days after Thanksgiving. More snow could fall this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

The city of Gig Harbor Public Works Department has been busy for days, keeping streets clear and safe.

When it snows or gets icy, the public works staff maneuvers the city’s dump trucks, snow plows and sand- and salt-spreaders through the city’s 115-plus miles of roadway to keep the streets safe for driving.

In a major storm or other event, the crew is often out all night, Public Works Director Jeff Langhelm said.

They maintain close contact with the Police Department to coordinate snow and ice control.

The city of Gig Harbor’s snow removal fleet was in action this week.

The winter fleet

When the weather turns nasty, the city’s winter fleet is ready, according to Field Supervisor Brandon Crosswhite. The fleet includes:

  • A 2012 Ford F-550 three-quarter-yard dump truck equipped with a V-box sander and 9-foot plow blade.
  • A 1999 5-yard dump truck with a 10-foot remotely or cab-operated plow and a rear sanding unit.
  • And a 2008 Ford F350 4×4 equipped with an 8-foot plow and sander box spreader.

The 4x4s tackle the hills and steep grades.

Numerous public works employees have commercial driver’s licenses to operate the plows and dump trucks. When they’re on the road, a co-worker usually rides shotgun to handle radio communications and paperwork and help with loading.

The city’s mechanics also come in to handle maintenance and repair work and other tasks.

Three zones 

For snow and ice response, the city is divided into three zones. A snow removal map, available on the city’s website, shows the zones.

If more than about two inches of snow falls, Public Works deploys its plows, following the priorities on the route map.

Each truck is assigned a specific route.

The city’s snow removal route map. Click here for a larger version.

The 10-foot plow takes care of the red (north) and blue (south) routes. The 8-foot and 9-foot 4×4 plows are responsible for the green route

City policy calls for clearing the main streets first. Crews clear side streets, connectors, shoulders and parking stalls in the city rights-of-way later.

After clearing the three priority routes, and after it stops snowing, crews work on side streets and collectors. They try not to pile snow in front of private driveways. But in heavy snowfalls, that’s not always possible.

Public works staff members also decide when a steep street should be temporarily closed to traffic.

Salt brine used against ice

When the weather forecast predicts an ice event, the crew applies a 23% anti-icing solution of salt brine to the three primary routes, focusing especially on hills and intersections. The brine is also applied ahead of any predicted snowfall to help in snow removal.

The brine is distributed via a 500-gallon tank mounted on the back of a 2001 Ford F450 4×4.

A 3,000-gallon brine storage tank at the public works facility can produce up to 2,400 gallons of brine per hour.

The city has approximately 75 yards of road salt and 36 yards of brine salt on hand, as well as spare parts, chains, replacement bits for the plows and additional bags of sand.

You can help

City residents can make the snow- and ice-clearing job easier by following a few simple, common sense rules:

  • Be patient. Snow removal takes time. Give yourself extra time to get to wherever you’re headed. And don’t drive unless you have to.
  • Park your car off the street if you can, to allow the snow removal team to do their job.
  • Winterize your vehicle. Have appropriate tires and make sure your windows, side mirrors and windshield wipers are clear.
  • Property owners are responsible for cleaning their own driveways and the public sidewalks around their property.

Unincorporated areas 

Pierce County Public Works is responsible for snow and ice response in unincorporated areas of Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula.

According to the county website, if you can get out of your neighborhood and reach a key arterial, you will likely find a drivable road.

The major roads that connect residential areas to service centers and state highways are the county’s highest priority during winter storm. Pierce Transit and school bus snow routes are also high priorities.

Weather conditions, the classification of the roadway, available resources and other factors determine the level of service these major roads receive during a storm.

When a severe winter storm is forecast, the county’s response plan calls for crews to apply anti-icing products to key arterials and lifelines routes.

If heavy snowfall affects roads countywide, plow trucks with de-icing materials are deployed 24 hours a day.

View the county’s Emergency Snow & Ice Plan and learn more about the snow and ice removal procedures.