Drivers frustrated by snow piling up on streets

Narrow streets
A pedestrian walks in the middle of a snowy Minneapolis street as shown continues to pile up, getting drivers pinched by ever-narrowing streets.
Jim Mone/Associated Press

Minnesota has had more than three feet of snow this winter, and there is more snow to come.

Cold temperatures have kept much of the snow from melting, and big piles of plowed snow have popped up on seemingly every corner in the Twin Cities, where they can block the view of oncoming traffic, and frustrate drivers.

A busy intersection in St. Paul near the State Capitol is pretty typical. Three giant mounds of frozen snow sit facing each other on all but one corner. The snow is piled high, so drivers attempting to cross are forced out into the intersection for a clear view.

At a nearby gas station, driver Michael Huff has a strong opinion about this particular corner.

"It's almost like having a car out there double-parked or whatever, so you can't see around the corner until you get almost into the traffic," said Huff.

He says living in the neighborhood for a long time has taught him to take it slowly.

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"You have to creep out there. You can't just drive out there, because if you come out there too far, pow!" he said as he clapped his hands for dramatic effect.

Big pile of snow
A snow pile near downtown St. Paul. Most of the Twin Cities has at least three feet of frozen snow on the ground.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

When asked what the city should do about the giant snow piles, Huff is philosophical.

"What do you do? It is what it is, and I just try to be careful. You just have to be careful."

St. Paul Street Maintenance Engineer Kevin Nelson says his department has had a lot of calls about the snow piles. He says the city is well aware of the problem, but it has to prioritize.

"Being able to see around the corner -- we understand that, but there is no way we could cover the whole city. We've got 850 miles of roads, and I don't remember how many intersections that amounts to," said Nelson.

After a snow emergency was declared in St. Paul, 160 plow drivers work two shifts a day clearing snow. Nelson says he hopes to send crews out to the biggest trouble spots. But right now, fixing potholes -- another nightmare for drivers -- is at the top of the list.

Snow piled high
This giant snow pile is located on Concordia Ave. near downtown St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

All the snow is also causing headaches in Minneapolis. City officials created a video to publicize the rules regarding the parking ban that was instituted last week for the first time in nearly a decade, which restricts parking to one side of some streets until early April.

The video shows a big red fire truck barely squeezing between parked cars on a residential block. Alex Jackson, Minneapolis fire chief, faces the camera and says "vehicles parked on the even side of non-snow emergency streets can be ticketed and towed, in an effort to make these streets easier to navigate for fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles."

The ban will remain in place until winter ends, or until the snow melts.

Filling her tank at a gas station on Lexington Ave. in St. Paul, Monica Wainio had an idea for what to do with all of the snow.

"I think we should take some of this snow and somehow get it to Vancouver," she said.

That's where an unusual lack of snow has delayed the competition for some of the sports in this year's Winter Olympic Games.