The fate of Whitehorse winter roads — in both the short and long-term — was the focus for much of Whitehorse city council’s Feb. 7 meeting.
Michael Abbott, the city’s acting manager of fleet and transportation maintenance, brought forward a recommendation that council approve a capital budget change to add another $100,000 from city reserves for a major review of the city’s snow and ice control policy.
The review is proposed to be done by the fall. It would look at the city’s priorities around snow clearing, its equipment fleet, snowfall amounts in recent years and more in determining how it may deal with snow clearing in the long-term.
That discussion also led council members to look at the current situation with both council and city staff acknowledging that city crews are working around the clock to clear roads and are still unable to keep up as record snowfalls continue to hit the city.
Council members acknowledged that some roads have not yet been plowed and emphasized the need for changes, given the increasing snowfall in recent years.
City staff emphasized it has brought in contractors to assist and is continuing to look at new ways to try and deal with the current situation.
Abbott told council that according to Environment Canada, Whitehorse saw more than 93 millimetres of precipitation between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31.
“That’s the most we’ve seen in the last five years,” he said.
Along with the added snowpack, new city roads, sidewalks and trails have been built as Whitehorse has grown, particularly in Whistle Bend, which is anticipated to continue growing into the future.
“The review will conduct a gap analysis of the city’s policy and the current allocations of budget and fleet resources, examine other approaches used in similar sized winter cities, identify any new and emergent technologies and best practices, and detail an implementation plan for recommended change,” Abbott said. “This review will also provide key inputs into the ongoing snow site management plan review and examine the current fee structure for use of the city’s snow dump facilities.”
While the review is not proposed to address active transportation connectivity issues, Lee Hawkings, who spoke as a delegate at the meeting, argued it could be a unique opportunity for the city to address two separate policies that govern trail clearing and for the city to consider how people move through Whitehorse.
“In my view, given the climate emergency, we have to start thinking about other ways of facilitating movement in the city and, in particular, year-round,” he said.
As a cyclist who commutes between Ingram and the downtown throughout the workweek, he pointed to the challenges in navigating snowdrifts and large piles of snow to get on a bike path, not knowing from one day to the next whether a path will be clear.
“It’s not necessarily that the routes aren’t there, but it’s just making sure that they’re maintained in a consistent way and consistent with how we deal with our other priority roads and city,” he said, emphasizing the importance of stakeholder input into the review if it goes ahead.
Council will vote on whether to make the budget change for the review at its Feb. 14 meeting.
As for the current situation…
After being presented with the recommendation for the review, council members turned their attention to the situation facing the city this winter.
“Every day there’s pictures of cars stuck,” Coun. Dan Boyd pointed out, noting at one point the city had come within a week of catching up on snow clearing only to get more snow again, sending it back about three weeks.
As Coun. Ted Laking said, despite the city’s best efforts, it’s struggling to keep its head above water. He too highlighted the many vehicles he’s seen stuck in the snow this year, including a school bus.
“Taxpayers are getting frustrated,” he said.
Interim city manager Jeff O’Farrell again stressed the city’s ongoing efforts with crews working overtime, contractors being brought in “to unprecedented levels,” as well as efforts to come up with a new plan, which is still in the works.
O’Farrell acknowledged administration will likely be coming back to council with a request to add funds for more snow removal this year to respond to the situation.
While Laking suggested a council and administrative roundtable be held Feb. 10 to discuss short-term measures, he could only secure support for the meeting from Boyd and Coun. Michelle Friesen, thus the meeting will not go ahead.
Boyd suggested it’s important for council and administration to work closely in these situations, while others argued it would take administration away from the work that has be done to get the snow clearing dealt with.
“I think it is a waste of resources,” Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said, adding that along with administration being present at roundtable discussions, there’s also preparation work to be done ahead of such meetings. “We need to give them room to do their job.”
Mayor Laura Cabott voiced her agreement with Curteanu, pointing out council has already asked administration what can be done, with administration indicating planning is underway and council will likely be asked for more resources in the near future. Staff will bring those forward when they need to be dealt with, she indicated.
Cabott suggested that anything to be dealt with at a roundtable two days away was already being discussed at the council meeting.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org