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FAQ: Snow Clearing

The answers to these frequently asked questions are what you need to know about snow clearing in urban areas of Wood Buffalo.

Q: When will the snow be cleared from my streets?

A: Residential streets will be plowed according to the winter maintenance zone schedule. Every year from October 15 to April 15, all routine winter maintenance will be performed when your zone is active (from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.), subject to extreme weather and/or mechanical failure. This includes plowing streets and clearing snow that we place on sidewalks. If your zone is not completed during its active date, maintenance will be completed the following active date.

Regular updates will be made available throughout winter to provide real-time information to residents of the Fort McMurray area.

For more information:

  • Call 780-743-7859 weekdays, or 1-866-743-7859 from rural areas
  • Email streets.resource@rmwb.ca
  • Tweet @RMWoodBuffalo
  • Direct after-hours inquiries to the PULSE: Wood Buffalo Call Line at 780-743-7000, evenings, weekends and holidays.

Q: I heard that Council adopted a new enhanced residential snow-clearing policy.

A: Council approved an updated Urban Ice and Snow Control Policy (PRL – 150) on Jan. 12, 2016.

The purpose of the Urban Snow and Ice Control Policy is to set winter snow and ice control standards to ensure that municipal roads and sidewalks are maintained to reduce hazards and economic loss, prioritize safe access to emergency vehicles and transit, and provide guidelines for management and operating personnel in the handling of winter maintenance operations.

The new policy is based on the previous policy that was adopted in 2010. Updates to the new policy include establishing weekly residential plowing on a designated day – Winter Maintenance Zones – and enhancing priorities for sidewalk snow removal along major routes for students, and along Primary and Secondary Routes.

This new policy for Urban Snow and Ice Control is the culmination of the Municipality’s commitment to residents to provide enhanced winter maintenance and safer driving conditions in the winter season.

Q: Will the municipality be removing snow from alleyways?

A: Alleyways require snow removal instead of snowplowing. Since alleyways are only one lane, we are unable to plow without pushing the snow up against fences and garage doors. Snow removal typically begins in January starting with primary and secondary roads, followed by alleyways.

Q: What’s the difference between snow plowing and snow removal?

A: Snow plowing: Accumulated snow is pushed from the roadway either to the sides of the roadway or to the centre in order to maintain at least one traffic lane in each direction. Because this process is not as time consuming as snow removal, this process can happen more often – meaning streets will be much cleaner.

Snow removal: Snow is loaded into trucks and hauled to storage sites. This happens less frequently, and is much more time consuming and costly.

Snow plowing example Snow removal example

Q: Does the municipality use salt on roadways?

A: The municipality may use minimal sand or salt in residential areas after plowing if conditions warrant. The standard practice is to sand the intersections only. In other municipalities where only salt is used, lawns come back every spring with a little raking, water and fertilizer.

The municipality uses minimal salt because it only works in temperatures down to -14C. Instead, we use a sand mixture treated with calcium chloride, which adheres to road surfaces and works in temperatures colder than -15C

Q: My car is parked on the street. When it’s plugged in, can the extension cord run across the sidewalk?

A: Although it is not permitted to have an extension cord on the surface of sidewalks, extension cords may be suspended above sidewalks (no less than 2.4 metres – between Nov. 1 and March 30 of any year). This will ensure safety of pedestrians, yet also allow for residents to keep their vehicles plugged in during winter months.

Q: Why is there a bylaw for extension cords on sidewalks?

A: One reason the bylaw was put in place is to facilitate snow removal. Our crews are clearing roads, but they are also clearing sidewalks. Extension cords that are running across sidewalks are a hazard for snow removal crews, as well as for pedestrians and homeowners. In order to avoid injury to people or damage to equipment, cables need to be visible.

Because we are a winter community, our region has limited sunlight and a significant amount of snow in the winter months, making it is difficult to see cables across sidewalks. The bylaw focuses on the safety of everyone who uses sidewalks.

Q: What is the distance across my property that the municipality has right-of-way?

A: A right-of-way is a type of easement or access reserved over the land for transportation purposes and can be used for a sidewalk, utility, or the road itself. This property is owned by the municipality and the width of right-of-ways is based on our Engineering Servicing Standards. Many factors are taken into consideration when calculating this width and can vary based on location and road classification.

Q: Who clears snow from the highways?

A: The province maintains most highways, including Highway 63. For more information, call the province’s winter maintenance contractor, Carillion Canada, at 1-800-390-2242. You can also connect with the province on Twitter at @ABTransComm.

Snow Clearing Terms

  • Blade Snow – binding of snow or compacted snow and ice to make roadways passable or to level ruts.
  • Plow Snow – the pushing of accumulated snow from the roadway surface either to the sides of the roadway or to the center in order to maintain no less than one traffic lane in each direction.
  • Primary Routes – includes but not limited to: Thickwood Boulevard, Confederation Way, downtown business center (Morrison Street, Hardin Street), Franklin Avenue, Hospital Street; the Abasand hill and MacKenzie Boulevard.
  • Remove Snow – the loading of snow into trucks, directing snow from the roadway on to adjacent land or the storage of snow on boulevards. Trucked snow is hauled to storage sites.
  • Residential Streets – include lightly trafficked streets that are mainly built up on both sides with a mix of residential and local facilities (Birch Road, Diefenbaker Drive, Hillcrest Drive).
  • Routine Winter Maintenance – includes plowing streets and clearing snow that we place on sidewalks.
  • Rut – the grooves in compacted snow and ice that make the manoeuvring of a vehicle dangerous. Ruts will usually be 10 cm in depth before they warrant blading.
  • Sanding – the controlled application of various materials, which could be comprised of a variety of sand and/or salt mixtures. This includes liquid and solid material.
  • Secondary Routes – include school zones, urban transit routes and main access to neighbourhoods.
  • Snow Clearance – a general term used to encompass all snow plowing, removal and blading operations.
  • Windrow – a long, low ridge of snow accumulation scraped to the side or middle of the road (e.g. snow banks).
  • Winter Maintenance Zones – All residential neighborhoods have been divided into five Winter Maintenance Zones, one for each weekday. From Oct. 15 to April 15, each neighborhood’s Zone will be active on the same weekday, every week. On the day that each Zone is active, crews will plow the streets, clear any snow they may have placed on sidewalks and perform other routine maintenance as required to maintain safe, accessible roadways for residents, emergency vehicles, transit, and municipal equipment. To assist in this process, on-street parking will not be available in each Zone on the day that it is active.

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Winter Maintenance Zones are relaxed [Learn more]