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MOUNT VERNON — City streets are no exception to spring cleaning thanks to the Mount Vernon City Street Department.
Streets are swept each year from the beginning of April through October, according to equipment operator Dale Van Horn. Van Horn explained that the department typically aims to sweep every city street once but will often sweep many of the streets two times throughout the spring and summer sweeping schedule. While clean streets make a town look nice, Van Horn said it’s what is underneath that really counts.
“The main operation for the street sweeper to be honest is storm water maintenance,” Van Horn explained. “People don’t really think of it — they think ‘Oh good, they’re cleaning the streets.’ Well we are cleaning the streets, but we’re trying to keep all that stuff we’re sucking up from going in to the storm sewers. Of course as soon as the storm sewers back up, its just the same as if the sanitary sewers back up. We hear about it.”
Van Horn explained that he has had more material to pick-up this year because of the use of grit used to extend salt throughout the winter, and the increased amount of work that contractors for the gas company have been doing in the city. Though street sweepers encounter the occasional dead animal or article of clothing, Van Horn said that mostly what is swept up is dirt, grime, mud, gravel and grass. The sweeper sprays down a small amount of water before the bristles come through in order to limit dust.
Equipment operators, Van Horn said, need to have a commercial drivers license (CDL) and then go through on-the-job training with a foreman, assistant foreman or another equipment operator. Once deemed proficient, operators are allowed to go out on their own, which Van Horn said suits him just fine.
“It gives you a lot of time to think,” he said with a smile.
While sweeping, equipment operators must be super-vigilant in a multitude of directions. First and foremost, they need to look out for pedestrians and obstructions in the road, but they also have to keep an eye on the actual sweeper to make sure they are lined up correctly. In addition, Van Horn explained, especially on brick roads, operators must look behind them to make sure that they got all the dirt and didn’t suck up any of the bricks from the street. The street sweeper also has two steering wheels on both sides of the truck which allows operators to sit on either side in order to go with traffic flow, such as on one-way streets.
At a speed of 2-3 miles an hour, it certainly seems like street sweeping would be a relaxing way to pass the day, but just like any job, it is not without its daily frustrations — errant tree limbs, basketball hoops, un-moved cars despite forewarning and traffic flow can all become time-consuming and, sometimes, damage causing issues.
“We’ve done a lot of trimming in the last year or so and that has helped quite a bit [with tree limbs],” he said. “I understand people getting upset about us cutting trees but when you have to replace mirrors on trucks, that’s kind of an unnecessary expense. [Wednesday] morning I got into a little bit of a tussle with a basketball hoop. It doesn’t matter whether we’re sweeping the street, whether we’re sweeping up leaves, whether we’re plowing snow, we get basketball hoops in the way just like we have parked cars in the way. It’s just something we come up against all the time.”
Impatient drivers, Van Horn said cause the most issues, explaining that sometimes he finds himself unable to back-up when he needs to go over a spot a second time because cars come too close. A good rule of thumb to remember when driving behind trucks, especially those that regularly stop and back up, Van Horn said, is “if they can’t see me (in my mirrors), I can’t see them.”
Having sights on other cars is especially important in the street sweeper because it is very hard to hear honking horns from the cabin of the truck.
“Everybody wants the streets and the storm water systems fixed. They want things fixed. Problem is, they don’t want us to fix it while they’re using it,” Van Horn said. “We do not try to create a hardship for anybody. We try to repair things in the most efficient manner that we can and try to be as cost effective as possible. But yet, it just seems like a lot of people will give us a lot of respect, but other people, it’s just like I said, the only thing they know is, we’re in their way. We’re between them and where they want to go and we shouldn’t be there. That’s kind of frustrating.”
All the material swept up is taken to Cougar Drive garage where it is placed on a drying bed. The drying bed allows the water in the material to evaporate which is important because disposal rates are based on weight.
According to Tom Hinkle, Mount Vernon Street Superintendent, the street department removes between 180 to 200 tons of material each sweeping season which costs between $10,000 and $11,000.
Next week’s schedule includes:
Tuesday — Miller, Rose and Shirley avenues; and Wooster Road, Five Point to McGibney Road.
Wednesday — Longitude and Latitude drives; and Compass Point Court.
Thursday — Downtown early morning.
Friday — No street sweeping.
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