By Ron Leir
That big Nor’easter that was supposed to whack The Observer’s territory last week turned out to be a big bust for snow enthusiasts.
At the same time, those Kearny residents fretting about the perils of maneuvering around the mounds of white stuff were treated – for the first time – to an insider’s look at how quickly the streets were being cleared of the estimated 7.5 inches that fell in the area.
All they had to do was log onto the town website – kearnynj.org – and click on the “Snow Plow Map” icon.
From there, the viewer could choose any of three options to access a web map that graphically displayed color-coded route statuses of routes for plowing, brining and salting showing real-time positions of GPS-equipped vehicles on each route.
This was accomplished by the town’s Public Works supervisors in the field updating the status of each route by using touch screen tablets that connect to a computer application on the internet, explained Town Administrator Michael Martello.
“[Viewers] can follow along during the storm event as the mapping refreshes the route statuses and plow locations every two minutes,” Martello said. The interface software program, which took a year and a half to develop, was designed by Civil Solutions, a division of ARH of Hammonton which produces geography information systems for municipal governments, in consultation with Kearny’s GPS and mapping vendors, he said.
“This is the first year we’ve been able to make the system available for public access,” Mayor Alberto Santos said.
One reason the town created the interactive virtual system, Santos said, was so that supervisors could keep track of the 48 miles of local streets that were hit by the plows.
“We have so many small streets around town and in the past, parts of roadways – especially on dead-end streets – were missed and we wanted to make sure we hit 100%,” Santos said. Last winter, for example, “we missed the dead-end of Park Place off of Park Ave.”
Additionally, the mayor said, there are times when residents will call DPW and ask why a certain street hasn’t been touched by the plow. But in many cases, Santos said, “those residents don’t see what their neighbors do with the snow” – either throwing snow into the street while digging out their car, for example, or using a snow-blower to clear their sidewalks and properties with the excess snow spewing into the road.
Now, with the map system, there will be a record of which streets the plows covered, he said.
Still, Santos said, “the system is still not perfect – I want to show more information. For example, right now, the map will show you which streets got plowed and replowed.
I want to modify the software to show the total number of times a street has been plowed.” The map also reveals those streets – it should be all – that got salted before the storm hit and those streets – typically all snow emergency routes like Kearny and Bergen Aves. – where trucks dumped brine to melt the snow.
For the most recent snow fall, the town used “just under 600 tons,” according to DPW Superintendent/ Director Gerry Kerr. “The cost of salt has gone up but not as much as last year,” he said.
Currently, the town is paying $65 per ton, he said. Kerr said his workers operated DPW’s six plows “around the clock in 12-hour shifts” with “very minimal breakdowns, to replace a set of windshield wipers or to flip or replace a broken plow blade.” Seven trucks were used to do the salting and one for the brining, he said.
A problem that did surface, Kerr said, was that, “after we plowed, a lot of residents threw snow back into the street and then we get calls saying we didn’t plow so that meant we had to make extra trips.”
Kerr said there is a town ordinance prohibiting the dumping of snow into the street but it couldn’t be readily learned whether any summonses were issued during the most recent storm.
During the snow event, a total of 26 vehicles were towed from snow emergency route roads, according to KPD traffic logs.