I don’t even live in Wichita and I’m seething about the misinformation being foisted off on people by City of Wichita Assistant Public Works & Utilities Director Joe Pajor.
“We’re in uncharted territories in terms of facing this combination of events”
The city told Eyewitness News a lot of the mess has to do with the way the roads are built. At street level the gutters and curbs turn them into a bowl that holds the snow in. Whereas the flatter highway with ditches on the side is easier to clear.
Plus, the city says all those cars traveling slowly over the road, stopping at intersections and stop lights, helps pack the snow down and make it harder to plow up.
The city of Wichita on Wednesday received another 100 tons of salt from Hutchinson — but Wichita is still running low on its road salt supply. On Thursday, for the second straight day, city crews have been treating most of the primary roadways with 100% sand.
Excuses, Joe. When our kids give us “it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t have the stuff I needed, the rules are different for me” we send them to their room for making excuses. Why do we continue to accept these explanations for the at-least annual occurence of your department totally botching clearing the streets?
Before I go further, let me offer full disclosure: I have a contract relationship with KWCH-TV for storm chasing video. What I am saying here is my opinion only, and does not reflect anything at all to do with KWCH. They don’t even know I’m writing this. Yet.
Also, this is based on my own observations, understanding of physics and the weather, and news media coverage I’ve heard over the years. I don’t have any inside knowledge.
Let’s debunk the claims of Joe Pajor and the city of Wichita, one at a time.
We’re in uncharted territory.
Joe, so was the county. So was the state. So was the Turnpike. So were Kansas-side KC suburbs where I was on Wednesday.
Yet the City of Wichita failed to meet its commitment to residents to keep the roads safe. In all but two cases that I experienced in the 24 hours post-storm, each of the governmental units I listed above fulfilled their commitments.
Where we are in somewhat uncharted territory is the similarity of the storm impact on the two metro areas. Not exactly alike, but comparable and only a few hours difference in time.
Curbs and gutters mean we can’t move the snow, it just piles up.
In a word — no.
This list of cities, from my personal observation, did not find curb and gutter to be a hindrance to getting at least one dry driving lane by this morning:
- Overland Park
- Wichita — where KDOT did the maintenance.
- Wichita — where county did the maintenance.
Let’s talk physics just a bit. If operators run plows at the correct angle and forward speed, the snow can be thrown some distance clear of the edge of the road. The Wichita arterials I’ve seen mostly have a pile about the height of the blade, a couple of feet inside the curb line, that appears not to have been thrown any distance at all. If I’ve figured it out right, that would mean the operators are using a very low angle to the curb and moving slowly.
Yet when you cross 63rd on Seneca into Haysville, cross 55th South on Broadway where state takes over, or cross 63rd at Hydraulic where county takes over, in each case you see larger piles of snow and evidence that at least one pass threw the snow between 6 and 10 feet outside the curb line. The same street, the same weather conditions, the same traffic load. But they got it done….Wichita didn’t.
This also showed up on the turnpike during my KC trip Wednesday. The Topeka area did get more snow than either end of the trip, but I’m having a really hard time believing it was so much different to cause the massive change in conditions I experienced. Between Wichita and the Osage/Wabaunsee county line, Turnpike varied from completely clear to a mostly-clear driving lane and snowpacked passing lane. From the Osage/Wabaunsee county line to the Kansas River at Lawrence, the full width of the road was snowpacked. The rest of the trip to KC was like the first segment.
What seemed most different was the plowing strategy. On the parts that had a clear driving lane, it seemed the operators had not worried yet about clearing the inside or outside shoulder…only the roadway. In the part that was bad it seemed the operators had been instructed to run the plow over everything that was paved. That’s at least one extra truck or pass each direction that really didn’t do anything for safety of the driving surface. The Topeka area is also the only place along the entire Turnpike part of the trip I saw a plow truck running blade-up. This was about 8am Wednesday.
Back to the story line…..
But we’re running out of salt!
…that in the next breath you admit you aren’t even using at the moment.
Really, Joe? Your supply chain management is so poor that you got stuck with too little salt, calcium chloride, or whatever? It certainly seems state, the county and the other localities have adequate supply…or they know how to use it better. You’ve failed us this way before, Joe! Didn’t you learn your lesson?
Let’s go to the tape….
The bottom line:
Joe, I’ve bought your misinformation for a long time. Not any more. Don’t think I’ve ever met you, and this actually isn’t personal against you. I probably would have bought much of it this time around except for the unexpected Kansas City trip. Between the Turnpike problem around Topeka and the massive difference in plowing approach and success between Overland Park and Lenexa on 95th Street, I realized there is a way to be successful at keeping the streets clear and safe. Driving from Overland Park to Lenexa near the Oak Park Mall was much like the experience of driving from Haysville to Wichita on Seneca. Wednesday afternoon, 95th in Overland Park was clear and wet to partially snowpacked. In Lenexa it was mostly to fully snowpacked.
That tells me Overland Park knows how to prepare for and cleanup from a snow storm of about 10 inches in 10-degree weather. Lenexa, not so much. It’s the same here…in at least one storm a year, Wichita totally screws it up while pretty much everyone around the metro gets it right. And it’s never anyone’s fault — it’s all these external excuses.
I suspect a lot of people feel like I do, Joe — you may be a good guy, and there may be some external influences above and below you that are the true problem. But you’re the face of the Wichita street clearing effort. It’s time to put up or shut up, man. Fix it or get out of the way so someone can.
Signed — an observant suburban resident who really knows very little about your job.
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