It’s a question we get from time to time after it snows. It’s understandable when getting down your street is the toughest part of your drive on a snowy day. Our city has just shy of 6,000 lane miles (enough to drive from here to Italy), and the majority of those are residential streets. Public works must prioritize and address major arterials and key routes that reach schools and hospitals.
The City will plow neighborhood streets when there is more than 6” of snow - after snowfall has ceased and primary and secondary routes are cleared and safe for travel, but it’s going to take some time. During major snow events with more than 12” of snow accompanied by prolonged freezing temperatures, 4x4 plows may be simultaneously deployed to clear residential streets. Working against Mother Nature takes patience.
Getting to the point of plowing residential streets is admittedly rare, so let’s talk about a typical snow storm in Colorado Springs. During a full call-out, 40 plows get to work on plowing roughly 1,600 miles, primarily to plow safe pathways for emergency vehicles, while prioritizing school bus routes and major thoroughfares where the most cars drive. Each plow covers a 40-mile route until active snow stops and roads are in fairly good condition (which could be several shifts), before moving on to secondary roadways.
If we wanted to plow all streets including residential, we would need 110 more plows at a cost of $250,000 each. That’s at least $27.5 million up front. Yearly maintenance for each plow and salaries for additional drivers totals $6.6M. This simply could not be done without a new funding source or major cuts to other city services. Considering that most of the time those extra plows would sit idle (we typically have 2-3 major snow events each year), it wouldn’t be a good investment. We are dedicated to ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and do the most to maintain our infrastructure.
The good news is, unlike places such as the Midwest and Northeast where continuously freezing temperatures are the norm, Colorado Springs has typically mild weather and abundant sunshine. Plows are called out relatively few times per year, and snow tends to melt pretty quickly.
After main routes are done and the snow has stopped, if you have a neighborhood hot spot (steep, shady hill that never melts, for example) report it using the GoCOS app or submit a street maintenance request online. In the meantime, next time you see a snow plow driver give them a wave - and some space. It’s not an easy job and we thank them for their hard work to make our roads safe.