Frustrations linger in Anchorage over pace of snow removal weeks after winter storms

Weeks after three back-to-back snowstorms buried Anchorage with half-a-winter’s-worth of accumulation in two weeks, many residents remain frustrated by the pace of recovery.

Even though graders and plows have run down all 1,400 lane-miles of municipality managed streets and sidewalks, problems persist, from berms shaving off lanes from major arterial roadways to visibility-obstructing piles at busy intersections to quasi-abandoned vehicles so ensconced in ice and snow that they’ll likely be fixtures on residential streets until spring.

“I know you are receiving complaints (and some compliments) from the public,” Acting Municipal Manager Kent Kohlhase said in an email to Anchorage Assembly members Friday morning that was obtained by the Daily News.

“I appreciate that you continue to forward those complaints to me,” Kohlhase said. (Kohlhase took over as municipal manager last week following the hasty departure of Amy Demboski, who alleges she was the target of retaliation after raising concerns about code violations by members of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration.)

In the weeks since the snowstorm hat trick, obtaining detailed information about road conditions, logistical bottlenecks and real-time progress on snow removal has been difficult. Efforts to reach the municipal official overseeing the plow response, which involves dozens of heavy equipment operators, for updated snow removal information this week weren’t successful. The city hosts a webpage with real-time plowing data and mapping, but it doesn’t include updates on subsequent finesse work like widening lanes, grading or hauling snow piles.

The email sent to the Assembly includes some of the most detailed updates on logistics and obstacles compiled by officials overseeing a snow-clearing response that’s now in its third week. Kohlhase’s email lays out what progress the municipality has made, steps it’s taking to contend with what Bronson has called an “unprecedented” series of snowfalls, and obstacles impeding progress in cul-de-sacs and side streets around the city.

“Day crews are working in subdivisions; it isn’t safe or effective to haul main roads during the day. Night crews are hauling main roads: arterials and collectors. We also have a night crew focusing on hauling main streets adjacent to schools, with the goal of having key streets around every school cleared by the time school starts on January 9,” Kohlhase wrote.


At this point, the issue is not so much plowing the snow, but removing it from the streets and sidewalks people rely on to move around. In some places, heavy equipment operators can simply shove it off into a median or the roomy shoulder of a roadway. But along highway overpasses, downtown alleys and winding residential streets, there’s little to do but pile it into heavy-duty dump trucks for deportation to elsewhere.

As of Thursday evening, Kohlhase told Assembly members, contractors and municipal crews have carted off roughly 16,000 truckloads of snow from residential areas and major roadways to snow dumps distributed around town for storage until the melting season.

“Hauling efficiency is affected not only by the number of trucks, but also the distance from snow disposal sites. We only have about a half dozen sites available,” he said.

According to Kohlhase, workers have managed to move more than 600 truckloads a day, going as high as 1,150 loads on Wednesday, though operations were reduced to “a skeleton crew” over Christmas weekend.

“Many of the MOA operators had worked 20 days straight without a day off; at some point, safety concerns begin to grow,” Kolhase wrote. “I’m immensely proud of the work the Street Maintenance crews are doing. I am also aware of how frustrated many residents are. I see one of my roles as continuing to insulate the crews from the external influences, and allowing them to continue their good work.”

Starting next week, the city also plans to begin removing snow in its 1,373 cul-de-sacs, using a front-loader and four to five dump trucks in order to “remove enough snow to open up the area to better allow residents to maneuver,” Kohlhase said.

The city is also using trucks belonging to the water and trash utilities to help with snow removal.

Still, it’s not enough. The municipality had to pull in additional private contractors to help and opened bids for a supplemental snow hauling contract, even shaving the application period down from two weeks to seven days in order to expedite the process, according to the email.

Two of the biggest drags on plowing and hauling efforts are cars ditched along streets and private actors dumping snow into public areas.

“Cars on the street, buried in snow...There is no way for an operator to tell that this wasn’t just a pile of snow. Once it is hit, that work stops. A supervisor needs to visit the site. APD shows up to write a report,” Kohlhase wrote. “It can be more serious; equipment can be damaged, and occasionally operators have been injured.”

It’s not clear how many cars parked on roadways remain buried beneath storm snow around town. Other than cases where there’s a danger to public safety, it can be difficult to extract them if an owner has abandoned the vehicle, left the state for the winter or simply doesn’t feel like disinterring a beater car from under a foot of frozen crust. Outside of the downtown core, parking tickets and citations are generally issued only if there’s a complaint, in which case community service officers are generally the ones to respond.

“They’ll assess the situation and make a determination,” said Melinda Gant, director of external affairs for the Anchorage Community Development Authority, which oversees parking downtown and manages tickets issued by APD and other public safety officers.

According to figures collected by the Anchorage Community Development Authority, law enforcement officers in Anchorage have issued far fewer citations for parking violations this December than last: 95 so far this month compared to 231 in 2021 during the same period.

Downtown, parking enforcement has slackened, given blocked meters and surface lots in various states of disarray.

“We have substantially decreased our ticket writing downtown,” Gant said. She added that it’s part of a deliberate strategy not to overzealously penalize drivers when road conditions are so variable.

That policy is costing the city some money, on top of the drop it was seeing already in parking income caused by the winter storms and the sluggardly snow removal process that followed.

“We saw substantial decreases every week with our on-street meter revenue and our garage revenue,” Gant said. “We saw less people in the last two weeks driving downtown, and I think that’s because of the road conditions, of course.”


Even more time-consuming for municipal plow crews is dealing with the aftermath of private contractors and residents unlawfully pushing snow into public rights of way.

“This is against municipal code, and it causes much extra work for crews,” Kohlhase wrote. “The bigger issue is with private contractors clearing parking lots and driveways. MOA right-of-way enforcement responds, but it is difficult to catch folks in the act. Taxpayers are paying the cost of dealing with this ‘private’ snow, both in money and the added time it takes for MOA crews to deal with it.”

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Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.