These snow plows don't clog your driveway. Why don't we use them?
FARGO — A video that recently made the rounds online shows a snow plow, supposedly in Alaska, cleaning the street in front of the camera operator's house, and there's a little twist.
As the plow approaches the driveway, a little flap plops down, keeping the plowed snow from going into the driveway.
What a revelation, it seems. No more shoveling the unwanted snow from the end of your driveway — or a nasty speed bump that remains until the spring thaw as a consequence for not shoveling.
Then it probably dawns on you: Why doesn't the snow plow that goes past my house use that?
According to Ben Dow, the director of public works for the City of Fargo, it's a question that comes up every other year or so. In fact, The Forum also asked the same question back in 2010, the year Dow took on that job. He says he has a spreadsheet ready whenever that question gets asked.
That little flap, called a snow gate, comes with a big cost.
First, there's the cost of the snow gates themselves, which would run around $360,000 total, Dow says. Then, there's the trucks. Fargo and Moorhead currently use plow trucks and would have to switch to graders that can accommodate the snow gates.
Moorhead Public Works Director Steve Moore says these graders run about $300,000 apiece, and enough would need to be purchased to replace eight plows. In Moorhead's case, that's at least $2.4 million.
Furthermore, the cities can't just replace plows with graders on a one-to-one basis. They'd probably need more to handle the workload. Fargo would likely tack on an additional $2 million a year in rental fees, Dow says, plus they would have to hire additional drivers to run them and additional fuel for the trucks.
You can see where this is going. In Fargo's case, it's about $4 million a year in extra costs, effectively doubling the city's current allotment for snow removal, Dow says.
There are even more limitations to snow gates. For one, they slow down the snow removal process.
Dow says a plow typically has to go 12 to 15 miles per hour to clean the streets, and they clean both sides simultaneously. A standard cleanup usually takes about 24 hours. A grader with a snow gate has to go about half that speed, he says, and it would double the time it takes to get streets clean after a snow ... or require even more trucks, gas and drivers.
"For our residents — and myself — 48 hours (to clean the streets) is unacceptable," Dow says.
Moore is just as blunt: "It would take us a heck of a lot more time to get the streets clear."
Oh, and one more thing: Snow gates don't exactly work as advertised. That snow that doesn't go in your driveway still needs to go somewhere, Moore says, and Moorhead has a lot of driveways that are close together. That means snow might have to go in a neighbor's yard, on a boulevard or somewhere else inconvenient.
Despite all of the costs, Dow acknowledges that offering snow-free driveways would be a service he'd be happy to provide residents and is willing to do it ... if there's enough will from residents to make it happen.
"We can do anything, but it's gonna take some funding," Dow says.
Fargo-Moorhead is expected to get 3 to 5 inches of fresh snow on Sunday, Feb. 18. Meteorologist Vince Godon with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks said Friday, Feb. 16, that snow is expected to start moving in around sunrise Sunday and last throughout much of the day.