DOT, city begin spring cleaning

The sun is shining, and the street cleaners are out making the rounds. It’s spring-cleaning time for the Alaska Department of Transportation and for the city’s Public Works Department.

The street maintenance operators, who drive the snowplows in the winter, are switching gears and hopping into street cleaning trucks to clear the sand that they placed on the roads just a few months ago.

“If we don’t do that, you get quite a bit of dust, which is not great for personal health or for vehicles,” DOT spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow said in an interview Wednesday.

The city also waits until winter is over before it begins using its street cleaners because they freeze easily, according to CBJ Streets Superintendent Ed Foster. There are several rubber pipes and thin lengths of tubing that will freeze if it’s too cold outside — not to mention the ice risk posed by street cleaners operating in such temperatures.

The dust and debris left on the streets from winter is more than just a danger to people’s lungs and vehicles. It can cover the fog lines on the streets, reducing visibility and raising the risk of accidents.

“It’s a safety issue,” Woodrow said. “It’s important that we keep our streets clear and that we don’t have anything there other than what should be: asphalt.”

The sand and debris also hinders one of the DOT’s other yearly maintenance projects: street-line painting. Each year, the lines on the roads fade during the winter, due in part to the sand.

The DOT has to repaint these lines each spring. But anybody who has ever tried painting a dirty surface will understand why the streets have to be cleaned first, Woodrow said. If they aren’t, the paint will just wash away whenever the sand does eventually.

The city’s street cleaners have been out on the roads for a couple of weeks already, and they still have a lot of work to do, according to Foster.

“Systematically, it takes a while to get everything done,” he said.

Drivers can expect to see the DOT street cleaners out and about for the next few weeks as they continue their battle with the elements, Woodrow said. It typically takes the DOT six weeks to sweep all of the streets in the Juneau area.

“A lot of the things we do at the DOT are very repetitive,” he said. “We put down sand, and we clean it back up. We trim branches that just grow back in a couple of years. We’re always competing with Mother Nature. It’s a year-round cycle.”

And it’s not exactly cheap. Last year, the department’s sweeping cost was a little less than $130,000, Woodrow said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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