You may think government officials get preferential treatment when it comes to their own streets being plowed in winter, but apparently that's not the case in Lower Macungie Township.
Lower Macungie commissioner Brian Higgins nearly called township manager Bruce Fosselman to complain because his street still had not been plowed at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
At Thursday night's township meeting, Higgins said he finally dug out his driveway but "then, all of a sudden, I can't get out my driveway because they finally came and plowed."
Higgins said the township asks residents not to dig out their driveways "until the plow comes, because they're going to just plow you back in. But eventually you have to get out of your house."
He said township crews began plowing streets at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.
What added to his frustration was another street in his neighborhood was completely cleaned by noon. "I get it. It's just a different plow guy. That's just the way it works."
Higgins wasn't the only township official who waited.
He wasn't complaining, but Fosselman said plows didn't get to the street where he lives until 3 p.m.Wednesday.
And Commissioner Jim Lancsek said his street was not plowed until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Higgins acknowledged the frustration he faced is common and certainly not unique in Lower Macungie. He praised the job done by the township's snow removal crews.
Commissioner Ron Beitler called plowing 132 miles of township roads "a beast of a task."
Said Beitler: "There's always room for improvement, but at the end of the day there's a balance between getting the job done and reasonable expectations."
"This is the most snow we've had in over 11 years, and it's not over yet," said Higgins. "And with unseasonably cold weather, it's not going anywhere. It is an unusual circumstance."
Higgins also said icy or unplowed roads that residents complain about the most are owned by the state, not the township.
After the meeting, Fosselman said 50 percent of the complaints he's received were about state roads.
Commissioner Ryan Conrad suggested all state roads in Lower Macungie should be listed on the township's website to let residents know that "unfortunately, we're not responsible for those roads and here's a contact for PennDOT."
Higgins said on Monday he drove on Indian Creek Road between Cedar Crest Boulevard and Brookside Road at four miles an hour because "it was like it was never plowed. That's a state road."
Fosselman said the ice was so bad that the state had to use a grader on several state roads in the township.
Higgins said state police called the township building because there were so many accidents at the intersection of Buckeye and Brookside roads. "We said 'it's not our road, call PennDOT.' They finally did come out. But state police wouldn't leave the intersection until someone plowed it because it was so hazardous."
Lancsek indicated East Texas Road, another state road, also was very bad between Brookside and Lower Macungie roads.
Trucks were down
One reason township roads may not have been cleared faster is two township trucks used to plow snow were broken down this week, said Lancsek.
During their meeting, commissioners voted to purchase a new Mack dump truck with a 405 horsepower engine for $187,524. It will be used for plowing. "Based on the last storm we had, we need all that power to get that snow and ice," said Fosselman.
Fosselman said township trucks don't just plow a street once, but make four to six passes to make sure that street is clean.
A resident has told township officials he is concerned about plowed snow piling up, especially on corners, and burying handicap ramps, school bus stops and access to crosswalks.
Fosselman said next year the township will find out from East Penn School District where the designated school bus stops are, then put blue or red tags on top of street signs so plow drivers know the location of those bus stops and won't push snow up to the sidewalks there.. The township manager said those bus stops change every year.
Beitler asked if residents who have corner lots with crosswalks for Willow Lane Elementary School are required to clear those crosswalks.
Lancsek said technically they are, "but sometimes it's physically impossible, especially with this ice. There no way even a snowblower can get through that stuff."
Barometer of good plowing
Commissioner Douglas Brown said the barometer he uses to gauge how good a job the snowplows are doing "is how many times my mailbox get smashed. I purposely built it on a weak stand so, when it does get hit, it breaks at a point that is easy to fix."
Brown said the plows are doing a good job this winter because his mailbox has not been knocked down once.
'There have been times, seven years ago, when they would go up our street and take out 10 mailboxes right in a row," said Brown. "That's primarily why I ran for commissioner, to put a stop to that."
Township officials know of only one mailbox that has been knocked over this winter, Said Fosselman: "A lot of time it's not the plow, but the snow that pushes it, especially with these boulders we've had."
Snow emergency routes
Brown chairs the commissioners' public works committee, which plans to begin reviewing the township's snow emergency routes, ordinances and procedures in April.
"We'll see what needs to be fixed," said Brown. He wants to have recommendations for all the commissioners to consider before the next snow season.
The township sparked some public wrath in early January, when it had
26 vehicles towed because they were parked on snow emergency routes and their owners didn't move them when a storm was coming. Those owners had to pay up to $400 in towing fees to get their cars back, although the tow truck company later agreed to give them $65 refunds.
Fosselman said not a single car had to be towed this week.
Brown indicated some people may have been unfamiliar with snow emergencies in the township because they are triggered by a snowfall of at least six inches, something that had not happened for several years.
One resident already has suggested that township fire police should drive along snow emergency routes with their emergency lights flashing and use their public address systems to warn people that they must move their cars.
As for the rest of this winter, Fosselman said the township still has enough road salt to handle seven or eight more storms. He said the township can store up to 3,000 tons of salt and uses about 100 tons per storm.