RIDOT plows contribute to sidewalk mess in Cumberland

RIDOT plows contribute to sidewalk mess in Cumberland

Workers used the town snowblower to clear snow from sidewalks on Mendon Road Monday, but RIDOT plows pushed snow back onto the walkways Tuesday.

CUMBERLAND – Town workers cleared the snow from sidewalks along school walking routes on Monday, but plows from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation undid much of that work on Tuesday, said Frank Stowik, head of the Cumberland Highway Department.

Stowik said the surprise visit from state plows was one of the biggest frustrations to come out of last Thursday’s major snowstorm and its aftermath. Piles of snow from last week’s storm were pushed back onto the cleared sidewalks along Mendon Road, from Manville Hill Road to Albion Road, a route used by students walking to Cumberland High School.

Many other sidewalks in town were also left covered in snow in the days after the storm, leading Stowik to decide that he needs to go back before the Town Council at its next meeting to again discuss the possibility of a new sidewalk shoveling ordinance and better enforcement of existing winter rules.

The town doesn’t currently have an ordinance penalizing residents for not clearing snow from sidewalks in front of their homes, said Stowik, though it does have rules against tossing or plowing snow back onto roadways. He said he would like to also see fines ramped up for blowing snow back into the road, as that issue again proved problematic during and after last Thursday’s snowstorm.

Stowik said he also contacted RIDOT to ask state workers to come back out to clear the sidewalks they plowed snow onto earlier this week. In a conversation with a RIDOT supervisor, he said he was told that the work was done to clear drains in advance of a possible 3 inches of rain coming this Friday, Jan. 12.

But Stowik said the work was unnecessary. The drains are in the roadway and were already clear of snow Monday. By Tuesday, when the state work occurred, additional melting had cleared the roadway further, he said, and much of the snow still on the curb would have melted by Friday anyway.

Charles St. Martin, spokesman for RIDOT, confirmed that plow drivers were pushing back snow in advance of heavy rains expected Friday into Saturday, “making sure all drains are cleared to prevent flooding problems.”

Stowik said town crews used their ride-on snowblower to clear a path along a two-mile stretch of Mendon Road on either side of Cumberland High School, from Albion Road to Manville Hill Road. State crews pushed snow back onto about half of that route, he said. If RIDOT officials are so anxious to push back snow three days in advance of a rainstorm, he said, perhaps they should consider taking over sidewalk plowing duties on the state roadway during every storm.

RIDOT has the equipment needed to easily clear snow off all Mendon Road sidewalks after snowstorms, said Stowik.

Town workers clear off sidewalks on main school walking routes after every storm, he said.

Stowik said he completely agrees with parents who express concern about their children’s safety when RIDOT re-covers sidewalks or residents fail to clear the walkways of snow. Many parents Tuesday were urging Cumberland drivers to be understanding of students who may be forced to walk in the roadway on their way to and from school.

Stowik said he’d already fielded about 15 calls about the snow-covered sidewalks by Tuesday afternoon.

The Highway Department last Thursday and Friday also fielded many calls from residents complaining that roads near their homes hadn’t been cleared.

“Oh, they’ve been cleared,” staff repeatedly told callers, according to Stowik, but residents kept pushing snow from driveways back into the street.

The town is wasting thousands of dollars every storm sending plows back out to remove snow that’s been dumped in the road, he said.

Existing town ordinances call for a $25 fine for a first violation, and a $50 fine for a second or subsequent violation of the rules on putting snow back in the street, said Stowik. He estimated that some 80 percent of the town has issues with snow being pushed back into the road by plows, snowblowers and and people shoveling.

Stowik said he’s been researching rules from other Rhode Island communities as he prepares to present a proposal to the Town Council.

Putting a police detail on the task of enforcement during each storm would easily be paid for through the tickets written, he added.

The sidewalk near Cumberland High School is buried in snow again Tuesday, a day after town workers cleared it to help students walk to school.