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Cold snap leads to roadway mishaps

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Cars drive down Montezuma Avenue in Houghton Thursday. Temperatures too cold for road salt have created conditions behind a high number of crashes over the past week, Chief John Donnelly said.

HOUGHTON — The week since the winter storm started has been a rough one for Houghton motorists, Police Chief John Donnelly said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

In the past two weeks, the department has responded to 22 calls for health and safety and 18 crashes, most coming in the week since snows and low temperatures began on Feb. 4.

That total didn’t count Wednesday, which had been a “terrible day on the roads,” Donnelly said. The Houghton police log for Wednesday showed six crashes.

It’s not unusual for the crashes to come days after the storm hits when temperatures stay in the single digits, Donnelly said.

“Salt doesn’t work on the roads, you get a mat, you get a little bit of snow on that mat, and that’s when we have accidents,” he said. “Until these temperatures warm up, they’re going to be treacherous.”

City Manager Eric Waara praised the work the Department of Public Works has done on the roads.

“We’re going to keep trying to do the good job that they’re known for,” he said. “I hope everybody appreciates that, because it does take a lot to open up 35 miles of road when everybody wants to go to work in the morning.”

Some people have been mistakenly concerned plow trucks turned around before they got to their house, Waara said. That stems from confusion between plow trucks and sanders, he said.

“The sander truck is out there making rounds, especially on the hills, on the highways … the sander truck doesn’t necessarily hit a long flat street every couple of hours like they see it pass by on a hill.”

The snowless stretch before last week’s deluge didn’t have all the cost savings people might expect, he said. The Michigan Department of Transportation reimburses the city for plowing state trunk lines. With no snow, the DPW was doing other tasks the city was planning to hold off on until spring, such as road patching.

“We bought $70,000 of salt up in the salt barn that we paid for, but we only get paid for it when we put it back down on the road … luckily, it doesn’t go bad, so we’ll have plenty for next year,” Waara said.

Once the snow lets up, the DPW will be widening streets, Donnelly said. Donnelly said it’s important that cars not park in a city right-of-way.

“A lot of times, people cheat out with the snowbank, and then when they go to widen the roadway, we run into problems with the snowblower,” he said.

Also, when weather permits, the city will clean up a city-owned property east of the park on Garnet Street and Sixth Avenue, Waara said. That spot is intended to become Houghton’s first dog park.

Waara will send a letter of interest to the Portage Health Foundation to see if it could assist financially.

“The council had committed several years ago to one,” he said. “That was two weeks before the flood … we had about a year, year and a half of flood recovery and the dog park took second fiddle to that.”

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