Wichita sweeping streets to recover sand for use in future storms

07/15/2014 6:15 PM

08/06/2014 10:18 AM

Clarification: A previous version of this story did not clarify that it is the city's stormwater system that could experience a problem with sand on the roads and rainfall.

The city wants its sand back.

City street crews launched a sand recovery operation late Monday, using street sweepers and sand trucks to begin picking up the 7,000 tons of sand the city spread over 1,500 lane-miles of ice-covered emergency routes in a snowstorm two weeks ago.

Street sweepers will gather up the sand from the streets and then dump it into trucks that will take it to city yards, said deputy public works director Joe Pajor. The work will continue five nights a week until the entire storm route is covered, although the operation is racing the clock a bit, with thunderstorms in the forecast for Wednesday night.

“We think it’s fairly clean at this point,” Pajor said. “So we’ll take a look at it, and if we can reuse it for a subsequent storm, we will.”

The sand removal is a safety precaution. The sand poses sliding risks on dry pavement while potentially damaging car windshields and paint. It also has proven hazardous for motorcycle riders.

And any sand that washes away with Wednesday night’s expected rainfall is a problem for the city’s stormwater system, Pajor said, where “we have to vacuum it all out.”

City officials won’t move on the salt they applied as the storm wound down because it washes easily away with any rainfall, Pajor said.

The sand was a stopgap after the city’s fleet of 50 plows was unable to keep up with a storm that dumped 9 inches of snow on the area Feb. 4. The unplowed snow quickly packed and turned to ice; single-digit temperatures rendered salt ineffective and glazed city streets. The result was difficulty in driving in Wichita for five days after the storm.

Pajor said six street sweepers will be on the emergency routes after dark, with three dump trucks gathering the collected sand. The work is being done during the third shift to avoid hampering daytime traffic by sweeping gutters, the middle of lanes and turning lanes.

“I didn’t realize that people don’t understand how street sweepers work,” Pajor said. “They don’t sweep the sand to the side of the road; rather, they pick up the sand and can self-empty into a dump truck.”

City officials think that much of the sand can be reused – either in future snowstorms, to maintain dirt roads or as cover at the landfill.

“We’ll be segregating it from regular street sweepings, screening it for litter and stockpiling it,” Pajor said. “We’ll take a look at it and see if it can be used for future snow and ice control, maintaining unpaved streets. If we have a use for it, we’ll use it; otherwise, it will be diverted to cover material.”

Pajor doesn’t expect to reclaim all of the 7,000 tons of sand. Some of it has already been tossed by car wheels onto curbs and grass.

“There will be some losses, but we think we’ll get a lot picked up,” he said. “What makes this pair of storms difficult is the sheer volume of the sand we had to use.”

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