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West Hartford Digs Out After Epic Snowfall

A tour of the town with Director of Public Works John Phillips.

A travel ban was in effect for most of the day Saturday, and even after it was lifted late in the afternoon, West Hartford residents were strongly urged to stay off the roads, for safety and to allow plowing to continue unimpeded.

Late Saturday morning, Patch had the opportunity to accompany Director of Public Works John Phillips as he made his rounds throughout West Hartford checking the progress of road clearing.

All arterial roads were open and in pretty good condition by 7 or 8 a.m., and all fire stations were accessible. However, as late as 11 a.m., a report came across Phillips' scanner about two large snow plows stuck as they tried to plow neighborhood streets.

"We got 28 to 30 inches. That's a lot of snow at one time," he said. Passing by an entrance ramp to I-84 West, Phillips said the highways were still "barely open."

"Twenty hours ago there was no snow on the road. Now there are snow 'windrows' 5 to 6 feet tall," Phillips said. Thankfully there was no snow to begin with, he said, and the winds were lower than expected.

Although Department of Public Works crews worked throughout the night, taking only a two-hour rest break around 3 a.m., the snow fell faster than they could plow. Emergency personnel responded to a carbon monoxide call overnight on Stoner Dr. and had to walk up the hill to get there, Phillips said.

A fire broke out in a convenience store on the corner of New Park Ave. and Flatbush Ave. at approximately 3 a.m. and the property appears to be a total loss, Phillips said. The fire department couldn't get to it, and DPW crews had to be called in to make the parking lot accessible. "We're the quiet first responders for the first responders," he said.

He is thankful that residents heeded the parking ban. The only cars that had to be towed were those that were abandoned overnight.

West Hartford Center was "locked down," Phillips said. Farmington Ave., South Main St., and LaSalle Rd. were clear, but those roads had giant snow mounds in the middle.

"I brought this method to the Center eight years ago," said Phillips. Initially plowing the snow to the center of the roadways in those areas prevents sidewalks and on-street parking from becoming inaccessible until the spring thaw. A large "snow blower," that Phillips said can fill a large tri-axle dump truck in about 15 seconds, comes back and clears away the center mounds, which Phillips estimated to be approximately 5,000 cubic yards. The clean up will result in hundreds of dump truck loads. The machine is owned and operated by a local contractor who purchased it from an airport and rebuilt it.

The roads in Blue Back Square are not wide enough for the same method to be used, Phillips said. Public Works has an cooperative agreement with a contractor who clears the snow off the sidewalks there, pushing it into the streets so DPW can remove it.

However, not all of the roads in the center of town were completely clear. Phillips' SUV got stuck turning from LaSalle onto Ellsworth and had to be pulled out by a DPW truck plowing nearby.

Heading up North Main St., Phillips pointed out a snow plow beginning to work on Keeney Ave. "Keeney is about 1 1/2 miles long, and it will take six trips back and forth to open it from curb to curb. That's typical for every road in town," he said. There are 215 miles of roadway in West Hartford.

At noon there were still many neighborhoods in West Hartford completely untouched, and even by early evening, when Mayor Scott Slifka sent a message out to the town, only 35 to 40 percent of roads had been cleared.

"We usually get it cleaned up before people even get up," Phillips said. He was working on no sleep at all, and Phillips said "even my best guys are going to hit a wall. They're going to have to rest."

They try to mix up the order of streets plowed so that the same street is not always last, Phillips said. "We do try to make a good effort on the mountain, because with snow like this, and roads with an incline they're locked in and we can't open them quickly for an emergency."

Some roads are cleared initially, but aren't at full width right away. "Our goal is to get them open for emergency vehicles," Phillips said. However, when the roads are widened, the unfortunate effect is plowing driveways back in. "We know we'll upset 20,000 residents. I wish there was a better way, but there's not," he said.

Although this snow removal effort, when completed, will have been a monumental task, Phillips said the earlier light winter should keep the costs within the town's budget. He anticipates a possibility of FEMA reimbursement, and said employees have been keeping notes and taking photos in case they need to apply.

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