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6:14 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

St. Louis City Streets Director Gets Earful From Aldermen Over January Storm

St. Louis’ streets director faced a harsh reception from aldermen for how the city responded to a January snowstorm.

St. Louis City Streets Director Todd Waelterman testifies before the Board of Aldermen's Streets Committee.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon

During an appearance before the aldermanic  committee,  Streets Director Todd Waelterman faced a torrent of criticism for how the city responded to the January snowstorm.

Waelterman testified soon after Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed directed a resolution to the streets committee that calls for an investigation of the city's snow removal policies.

Some aldermen were also critical of the decision to plow residential side streets — which was a change in recent policy. That shift came several days after the early January snowstorm made it difficult for city residents to get around. It also came a day before a rainstorm washed away the snow.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, said he wasn’t sure whether that move was a good use of city resources. And he also said plowing side streets could have unintended consequences.

“Senior citizens and different people have to get out and dig their car out basically,” Boyd said. “And then where do you throw the snow? When you dig your car out, you’re going to throw your snow right back in the middle of the street.”

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, also said changing the policy may have caused confusion. She said that she told residents of her ward during the storm that the city had never plowed side streets — especially because it may have affected how people park.

She said the mayor’s administration should have alerted aldermen that the policy change was coming.

“So I was up there defending you until you came on TV and cut my legs off,” Tyus said.

Todd Waelterman talks to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon after his testimony in front of the Streets Committee.

Waelterman said his agency should “have been hitting anterior and secondary streets a little more.” He also said some people were disappointed with how the side streets were plowed.

“A lot of that was due to the lateness — four days, five days after the storm was packed down,” Waelterman said. “So they didn’t see bare pavement. I think expectations, when we put it out there may not have been explained enough. People might have expected more when they got up in the morning.

“Some people thought when we came out there they were going to see bare pavement, and that wasn’t the case,” he added.

Waelterman raised some eyebrows during the storm when he said: “We're going to hit a few cars and we're going to have some problems. We're going to take a few mirrors off some cars. But it's all about removing this snow and trying to do it in the safest manner possible.”

But Waelterman told the committee that there had been relatively few instances of car damage. “I think they did a very good job,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure everybody understood it wasn’t going to be pretty.”

Building and building

Some aldermen were critical about the conditions of some the city's busiest streets.  

During the storm, Tyus said she drove Kingshighway through north, central and south St. Louis. She said that the quality of that road was bad everywhere except the central corridor. (Waelterman has said it was difficult to plow the main streets in the days after the storm because salt couldn’t break through the ice on the roads. He also said they needed to clear Kingshighway in the central corridor so people get on highways).

Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, questioned whether the city did enough to plan for the storm.

“Driving down the main streets: Natural Bridge, West Florissant, Kingshighway, even Grand — I was shocked that two, three days into it, they were still in bad condition,” said Alderman Antonio French, who also questioned whether the administration did enough advance planning. “I think you see on Day One you don’t get many calls because people… understand it’s tough. But they’re waiting and waiting and you see it build."

Waelterman said that the storm was nicknamed “Hercules” for how a huge amount of snowfall was followed by a record cold. He said salt, chemicals, equipment repair, and overtime contributed to a roughly $1 million tag to clean up after the storm.

And if February brings more snow storms, the cost could be even higher.

“So there was a lot learned here, a lot of stuff we’re taking back and we’re not quitting,” Waelterman said. “With this crazy weather we’re getting… maybe this is a historic storm and we’re going to get another one sometime. We need to think about what we’ve got. When we start knocking 17 plows, we’re going to need more plows to back us up.”