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This week’s edition!

Only Steps Forward: Setting priorities for clearing snow, ice during winter storms

By Jonathan P. LaBonté

Mayor of Auburn

The winter of 2017 has just begun, and we’ve already experienced a few snowstorms and much-dreaded ice storms to get us started.

In a world where we seem to always be in a hurry, snow and ice and the conditions they create on local streets can make for a frustrating headache. Since we are early in the year, it is the perfect time to check in on how to respond to bad weather.

When it is snowing or there is freezing rain, we should all know that the conditions are challenging for everyone. For people needing to get to work or do errands, for public safety staff out on patrol or responding to emergencies and for our public works staff trying to clear the streets, the conditions are the same. That means we should all slow down, be extra cautious and give ourselves more time to get to where we are going; this is part of the deal to live in Maine.

So maybe you’ve already followed that step, but are concerned about the condition of your road in Auburn. Call or email us and let us know. In fact, the city website has a function where you can log concerns about city services or projects. Simply go to www.auburnmaine.gov/reportit and let us know.

For storms earlier in the year, I encourage residents to have some patience as plow drivers get back into the routine of their routes, especially for storms that last for longer than a shift or that have changing conditions as snow turns to rain and ice.

While we can’t expect all of our 450 miles of road and 55 miles of sidewalks to be cleared down to the pavement all through a storm, we should all expect the level of service the city council budgets for. The City of Auburn has a priority system for roads from Priority 1 to Priority 4 with the highest priority seeing plow activity every two hours and the lowest priority every six to eight hours.

Since the city council relies on city management to oversee the performance of that system, resident feedback on what’s happening on your street is the best way to ensure we are delivering what you pay for.

Given Auburn’s status as the retail and commercial center for our region, we are forced by the state to tax on the obligation of maintaining major corridors like Center Street and Minot Avenue. Even through the 15,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day that travel here come from all over Greater Lewiston-Auburn and beyond, the costs of maintaining those roads, including for the winter, falls to city staff. That often means that predominantly residential streets that carry less traffic fall to a lower priority.

The same challenge applies to our sidewalks throughout the city and prioritizing our sidewalks on routes to school and in the downtown area before getting into residential areas. Often throughout the city during a storm, I will see business owners or neighbors working to clear not only their sidewalks, but those of abutting properties too. Everyone lending an extra hand in clearing snow, if they are able, helps us to get to a safe city more quickly.

When we dive into the budget process in the new year, it will be the perfect time to talk more with all of you about how important snow removal is and what it would cost to improve the level of service all of us now receive (and perhaps what we should cut to make that a priority).

But before we get to that, I urge all of you to provide feedback about the services you receive–and not only when you’re frustrated. Remember that our hardworking public works crews are out there in terrible conditions when many of us are sitting at home enjoying the warmth of our living rooms. Don’t forget to reach out and thank them for a job well done, too!

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