People walk in the roadway on Union Street to avoid snow-covered sidewalks in Bangor, Jan. 24, 2023. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Crews have been clearing Bangor sidewalks after Monday’s storm dumped more than a foot of snow on the region, but the public works department knows there’s no way to get all of them done before the next storm arrives.

If all five sidewalk plows are in operation, clearing Bangor’s 85 miles of sidewalks takes about 10 days, according to Bangor Public Works Director Aaron Huotari. If the city receives six inches of snow or less, cleanup takes about a week.

Back-to-back snowstorms give Bangor crews roughly two days to clear snow from the first storm before the second arrives, when the removal process can take more than a week. The race to clear areas for pedestrians is further hindered by limited equipment that breaks down frequently.  

“If we get 25 percent of the sidewalks done before the next storm, I’ll be surprised,” Huotari said Tuesday. “We worked all through the storm, but it just kept falling heavy until 6 p.m. last night.”

Bangor sidewalk plow operators began clearing at 3 a.m. on Monday and worked until noon on Tuesday, Huotari said. They then went home to rest but planned to return to work at 11 p.m. Tuesday to work another 16 hours.

A pedestrian walks in the roadway down Independent Street in Bangor on Tuesday. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

“We do the best we can to get as much cleared as possible — that’s the only game plan we have,” he said.

Despite the long hours, Huotari said he knows it won’t be enough to clear the snow from Monday’s storm before the precipitation starts again on Wednesday night.

“We’re supposed to have rain on Thursday, then it’ll get down to 14 degrees at night and everything is going to freeze solid,” he said. “That makes the sidewalk machines really struggle to get through that snow.”

The plowing process is often complicated by obstacles and objects, such as tree branches and trash, hidden under snow on the sidewalks, Huotari said. Those objects get sucked into the machines and can take hours to dislodge or damage machines and put them out of service until they can be repaired.

“Last Friday, we plowed a two-mile stretch of sidewalks in the mall area by Chick-fil-A to Hogan Road and it took eight hours,” he said.

Residents throwing snow from their driveways into the sidewalk and street further slows crews down, Huotari said.

The city breaks down which streets and sidewalks should get cleared first into two categories: priority one and priority two.

Downtown roads and areas around schools are the first to get cleared because of the higher number of pedestrians who live and work in the area.

“It kills me to see people walking in the streets knowing that’s an opportunity for a vehicle-pedestrian accident.” Huotari said. “If kids are in a situation where their parents aren’t dropping them off, that means they’re walking to school and they need to have a safe travel route.”

A man attempts to shovel a portion of the sidewalk in front of The Wave in downtown Bangor on Tuesday. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The city then turns its attention to major arteries and “collector streets” that see more foot and vehicle traffic, including city buses.

Lastly, crews work to clear outlying residential roads that see less traffic.

Though the city is tasked with removing snow from sidewalks, with the exception of the downtown district, Huotari said he would like residents to clear the portion of the sidewalks in front of their homes.

In the city’s downtown district, property owners or tenants must clear snow off the sidewalk within six hours after the precipitation ends. If the precipitation ends after 6 p.m., the snow and ice must be removed before 1 p.m. on the following day, according to city rules.

“I would like to see residents help [with sidewalks], but that’s not in the city ordinance,” he said. “We work with the rules we’re given, and we strive to get those sidewalks done as soon as we can.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...