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Ryan Craggs/MEDILL

Slush and snow obstruct drivers and pedestrians throughout the city during winter months.

City not short on money to clear streets

by Ryan Craggs
Jan 12, 2010

Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation has plowed through $6.6 million in December to keep Chicago’s streets clear.

Although significant, officials say the amount comes nowhere close to eating away the entire budget for snow removal.

The Department of Streets and Sanitation has spent nowhere near its yearly $17 million budget for snow removal, officials said. The city’s budget functions on a calendar year, not a fiscal year, meaning the money spent on street clearing in December won’t factor into the 2010 budget, said Peter Scales, spokesman for the Department of Budget & Management.

Even if the city spent its entire yearly budget for snow clearing, back-up plans are already in place.

“The $17 million programmed for comes from a motor fuel tax fund,” Scales said. “Once it is exhausted, we would find additional dollars in some other fund, or go to the general funds.”

While roads are one part of the issue, pedestrians and public transportation riders are more concerned about snow removal on sidewalks. The Chicago Department of Transportation monitors snow shoveling throughout the city, and ordinances require homeowners and property managers to clear sidewalks.

“Any time we receive a 311 complaint about unshoveled sidewalks, we leave a door hanger,” said Brian Steele, CDOT spokesman.

The door hanger campaign is part of an initiative undertaken by the mayor’s office to increase awareness and encourage people to pitch in and shovel sidewalks. In 2006, the city established the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, addressing snow shoveling as one of its first orders. The council comprises members from city departments, representatives from disability rights organizations and community organizations.

“For businesses and commercial properties, we usually just meet with the owner or manager,” Steele said. “Almost always without exception after, they clear the sidewalks pretty quickly.”

About $40 million of the $86 million CDOT received in stimulus money has been spent on resurfacing streets torn up by winter driving. With especially heavy snowfall the previous two winters, the city might catch a break in 2010 road maintenance. Forecasts from the National Weather Service predict a below normal amount of precipitation for this winter.

In any case, the city has a number of departments prepared for however much snow may come.