Keeping streets clean

Purchased last year to replace a five-year-old model, Marietta’s street sweeper came with a hefty price tag.

After the city paid nearly $215,000, one city councilman is worried that some dirty city streets are a sign the city is not getting its money’s worth from the “Tornado.” But other city officials say the machine is used every day and trying to maintain streets without it would be a near impossibility.

Constituent complaints and personal observations have given city councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, reason to push for changes in the city’s street cleaning program.

“It’s not about anecdotal ‘Well I saw the street sweeper’ stories. It’s about ‘Are the streets being kept clean?'” Kalter said.

He pointed out Allen Street, which runs beside the River Trail and the city’s bridges as places where he has seen debris build up over the past few months.

Some of the issue is limitations with the machine itself. Things like gravel, larger branches, hunks of metal and dead animals cannot be suctioned up by the giant vacuum, said Todd Stockel, city streets department superintendent.

The department tries to get what is left behind as issues arise, said Stockel.

“I pick up dead animals all the time,” he said. “Rocks or big pieces of metal, we can swing by with a pickup truck and pick it up if traffic allows.”

But doing so as time allows is leaving room for things like gravel to build up and potentially cause bigger problems down the road, said Kalter.

“If they’re not keeping the hatch basins clean, then they’re going to be going out and re-asphalting the street, which is going to take even more time and people,” he said.

Setting a schedule for picking up debris left behind by the sweeper is impractical, said Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews.

“You can’t plan to do anything for (the bigger debris) because you never know when you’re going to get some,” he said.

Matthews said he feels the sweeper is doing an adequate job.

“I feel we get our money out of it…We’re hitting almost all the town once a week,” he said.

The entire 65 miles of curbed streets in Marietta are more realistically swept once every three weeks, admitted Stockel.

For example, “One Monday we’ll get the upper area of Harmar Hill and the following Monday we’ll get the lower end,” he explained.

Running the street sweeper is a full-time job, typically delegated to a single city employee. Minus time spent prepping, periodically emptying and maintaining the sweeper, it is in action 40 hours a week, Stockel said.

Cost-wise, the sweeper basically breaks down to the annual salary of a streets department employee, he said.

The newest machine cost around $215,000, but the city also received $65,000 for its old machine. Expected to last around five years, the net $150,000 cost of the sweeper breaks down to around $30,000 a year, he said.

Marietta resident Bob Seevers, 55, said he feels the street sweeper does a good job in general, but suggested an improvement.

“They need to get signs out more, so people can move their cars. They could do a better job if cars were out of the way,” he said.

Matthews said signs have been used in the past, but people often ignore them.

Still, the mayor said he is not opposed to posting the sweeper’s intended schedule on the city’s website.