A City of Helena snow plow

A Helena snowplow works its way down Benton Avenue during last week's snowstorm. The city plans to start using road salt and make a variety of other changes to streamline snow removal.

Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

Helena is starting a pilot program intended to streamline snow removal.

The changes include the use of a salt product called Ice Slicer, flexing shift times for plow drivers, reviewing new snow-removal routes and working with citizens to more fully plow city streets.

“There are things we have to work through proof of concept,” Helena Public Works director Randall Camp said.

Ice Slicer is a salt mined around the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Helena currently utilizes rock to add traction to the streets instead of using salt to melt ice. Ice Slicer would melt the ice and snow on the street, but it can also corrode vehicles.

Camp is cautious about the salt’s future use. The city has bought 35 tons of the product to utilize on Sixth Avenue, 11th Avenue and Last Chance Gulch. Camp said the city is currently working on getting the Ice Slicer ready to roll out and is testing it in the plow yard.

“It’s a challenge,” Camp said. For one, the cost of the material is higher than the rock the city uses, and the size of the Slicer’s particles will force public works to change the size of the releasing gates on the back of city plows so that it all doesn’t fall out too quickly.

Flexing the beginning of plowing times will allow the Street Division of Helena Public Works to start snowplow operators’ shifts at different times depending on the weather forecast, allowing plows to respond to each storm.

Helena will be reviewing its currently designated snow routes to see if any change is needed to keep up with shifting population. Designated snow routes are plowed first and kept clear throughout the day and are the priority for snow removal, followed by major streets, selected collector streets, and then residential streets. The city is currently developing a matrix involving traffic counts, schools, school bus routes, emergency service access, steepness and other criteria to judge what routes will be chosen. Camp said that review will happen throughout the season, but the Public Works will “reevaluate all snow routes.”

Public Works is also rolling out an outreach effort for curb-to-curb plowing for a few areas in Helena, including Sixth Avenue, 11th Avenue and Broadway from Davis Street to Montana Avenue. Public Works will be placing door hangars asking residents to voluntarily move their vehicles during, and for 24 hours after, a snowfall of more than two inches, allowing clearance of the entire street.

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Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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