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DENVER — Colorado is no stranger to snow, but that doesn’t make driving around in it any less of a hassle, especially when dealing with unplowed streets.
The Denver area woke up Monday morning to around 1-2 inches of snow, but road conditions were not that bad. Denver Public Works said snowplow crews have been busy since 4:30 a.m. clearing the main streets using the city’s fleet of 70 big plows.
But what about side streets?
Denver residents don’t often see plows scraping along their streets after a winter storm. Since 2007, Denver's policy has been to deploy the residential plows only when 12 or more inches of snow were predicted. That later changed to 6 inches or more.
The reluctance to plow these streets comes from a financial and practical position, city leaders say.
On a weekday, deploying the neighborhood plows costs $20,000 to $25,000 for a 12-hour shift, including four hours of overtime for the crews, according to Denver Public Works. If the plow drivers are assigned to an 8-hour shift, there is no overtime and no extra cost.
The department also stressed that the city's light-duty residential plows are only capable of scraping off the top few inches of snow, and won't get down to the pavement — an issue that can turn some roads into an icy mess a few days after the storm.
Despite this, Denver Public Works said it’s making a new effort this year to get to those often neglected streets. Officials with the department say 36 smaller plows could tackle residential streets overnight Monday if accumulation increases.
Each municipality in the metro area has different policies on when or if they will deploy residential plows. In Aurora, crews plow residential streets after the main roads, and those near schools and shopping areas are clear.
Plowed or not, this lane is usually off limits to drivers
When cold winter days like Monday hit, people are rushing to get home from the mountains. But that extra lane the Colorado Department of Transportation spent millions to build won’t be an option for drivers.
When it’s “on,” CDOT officials say it improves travel time by 50 percent, but it doesn’t operate 24/7. Under an agreement with the federal government, the shoulder can be used as a lane only during peak travel to alleviate the congestion. But it's only in that specific circumstance.