Plow Operation FAQs

Q: Does the city plow when a snow emergency has not been declared?

A: Yes. As soon as snow begins to accumulate during any snow/ice event, Public Works begins plowing the busier “arterial” streets to keep them passable and allow traffic to continue flowing. This plowing is done on an as-needed basis and is not publicly announced. If you live or park on one of these streets, you may want to monitor conditions yourself and consider moving your vehicle to allow for a better job of plowing. This will also help avoid you having to dig your vehicle out should it get plowed in. Public Works monitors the weather 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and responds with the most effective treatment method based on predicted conditions.

Q: Why was a plow on the street next to mine but did not plow my street?

A: There are 80 routes throughout the city; the plow you saw may not be the same plow assigned to your street.

Q: How long does it take to plow the entire city?

A: When there is 6” or less snowfall it would typically take 20 hours to plow the entire city one time. With snow accumulations over 6” it can take substantially more time. Once the day and night phase of plowing is completed after any snow emergency, crews begin cleaning intersections and focus on the cleanup of streets where vehicles were not moved in time. This phase of the snow emergency plowing operation can take several days to complete.

Q: Why does plowing take so long?

A: Saint Paul contains a total of 1,874 lane miles (the equivalent of driving Saint Paul to Anaheim, California!) which need to be plowed during a Snow Emergency. It takes some time to adequately clear such a large area.

Q: Why did the plows leave snow in front of my driveway and on our sidewalks?

A: Because snow plows are designed to push snow to the side, snow is inevitable deposited at the end of driveways and onto sidewalks as a byproduct of plowing. Drivers plow at low speeds (10–15 mph) to minimize this issue, but this problem becomes more challenging to avoid with greater accumulations of snow.

Q: Why do plows leave snow across streets? These piles can be quite high.

A: For the same reason snow ends up in driveways and sidewalks, it also ends up in street intersections. Plow drivers do their best to keep these piles (or windrows) small, but their first job is to get the street passable. Once streets have been plowed, crews come back and knock these windrows down.

Q. The plow dumped snow at the end of my driveway, can they come back to move it?

A. No. With 1,874 lane miles of lane miles within Saint Paul, city plows must stay focused on opening the streets. It would be extremely costly to the taxpayer for city crews to remove snow from driveways.

Q: Is the City responsible for plowing alleys?

A: No, the City does not plow alleys. Saint Paul residents are asked to work with neighbors and contract with a private plow operator to keep alleys free of snow. The City does not open or re-open access to alleys that have snow deposits from City plowing efforts on public streets.

Q: Why do I sometimes see a snow plow truck with its plow up?

A: There are several reasons why you might see a plow truck traveling with a raised plow. The city has 80 plow routes; drivers must travel to and from their assigned route locations from the maintenance facility. Driving with the plow down would cause them to drive slower and to wear out the plow when not driving their routes. Additionally, plow trucks may be seen traveling in situations where snow accumulations are just beginning or if the trucks are traveling along areas which have already been plowed. Lastly, plow trucks also distribute chemicals and may be spreading de-icing materials, rather than plowing snow.

Q: Why did the plow push snow up onto my shoveled sidewalk?

A: Pushing snow onto sidewalks occurs when the volume of snow is great and snow storage space is minimal. Drivers are trained to carefully plow in order to minimize this issue, but it is an ongoing challenge throughout the snow season and cannot always be avoided.

Q: Why are Saint Paul streets plowed differently than suburban streets?

A: The level of on-street parking in Saint Paul presents a unique challenge to snow plowing – a challenge which is not an issue in suburban communities. Because ample off-street parking is available to most suburban households, many suburban communities are able to ban on-street parking at some level from November to April. This allows suburban public works crews to plow all roads within the city, full width, instantly and around the clock, if necessary. Because of the lack of off-street parking available in Saint Paul (and the subsequent number of cars parked on Saint Paul streets), this is not an option for Saint Paul. This is why the City must declare a Snow Emergency and enact strict, temporary parking rules in order to plow streets. It is impossible to effectively plow a street unless all vehicles have been removed.

Q: When is downtown plowed?

A: The streets within downtown are plowed during the night phase of a snow emergency. Please note, downtown streets are the only routes on the night phase which do not contain “night plow route” signs.

Q: What kinds of chemicals do you use besides salt to help clear the snow?

A: The City uses sodium chloride for temperatures above 15 degrees Fahrenheit, magnesium/sodium chloride for temps down to -10 degrees and sand for traction below -10 degrees. The salt is treated with a brine solution to activate the salt as it is applied, which makes the salt more effective because it is less likely to blow off the street surface.

Q: A parked car was in the way before the plow came, can the plow come back?

A:Yes. Residents should call the 24-hour Street Maintenance hotline at 651-266-9700 to report any section of their street which was not plowed because of an obstructing vehicle. Street Maintenance staff will compile these reports on a “replow” list; once the day and night phases of the Snow Emergency are completed, plows are directed to the areas on the re-plow list. Please note, based on the number and severity of re-plowing requests, some requests may not be addressed until after the expiration of the snow emergency. All locations on the re-plow list are visited eventually.

Q: Does the city haul snow away from intersections?

A: No. There are roughly 5,000 intersections within Saint Paul city limits and it is not possible to get to all of them. Residents are required to clear intersection crosswalks of snow. In the event that attempts have been made and it is simply not possible to clear the snow, residents may call the 24-hour Street Maintenance hotline at 651-266-9700 for assistance. The City will do its best to respond but will prioritize requests based on safety first. The city monitors intersections and addresses safety concerns as they are found.

Q. The piles of snow are so high at my intersection I can’t see traffic. Will the piles be removed or knocked down?

A. When the snow piles are high enough for site lines to be impaired, crews use a priority list, based on traffic and pedestrian volumes, to methodically visit these intersections and knock the snow down.