As a new storm threatens to pound the city today, Denver officials pledged Wednesday to do a better job of keeping neighborhood streets and airport runways open.
At a packed news conference at Denver International Airport, Mayor John Hickenlooper said he took personal responsibility for not having neighborhood streets in better condition after last week's blizzard.
Hickenlooper said the city would now mobilize 50 lightweight vehicles from other city departments to plow neighborhood streets. These would augment the 68 larger pieces of equipment from the Department of Public Works used to clear main arterials.
The two fleets of equipment will be deployed simultaneously, which has never been done before in Denver's history.
Hickenlooper also said the city is working out an agreement with Denver Public Schools to utilize some of its equipment and is talking with the Denver Water board about using its equipment, too.
The mayor said he should have been better prepared for last week's storm and thought of a way to prevent the heavy snow accumulation by getting crews clearing neighborhood streets at the same time heavier equipment was working on main roadways.
"Historically, (lightweight vehicles from other departments) have not been put on neighborhood streets," he said. "I was not aware of this. I need to be aware of that, and I wasn't."
The mayor did give city road crews high marks for having major arterials and collector streets open in the face of a near record snowfall last week.
Meanwhile, Aviation Manager Turner West said emergency snow removal from the airport had cost DIA $12 million. He could not estimate how much airlines had lost, though he said it was in the millions.
A comprehensive debriefing late Wednesday pinpointed the main problem at the airport as a lack of coordination with clearing ramps between concourses. The ramps are the large areas of the airfield between concourses where planes are pushed out from boarding gates and moved to the taxiways.
Keeping the ramps clear is the responsibility of the airlines, West said.
Among the problems cited was that at times, airline crews were clearing the ramps and pushing the snow into areas that had already been cleared by the airport.
West said the airport was working to correct that and had hired a snowremoval consultant to help out.
Last week, the airport was shut down for a record 45 hours, and runways did not reopen until 21 hours after the snowfall stopped.
The closure had a ripple effort throughout the nation's aviation network jammed by holiday travelers and left some experts questioning Denver's snow-removal efforts.
The airport is bracing for today's predicted storm.
"We are ready," West said. "Let's rephrase that remark. We're making a maximum effort. We also made a maximum effort on this last storm. I would never, ever say that Mother Nature can't rule supreme on any situation, as we've all learned through the years."
West said airport staff is looking for additional trucks to haul away snow and contractors with front- end loaders, graders and other equipment.
In the long term, he said, the airport would evaluate procedures, look at staffing levels and possibly purchase new equipment, including snow melters.
"I suspect when it's all said and done, we'll be melting a lot of snow here," he said.
For today's expected storm, the city will continue to dispatch its 68 Public Works snowplows to major streets.
At the same time, the 30 contractors who are currently plowing neighborhood streets will continue to do so with the help of the 50 vehicles from other city departments.
Bill Vidal, the city's Public Works manager, said the use of vehicles from other departments will be a trial run.
"I think we're going to have to show the policy-makers what this costs, and they can determine if this is an effort they want to do in the future," he said.
"At this point, we're getting so many complaints about neighborhood streets that we're listening to our customers," Vidal added. "We're going to deal with it."
Denver's storm plan
* Fifty light trucks from various departments will help clear neighborhood streets, joining the 68 plows and other heavy equipment already in use last week on snow routes and the 30 contractors working side streets.
DIA's storm plan
* A snow-removal consultant has been hired to help coordinate clearing ramps between concourses.
* Additional trucks and other large equipment could be hired to help with snow removal.
Troublesome terminal terminology
Denver International Airport spokesman Chuck Cannon has had a tough week. Not only did the "all-weather" airport he represents succumb to a blizzard and close for a record 45 hours, Cannon cursed the person who made the "all-weather" claim in the first place. But a look back shows that Cannon might have to chew on that a bit.
* In discussing the all-weather claim, Cannon told a reporter Tuesday:
"I would like to choke the person who came up with that term."
* But in 1992, according to The Associated Press, Cannon had this to say about the DIA to-be:
It's "the world's first all-weather airport. We will be able to operate as well in a blizzard as Stapleton can on a sunny day."
* And he went on:
"Out here, all of our runways are at least 4,300 feet apart. We can still land 90 planes per hour in a blizzard."
* Quipped Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant:
"Maybe we should put Mr. Cannon on a suicide watch."
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