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Icy roads lead to dozens of accidents across Dickinson

Unexpected heavy snow mixed with sleet and iced roads led to dangerous driving conditions in Dickinson and multiple accidents. James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press

What is the cost for homeowners who fail to clear snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of their home within 72 hours after snow stops falling? According to Section 33.04.290 of the Dickinson Municipal Code, the violation results in a fine of up to $500 with subsequent offenses resulting in a Class B Misdemeanor charge.

The cost of the city streets not being fully cleared of snow and ice in a timely manner may be even higher. According to police records, there were 18 vehicle accidents involving 30 vehicles within a single 24-hour period in Dickinson on Tuesday.

• A two vehicle accident occurred on the 1500 block of 3 Ave W.;

• A single vehicle accident occurred on the 1400 block of 10 Ave W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred on Empire and State;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 13 Ave W and 2 St W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 40th St. W and 3 Ave W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 40th St W and 3 Ave W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 9th St W. and 3 Ave W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 8th St SE. and Southview Ave.;

• A hit and run accident occurred on 3rd Ave W. and 15th St. W.;

• A single vehicle accident occurred at State Ave and 21st St. W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred on the 300 block of 21st St. W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred on 15th St. W. and 6 Ave W.;

• A two vehicle injury accident occurred 40th St. W. and 3rd Ave, with both drivers sent to the hospital with injuries;

• A single vehicle accident occurred at 3rd Ave W. and 23rd St. W.;

• A two vehicle accident occurred at 3rd Ave W. and 21st St. W.;

• A single vehicle accident occurred on the 1100 block of 26th St. W.;

• Two additional accidents were later reported as having been worked out between those involved, without police involvement.

Driving on slippery, ice and snow-covered streets poses safety concerns for motorists. On social media, conversations have focused on the conditions of the streets with some questioning why the snow and ice hasn't been addressed.

"Swear, I almost get hit driving home every night from work," one resident commented on a post in the Dickinson Classifieds page.

The answer, according to Gary Zuroff, public works director for the City of Dickinson, is a matter of the recent additions of "miles and miles" of streets and limited personnel.

"We have eight people in the streets department, but of course we can't handle all the events with just the street department," Zuroff said. "The mileage in the city has almost doubled since 2014. Since then, what we've done with the bigger snow events is what we call an 'all-hands on deck,' where anybody from any department within public works with a CDL gets called out."

Zuroff said that in severe snow storms, garbage pick up is often delayed to facilitate the "all-hands on deck."

"All those guys who usually pick up garbage, go to snow removal," he said. "We have some water utilities people who go to snow removal too."

According to records, the city employs 30 CDL operators within the public works department who can be called out for an all-hands on deck when the city administrator, emergency services, police and public works decide if there is a snow emergency. Non-snow emergency situations depend on the severity of the snow fall.

The street maintenance manager, a position presently vacant, is responsible for the supervision of the day-to-day operation of the Street Maintenance Department. The work of this division includes such assignments as street patching, snow removal, street cleaning and small-scale street reconstruction projects. In the absence of a manager, Zuroff said the department has followed the city's priorities in assigning snow removal and de-icing assignments.

"What we have is a policy that prioritizes the roadways in and around the city. Our first priority are level one roadways, which are the federal- and state-funded roads like the business loops, interim bypass, truck passes and Highway 22. Priority two are around schools, hospitals and around emergency services like police and fire," Zuroff said. "Normally we'll hit other areas as needed, like residential streets if they get four to five inches of snow."

Addressing why Northside residential streets are cleared first, Zuroff said it was a matter of circumstances.

"That varies because the wind here sometimes makes the horizontal snow worse than the regular snowfall, so we have to hit the northwest part of town just so people can get around," he said. "Following that, we typically hit call-in requests and residential areas following a normal snowstorm."

Although the city strives to maintain safe driving conditions on its streets, the city does not have a 'bare roads' policy, according to street department documents. In other words, the department does not strive to remove all the snow from streets; rather, it attempts to maintain safe driving conditions with the fleet that is available.

"We've really developed the fleet in the last couple of years," Zuroff said. "We have two big tandem axle plows just like the state Department of Transportation ones, with a front plow, under plow and wings with a sanding pre-wet brining system. We have a single axle plow truck with the same thing as the tandems. We have three to four loaders with blades out and three to four patrols that go out also. We have two one-tons with blades and three briners."

"Last time, we had 23 pieces of equipment out there," he added.

Zuroff said the department will be looking into residential areas next week, but that the lack of staffing is a concern.

"At what point do we contract out for additional services to remove snow and ice from residential areas has been something we're looking into," Zuroff said. "If it gets to be a problem, if the weather continues to build up next week with additional snow, we'll have to probably hit the residential areas. Right now we're hoping it will warm up, and then we can brine next week and melt the snow to the pavement. If not, we'll have to look into plowing into residential areas and picking up the snow."

Cautioning motorists to drive safe, Zuroff said the department is doing the best it can given the current situation.

"You can't always predict mother nature with the rain and snow. Not every situation is the same, and that is what hurt us this week," Zuroff said. "We caution motorists traveling the streets to be safe. We are trying to increase our efforts and planning next week's actions."

Zuroff expressed some of the hardships facing the department, saying that maintaining employees had continued to be difficult in the current employment market of Dickinson, prompting much turnover in personnel.

"We are having trouble keeping employees because the market, but if anyone is interested in applying for the two vacant positions with the streets department, please do," Zuroff said. "You can apply at city hall with the human resources department."

A facebook message released by the city's public works department stated, "we will continue to sand streets until temperatures allow for other treatments to break up the ice," and urging, "please use caution when driving."

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