It appears that the Portland road folks (PBOT), have followed the ineffective snow removal approach of Seattle's past mayor Greg Nickels, who lost his job because Seattle was unnecessarily crippled for over a week by impassable, rutted roads covered with ice. Specifically, they did little pre-treatment before the storm and importantly did not use salt. And Portland did not have enough equipment (only five decing trucks for example) and had to appeal to Seattle for help.
Seattle learned the hard way in 2008 that salt is really useful, particularly as a pre-treatment of roadway surfaces. It can melt light snowfalls and prevents the development of a bonded ice layer for heavier snow...thus, making it easier to plow off. If you want to view a very amusing analysis of the impacts of Seattle's reluctance to use salt and the positive effects of applying it, check out these videos by the "salt guru."
After the 2008 debacle, which probably cost Seattle tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and lost economic productivity, a new mayor (McGinn) oversaw a radical change in Seattle snow practices, using salt, aggressive pretreatment, acquisition of lots of equipment (e.g., plows, spreaders), changed removal practices (using metal tipped plows, pushing snow to the side of the road), putting in roadway temperature sensors, and working with the UW to build SnowWatch, the most advanced local snow/temperature guidance in the nation. Mayor Murray has continued these investments.
The results of Seattle's new snow preparation approaches were dramatic, with subsequent snow events having far less impact.
During the past few days, Seattle has sent massive amounts of snow removal equipment to Portland (a dozen heavy salt-spreading trucks and plows, an aerial lift truck, a chainsaw crew and wood chipper truck, along with an additional four light duty salt and plow vehicles.) Seattle residents can be proud of this assistance...but in some sense it was too late: without sufficient pretreatment with salt or other deicers, the ice layer had bonded to the surface already, making it nearly impossible to remove.
This idea of regional assistance is a powerful one: it is very, very unusual for BOTH Seattle and Portland to get major snowstorms at the same time. Thus, it makes sense to have a regional pool of pretreatment vehicles and plows that could be moved around as needed.
Portland's Mayor Wheeler and his staff at SBOT need to understand Portland's meteorology: the cold air gap flow coming out of the Columbia Gorge makes Portland particularly vulnerable to roadway icing from freezing rain and partially melted snow. It is time for Portland to rethink is approach to dealing with roads and snow, or Wheeler might experience the unfortunate fate of Greg Nickels.
Scenes like this in Seattle in December 2008 show
the costs of poor snow removal