A City of Toronto staff report going before the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on March 29 details the City’s response to the January 17 snow storm, the snow clearing and removal challenges faced by staff and crews and the improvements underway to the City’s extreme winter weather preparedness and response plans.
On January 17, Toronto experienced a major winter storm that involved extreme cold temperatures, rapid snowfall and snow accumulation of 55 cm – one of the top-ten amounts of snow accumulation ever recorded in Toronto. The speed of snowfall was exceptional, falling at a rate of up to five centimetres per hour. A rate of one centimetre per hour is normally defined as heavy, and a total accumulation of 10 centimetres is considered to be a large snow event in a city like Toronto.
The Major Snow Event Post-Operational Report notes that preparations for the January storm began with a pre-treatment of salt brine to prevent icing on all expressways, arterials and collector roads before the storm began. A Major Snow Storm Condition was declared on January 17 and lasted for approximately one month. The storm required multiple rounds of plowing on all roads, sidewalks and bike lanes and required the removal of almost 180,000 tonnes of snow. The City’s snow removal effort alone cost more than $17 million, or approximately 20 per cent of the annual winter maintenance budget for the Transportation Services division.
The report details the challenges experienced by the City as a result of the snow storm, including supporting the immediate needs of emergency services and TTC vehicles, the ability to clear streets amidst an extraordinary rate of snowfall, strain on equipment from the volume of snow, the need to provide manual clearing to avoid infrastructure and property damage, in addition to the logistical challenge of removing and relocating high volumes of snow as quickly as possible.
The report provides an update on the implemented and planned improvements to the City’s winter weather preparedness and response plans. This includes the development of an Extreme Winter Weather Response Plan, a review of the City’s snow removal operations, a Severe Weather Event Communications Plan, working with the sidewalk snow plows supplier on expanding service and optimizing equipment performance, technology enhancements to PlowTO and the ability to scale up 311 operations quickly when needed.
Winter maintenance for Toronto’s streets is a vital municipal service provided to residents and businesses by the Transportation Services division, particularly for those with limited mobility that is further hampered by snow and ice. Winter maintenance activities aim to keep the city’s road network safe and accessible, and include salting and de-icing, snow clearing or plowing, and snow removal. The 2022 winter maintenance budget for Transportation Services is approximately $89.2 million.
The staff report is available on the Toronto Meeting Management Information System.
City staff will be hosting a virtual media technical briefing about the Major Snow Event Post-Operational Report today from 1 to 2 p.m. Spokespeople from Transportation Services, Strategic Public and Employee Communications, Fleet Services and 311 Toronto will be present.
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