INVESTIGATION: New Providence Dump Trucks Have Faulty Plows
Thursday, February 05, 2015
“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 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’
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).
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.
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