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INVESTIGATION: New Providence Dump Trucks Have Faulty Plows

Thursday, February 05, 2015

 

About half a dozen new plow trucks that cost the City of Providence nearly $700,000 have had an equipment failure that was not uncovered until they were first deployed—in last week's blizzard.

“I am frustrated,” said city Councilman Michael Correia, who said he had put in the funding request for the new six-wheel dump trucks.  

The city approved the purchase of the trucks, at $140,363 a piece, at the end of 2013. But by the time the trucks were delivered, around February 2014, the last of the season’s snow had fallen and the trucks would not be deployed for nearly another year, according to Vito Antonucci, the fleet manager for the city.

The faulty devices were the coiled metal springs—technically known as spring tensioners—behind plows that allow them to pop back up into place after hitting a manhole cover or other obstacle on the road. The failure means that the plows are bending over too quickly when they are being used out on the streets, according to Antonucci, who described the problem as a “minor glitch.”

“It’s not anything catastrophic,” Antonucci said.

But Correia said the problem was serious enough to require drivers to head back into the city garage for repairs in the middle of last week’s blizzard, as well as during this week’s storm. The problem does not explain why the side streets in some city neighborhoods, like the East Side, were apparently under-plowed after the blizzard. But it did delay the cleanup, according to Correia.

Correia spoke to GoLocalProv after hearing complaints from workers at the Department of Public Works. “I’m hearing it directly from the individuals that are driving the plows,” said Correia, who is the new chairman of the city council’s Committee on Public Works. “The workers want to work but they are frustrated with the equipment they have to work with,” Correia said.

Correia said he had been told that the equipment failure was enough to cause plow blades to repeatedly break—something that Antonucci said he could not confirm.

Five of the new dump trucks were bought for $697,348 from Coastal International Trucks in Warwick. But the plow blades and assembly were supplied from a subcontractor, JC Madigan Truck Equipment, based in Lancaster, Massachusetts, according to Antonucci.

Asked for comment, a city spokesman said the dealer would be repairing the faulty spring tensioners behind the plow blades. “The equipment that is being replaced by the dealer under warranty has not impeded the Department of Public Works’ ability to plow and no plows have been removed from service as a result,” said Evan England, spokesman for Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The repairs by the dealer, Madigan Truck Equipment, were expected to be conducted between yesterday and today, according to Antonucci. (Madigan Truck Equipment could not be reached for comment in time for publication.)

Aging fleet ‘ready for a nursing home’

For Correia, the flap illustrates the need for the city to update its aging fleet of trucks at the Department of Public Works.

Including the new trucks, there are a total of 26 dump trucks maintained by the Department of Public Works, according to Correia. Of those, six are new. “I would say that the other 20 are ready for a nursing home,” Correia said, citing wear and tear and the high mileage on the trucks.

City budget records show that between 2011 and the current fiscal year, the Department of Public Works was expected to spend a total of $714,486 on repairs on its trucks and other vehicles—about as much as the five brand new dump trucks.

It’s not just the dump trucks that are “rapidly deteriorating”—as the agenda for one meeting of the Board of Contract and Supply put it. Correia says the highway supervisor drives a pickup truck with over 100,000 miles on it. So does his deputy. “We need to retire them as well,” Correia said, referring to the trucks.

“It’s not just the trucks,” Correia added.

Also in need of attention are the department’s rapidly dwindling and deteriorating street sweepers. The city currently owns just two street sweepers. And it has been forced to take parts from one to fix the other one, meaning that it's down to just one working sweeper, according to Correia.  

“It’s time we started investing in Public Works,” Correia said.

Instead, the city is turning to contractors to supplement its aging fleet. Correia said the city relies on a private Massachusetts-based contractor, American Sweeping. City records show that the Department of Public Works was expected to spent a total of $175,000 on street sweeping this year (down from a high of $339,505 in 2011). 

And during last winter, the city paid out a total of $504,847 to seven private contractors for plowing and sanding services, according to a June 2, 2014 memorandum from the City Clerk’s office.

What caused under-plowing?

While frustrated with the equipment problems, Correia said that they were not the reason behind why some side streets in the city were not fully plowed after the blizzard. “I would say, no, that that didn’t have anything at all to do with the lack of plowing,” Correia said.

He also said the drivers of city trucks were not to blame. Instead, he praised them for the “exceptional” work they had done through both storms. “I am more than satisfied with their job,” Correia said. “I am not happy with the jobs the private contractors have done.”

Correia said the city need to do a better job of selecting contractors. He also said those contractors need to be better supervised by the inspectors the Department of Public Works sends out in each ward to monitor snow cleanup efforts, as well as resident compliance with parking bans.

Correia held his first meeting as chairman of the Committee of Public Works before the blizzard. The next meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, rescheduled from this week because of this week’s storm. “We will be discussing all snowplow operations,” Correia said. 

 

Related Slideshow: Providence Snow Equipment Costs

Below are the costs of some of the recent plow trucks Providence has purchased. The slides also include some figures from the Department of Parks and Recreations for vehicles that could be used to plow snow. In addition to purchase prices, the cost of repairing vehicles in the Department of Public Works is included over a five-year period. Because city budget records do not have a separate line item for snow plow trucks, the total cost of auto and truck repairs for each year is displayed. Sources: in addition to budget records, meeting records for the Providence City Council and the Board of Contract and Supply. 

Prev Next

Dump Trucks

Items: 5 six-wheel wheel dump trucks

Department: Public Works

Cost Per Truck: $140,363

Total Cost: $697,348

Approval Date: December 2013 (City Council)

Prev Next

Trucks

Items: 6 trucks with sanders and plows

Department: Parks and Public Recreation

Cost Per Truck: $54,198

Total Cost: $325,188

Approval Date: August 2013 (Board of Contract and Supply)

Prev Next

Landscape Dump Trucks

Items: 4 landscape dump trucks

Department: Public Works

Cost Per Truck: $60,000

Total Cost: $240,000

Approval Date: June 2014 (City Council)

Prev Next

Dump Trucks

Items: Dumps with plows and spreaders

Department: Parks and Recreation

Cost Per Truck: $60,000

Total Cost: $240,000

Approval Date: June 2014 (City Council)

Prev Next

Vehicle Repair Costs 2011

Department: Public Works

2011 Actual Spending

Repairs to Autos and Trucks

Total Cost: $177,301

Prev Next

Vehicle Repair Costs 2012

Department: Public Works

2012 Actual Spending

Repairs to Autos and Trucks

Total Cost: $97,185

% Change Over Previous Year: -45%

Prev Next

Vehicle Repair Costs 2013

Department: Public Works

2013 Approved Budget

Repairs to Autos and Trucks

Total Cost: $160,000

% Change Over Previous Year: +64%

Prev Next

Vehicle Repair Costs 2014

Department: Public Works

2014 Enacted Budget

Repairs to Autos and Trucks

Total Cost: $140,000

% Change Over Previous Year: -12%

Prev Next

Vehicle Repair Costs 2015

Department: Public Works

2015 Projected Cost

Repairs to Autos and Trucks

Total Cost: $140,000

Prev Next

Total Costs Public Works

Department of Public Works

Total Costs

Recent Truck Acquisitions: $937,348

Vehicle Repairs: $714,486.00 

Note: Vehicle repairs are totaled from 2011 to 2015. Truck acquisition costs are from 2013 to 2014. 

 
 

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