City wraps up post-storm gravel pickup two weeks early (updated)

City wraps up post-storm gravel pickup two weeks early (updated)

City crews picking up gravel
in their trademark, two-sweeper formation.
(Photo: LiUNA Local 483)

The on-street gravel treatments that added traction to Portland’s streets during February’s snowstorm have been cleared from the bike lanes and shoulders two weeks earlier than expected, a city spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The city managed to clear 1,700 lane-miles of gravel from its streets in four weeks, rather than the six to eight weeks it first expected, by devoting additional crews to the task.

“In addition to the night crews, we had day crews,” spokeswoman Diane Dulken said. Related overtime cost the city about $100,000, she said, 14 percent of the total storm response. “Because it is a priority, we did these things to speed it up.”

The city said the gravel application was essential to keeping buses and emergency vehicles running during the snow event, Portland’s biggest in six years. But the leftover gravel drew criticism for being potentially unsafe to bikes.

Dulken said the city had made “quite a commitment” to gravel cleanup.

“Often they needed to treat a street twice, because gravel does migrate,” she said. “Because gravel is really hard on the machines, it meant additional repair as well.”

If you come across gravel still on the road, it’s best to notify the city’s street crews at 503-823-1700 (not the 503-823-SAFE number used for other street safety issues, Dulken said).

“We know there’s still stray gravel out there, so our regular cleaning crews are willing to pick up stray gravel,” Dulken said.

In all, the city calculated that storm cleanup cost taxpayers about $740,000. In a news release last week, city transportation finance executive Alissa Mahar said the city has until June 30 to “create savings where possible to cover the additional storm costs.”

Update 4:30 pm: In the comments below, reader Mork shares the following troubling story about calling the number the city recommended for gravel pickup:

I just called the phone number Michael included in the post and the woman who answered it said “We aren’t picking up any more gravel.” I tried to negotiate a bit with her and told her that it was my understanding that the city would continue to pick up gravel in trouble areas, so she put me into a voicemail of a daytime street cleaning supervisor.

I think the City needs to get the messaging straight–are you DONE or not? There are clearly some forgotten spots.

Update 5:10 pm: Dulken says she “can’t comment on that particular conversation” but calls it “curious” and asks people not to hesitate to call 823-1700 with gravel reports.

“We are taking calls from members of the public,” Dulken said. “The information should have been relayed to dispatch and that should have been enough. … We’re done with the overtime, we’re done with the extra crew, and we still have our night cleaning crew in addition to our other duties.”

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