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The Cost Of Having Snow Gates

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The idea of using snow gates comes from North Dakota. But the city of Sioux Falls decided that it needed to test them itself in order to seriously consider buying and using them city-wide. But that has proved to be easier said than done.

Sioux Falls Streets Utilities Manager Galynn Huber says it's hard to collect data on how well a snow plow works when there's no snow to work with.

Huber said, "We're looking at the third of December right now and it's 50 degrees outside."

He's been trying to test what are called snow gates, a device that you attach to the plow of a motor grader. As you go past a drive way or intersection, it can be lowered down so you can trap the snow, drive past the area, and release the snow somewhere else. They may do the trick, but the question remains: are they cost effective?

Huber said, "If I can get some good snows back to back I can collect data that will let me know what I think the cost will be."

Here's what we do know, though. In order to equip the entire city with snow gates, 33 of the 66 motor graders have to have one because they operate in pairs. The problem is, the city only owns five graders.
They lease 32 during the winter months and 29 of them are privately contracted. And, Huber doesn't know if those contractors would even allow it to happen.

"Would they be willing to have those be put onto their pieces of equipment, who is going to pay for those if they go on a private contractor, how much more will I have to pay a private contractor to have a snow gate on there?" asked Huber.

If they don't, you have to consider this: each grader costs $200,000 and each snow gate costs $5,800, which has to be replaced every five years. It's not a cheap operation, and not a fast one either. So far, the city has learned they take more time to operate than traditional plows.

Huber said, "The other question is, do they want to just use the same amount of equipment that we have now and take longer or are you looking to add more so we could still do it in the same amount of time that we've always done in the past?"

And, until we get more snow, these questions will remain unanswered.

People who want the city to use "snow gates" handed in more 8,000 signatures last week. The idea is the issue would go to a public vote if the City Council would decide they didn't want them.

Right now the city is testing out six snow gates. If we get enough snow, the results will be presented to the city council in April.
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