Last fall the Duluth City council passed an ordinance to add 2,800 Snow Emergency Route signs to 120 miles of Duluth’s roadways to fix what the Duluth’s Director of Public Works & Utilities, Jim Benning, said in a Duluth News Tribune article last December was, a “broken snow emergency system… so confusing and ineffective that it’s essentially useless.”
The article claims that in thirteen years on the job, Benning never declared a snow emergency. His predecessor didn’t during the Halloween storm of 1991, and Benning didn’t last Thanksgiving when a storm closed some Duluth roads for more than four days.
This is because, as Duluth Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman explains, “many routes remain unmarked” and “People would not know if they are on a snow emergency route which would make it more complicated.” The signs were supposed to be added in 2019, but Schuchman admits the city “ran out of time to get the signs installed”.
In June of this year, Schuchman announced that the Snow Emergency sign project would be pushed back yet another year because COVID made the $500,000 anticipated cost too much for the city’s budget.
What’s confusing is that last fall they “ran out of time to get them installed” – which infers that they may have already had the sign materials on hand, but this summer their plan to purchase and install the signs was derailed.
Incredibly, a few weeks after announcing the city would not be adding Snow Emergency Route signs, which, is not just a convenience and more effective, less costly way to plow city streets after a storm, but also a way to protect citizens’ property from damage, and undeniably and most importantly, a major safety issue. One that anyone who drove around Duluth last winter can attest to, edging out into traffic to see if you can cross a road, not being able to see pedestrians, and snow/stuck vehicles blocking access for emergency responders. Just weeks after they cancelled this snow route sign project, a new bunch of signs popped up around town. Colorful signs boasting how well the city is spending taxpayer money on road repairs. Hmm.
One has to wonder how much these fancy signs cost, considering some basic snow emergency signs were going to ring up a half-million-dollar bill.
Let’s consider that for a bit.
If 2,800 signs cost the city $500,000 – that’s $178.57 a sign. A simple Google search will track down a variety of high-quality 3M snow emergency signs that average about $20 each, less if you buy in quantities. We’re guessing the city could get a pretty good discount on 2,800 of them. A search for street signposts pulls up 8’ enamel posts with nuts and bolts for just $27 each.
Maybe the city uses longer posts, but the cost difference between a 6’ and 8’ post was only a few dollars… so let’s guess that the average sign set-up (before any quantity discount) is around $50 each, which would account for about $140,000 of the half-million-dollar estimate.
Of course, installing signs is more than just the sign materials. We assume that there is someone on staff that could print out some Google maps and mark where the signs are supposed to go – that shouldn’t cost the city any extra. Maybe they send a staff person out to flag and mark where signs go for the installation crew. Let’s give two people a week to do that, assuming union wages, they probably aren’t making more than $40/hour – so two people, 40 hours for one week would be $3,200. Let’s give the city $800 for incidentals like gas/diesel to drive those 120 miles a couple times. The remaining budget would still be $356,000.
That would give two installers making the same $40/hour a whopping 4,450 hours to install all those signs or the equivalent of 55 work weeks.
In the spirit of transparency, can we get an itemized list for this snow route sign budget?
Once again, the City of Duluth is failing its residents. It seems the only sign we really need at this point is for someone to paint the hillside streets to spell out SOS in hopes that someone flying over will drop some common sense.
If the city was doing its job, it wouldn’t need to post signs alerting us that they are spending our money. If the city was doing its job it would prioritize the safety and well-being of its citizens for the upcoming winter with snow emergency signs, that not surprisingly would also save the city a substantial amount of money, according to Benning, who said without snow emergency routes the city has to organize a “snow train”, post no parking signs, and remove snow, “an inconvenience and a pretty expensive endeavor to come back after the fact and truck [snow] out of there.”
But don’t worry, Schuchman and the city have a plan for this winter, the overburdened police force will be called in to enhance enforcement and “boost public compliance with alternate-side parking rules”.
Do parking ticket fees go into the general fund?
All signs point to “Yes”.