Rapid snow pileup stretches Tufts’ and cities’ budgets

The Department of Facilities Services and local municipalities this winter season faced manpower and budgetary strains in dealing with the accumulation of over 70 inches of snow on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus and surrounding areas.

The spate of winter storms forced Medford and Somerville to spend between two and four times the amount allotted in their budgets — close to $1 million each — to clean up the snow.

“There’s been far more snow this winter than the past couple of winters,” Director of Facilities Services Bob Burns said. “So there was a lot of hard work by our facilities team to be able to keep walkways and roads open and to do it safely.”

Burns said a great deal of overtime work was required on the part of the team to clean up the campus in the wake of several storms during December and January, overstretching the department’s budget for snow cleanup.

“I think we’re going to be slightly over budget,” Burns said. “Our job is to ensure that the campus is safe and open and able to operate. That required additional materials, labor and overtime costs.”

The Cities of Somerville and Medford also exceeded their allotted budgets for snow removal, each having spent this winter nearly $1 million on maintenance and snow removal — hundreds of thousands of dollars more than their budgets allowed for.

Somerville has spent over $950,000 so far in the wake of the various snowstorms, largely on plowing streets and clearing sidewalks. The city had originally budgeted for $500,000, according to City of Somerville Spokesperson Michael Meehan.

In Medford, the budgeted amount for snow removal was $250,000 but the city has so far used close to $900,000, according to Public Works Commissioner John Buckley.

“It’s been very difficult to remove the snow,” Buckley told the Daily, citing Boston Avenue as one of the more challenging streets to clear. “It’s an issue because we got over 70 inches of snow within six weeks, and there is a large amount of traffic and parking that still has to go on.”

The short time intervals between major storms and cold weather posed an obstacle to removing the snow and led to a major snow pileup, according to Buckley.

“These storms have come right after another and then temperature drops,” Buckley said. “It created a lot of heavy ice.”

Meehan said the snow pileup has been more problematic for Somerville than for many other cities and towns in the region due to its large population.

“We’re the most densely populated city in New England … crammed into four square miles,” Meehan told the Daily. “So there’s not a lot of room between the street and the sidewalk or in between homes. The snow goes vertical pretty fast here.”

Many residents do not have driveways and must park their cars on the street, increasing the need for the city to clear the streets of snow efficiently, Meehan said.

During the five major storms between December and January, the City of Somerville issued nearly 3,000 parking tickets, Meehan said. The city ticketed 876 cars and towed approximately 200 during the last storm on Jan. 31, he said. Cars parked illegally on the road can impede the work of snow plows and emergency vehicles.

Meehan said that he is not worried about the city’s financial and physical ability to deal with further snowfall this winter, as long as some of the existing snow begins to melt.

“We’re fairly used to this, like any municipality in New England. We’ve got a game plan for when it snows,” he said. “It was the constant build-up of snow and repeated storm after storm that created the challenges.”