Transportation director William Johnson updates the city's snow removal efforts. (Baltimore Sun video)
Standing in front of a giant, yellow snow-melting apparatus at Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore officials insisted that crews are working quickly to clear snow from the city's streets — but remained mum Tuesday morning on when the task might be finished.
Asked for a timeline goal at a news conference, transportation director William Johnson responded: "Yesterday."
The Department of Transportation has dispatched its 60 inspectors across Baltimore to report on the progress made by the 1,400 snow-removal units that have been working around the clock to displace the more than two feet that fell over the weekend, Johnson said.
Crews are focusing on areas near schools and those deemed public safety threats, he said. The city's 311 line is accepting complaints from citizens whose streets remain untouched and the transportation department is using them to help direct the effort. The Fire Department is helping inspectors survey the streets.
"I'm getting emails and we're getting 311 calls from a lot of folks in a lot of communities that are saying, 'I'm seeing plows. I'm seeing the backhoes. I'm seeing the Bobcats in my neighborhood,'" Johnson said. "But I'm getting also a number of photographs and requests from a lot of people who are letting us know that we haven't hit their neighborhoods yet."
Meanwhile, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Baltimore City government offices will open at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and Thursday, and liberal leave will be in effect for non-essential employees on both days.
The city also suspended trash and recycling collections Wednesday with residential streets and alleys still impassable. The Department of Public Works will assess whether collections can resume Thursday. Residents can drop their trash and recycling at one of the following centers: 5030 Reisterstown Road, 2840 Sisson Street, 701 Reedbird Avenue, 6101 Bowleys Lane, 6100 Quarantine Road.
Baltimore will begin enforcing the sidewalk-clearing ordinance on Tuesday, charging $50 to homeowners and $100 to businesses owners who leave their areas unshoveled, Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said. Those citations will be distributed beginning in the higher-traffic, commercial areas of downtown, where walking in the street is dangerous, he said.
The Baltimore Fire Department was called to four fires overnight in Highlandtown, Violetville, Upton and Walbrook, Chief Niles R. Ford said. No one was injured.
Ford promised residents anywhere in the city that in an emergency, "we will get to you."
"We were getting to people when the situation was much worse," he said.
Police had received 277 calls for service and responded to six car crashes overnight Tuesday, Commissioner Kevin Davis said.
Large snow piles and disappearing traffic lanes present the largest driving challenge as the city recovers from the historic snowstorm, Davis said. He asked commuters to drive responsibly and look carefully around corners before pulling out.
The city is still accepting help from contractors who can offer their excavators, loaders, dump trucks or other heavy equipment, Johnson said. More than 600 pieces of equipment have been brought in from as far as Canada, Upstate New York and Ohio, according to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
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As for the Trecan Combustion 60-PD mobile snowmelting machines pouring water into storm drains, the city has two — one at Pimlico, the other in Canton. The snowmelters can melt 60 tons of snow per hour, according to the manufacturer.
Baltimore has access to two additional machines as needed, Johnson said.
"We're out going to these neighborhoods, identifying them," he said. "We have equipment ready, and we're moving that equipment around to get to all of the neighborhoods. This is a long, slow process."
"We appreciate your patience," Johnson added. "I appreciate all the information and the feedback that we're getting from our communities. We encourage you to continue to let us know, 'Hey, our neighborhood needs some attention.' We're moving that equipment ... as quickly as we can."