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St. Paul looks to improve snowplowing this winter

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The city of St. Paul is aiming to provide better snow plowing service to residents and businesses this winter, after last winter's difficult conditions led to a chorus of criticism and the demotion of a top public works official.

A private consultant presented a preliminary report to the St. Paul City Council Wednesday, recommending several steps to ensure that city streets are cleared of snow and ice in a timely fashion, MPR News reports.

You may remember last winter's travel problems in the city, which started in December when thick ice made for washboard-like conditions on many streets.

Then the snow came. So much snow fell last winter that some streets became so narrow that traffic could barely get through, and the city restricted parking to one side of the street in most neighborhoods for month.

It got so bad that Mayor Chris Coleman demoted a public works official in response to the complaints.

Not wanting to go through that again, the mayor and city officials are working with Dave MacCallum of Civic Consulting Minnesota on a review of the city's snow removal operations.

One major goal would be to clear the snow to bare pavement on 90 percent of major streets within 20 hours after the end of a snow emergency, MPR News reports.

To accomplish that, MacCallum recommends the Public Works Department become more flexible in its response to snowstorms, based on how severe the weather is and where the worst road conditions are.

MacCallum is suggesting changes to the process for declaring snow emergencies and for communicating them to the public, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

On the flip side of the communication strategy, MacCallum also recommends that city staff monitor social media channels such as Twitter to find out where the trouble spots are.

The report contains a lengthy list of recommendations, but as MPR News notes, it doesn't call for a major overhaul of the operation.

"The city of St. Paul Public Works Department is sort of right in the pocket. I mean it has a good, solid snow plan," MacCallum told the council.

MacCallum's consulting firm is a nonprofit organization that was funded in part by a grant from the Bush Foundation in an effort to provide private-sector expertise to local governments, according to the Pioneer Press. The firm is providing its services to the city free of charge.

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