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City of Seattle
Gregory J. Nickels (former Mayor)

SUBJECT: Mayor amends city’s snow removal practice, adds crews to clean-up

12/31/2008  12:00:00 PM

Mayor amends city’s snow removal practice, adds crews to clean-up

SEATTLE – Mayor Greg Nickels announced today that additional private contractors will be hired to speed clean-up of city streets sanded during the winter storm. In addition, Nickels ordered the Seattle Department of Transportation to amend its practice regarding the use of salt on city streets and to improve coordination with King County Metro.

In future storms, SDOT will continue to use liquid de-icer but will spread salt under the following emergency conditions:

  • if 4 inches or more of snow are predicted
  • if ice is predicted
  • if extreme cold is predicted to last longer than 3 days
  • on hills, arterials, and designated snow bus routes
  • on routes to hospitals and other emergency facilities indicated by Fire and Police
  • on other facilities as dictated by the professional judgment of the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Nickels also instructed all city departments involved with winter storm operations – transportation, police, fire, human services, City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities – to review their performance and make policy recommendations by Jan. 30.

“This once-in-a-decade storm presented tough challenges for all our city services,” said Nickels. “While our crews performed well, we want to make sure we’re using best practices. I’m confident this amendment to how SDOT uses salt will help in the worst situations while making sure our lakes and rivers don’t suffer during routine storms.”

Deploying crews 24-hours a day for 14 days, SDOT achieved its goal of maintaining passable conditions on all of the city’s primary and secondary arterials, bridges and streets leading to hospitals.

Since 1998, SDOT had adopted a practice of avoiding direct use of salt to melt snow and ice. Salt is well-documented to cause corrosion and adversely impact fresh-water marine ecosystems. SDOT currently uses Geomelt de-icer, which only contains a small element of salt.  This has proven effective in normal weather patterns of trace to 4 inches of snow lasting 1-3 days.

The recent storm lasted 13 days and brought a continuous 2-8 inches of snow every other day. The December 2008 series of storms left snow on the ground far longer than any other occasion in the last 20 years - in fact, nearly twice as long.  Boeing Field had snow on the ground for 357 consecutive hours (almost 15 days).  The runner-up was January 2004 at 187 hours (not quite 8 days).

The maximum accumulation this month was 11.3 inches.  In the last 20 years, only the December 1996 storms accumulated more (17.9 inches), and that snow was gone in about 6 days.

Ice built up in most parts of the city, and the recurring snow forced SDOT crews to rework the primary routes, making it difficult to move on to the secondary routes. 

SDOT’s amended salt practice will provide greater flexibility in extreme situations while maintaining the city’s environmental commitments, said Nickels.

As part of the city’s annual storm preparedness, SDOT meets with King County Metro and other partners to ensure a coordinated response to winter weather. Following the most recent storm, SDOT and Metro agreed that during periods of winter weather, Metro will assign a staff liaison to SDOT’s operations office at Charles Street to provide SDOT with timely information.

Five SDOT street sweepers are already dispatched to neighborhoods across the city to clean up sand, working from 10 pm to 5 am. Nickels will seek an authorization of $230,000 from the city’s Emergency Fund to pay for two additional private street sweepers. The crews will begin immediately.

View a calendar of the garbage and recycling pick-up schedule - Acrobat PDF
View a map of the collection area for Friday, January 2nd - Acrobat PDF
View a map of the collection area for Saturday, January 3rd - Acrobat PDF

Get the Nickels Newsletter and the mayor’s inside view on transportation, public safety, economic opportunity and healthy communities at

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Office of the Mayor

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