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Heated sidewalks are on the agenda for the City of St. John’s Committee of the Whole meeting this week.

Last year city council had asked if heated sidewalks (snow melt system) could be reviewed for a possible pilot project as part of the Water Street Infrastructure Improvements project – city staff and engineers have researched the systems and found some benefits but also many challenges that would come with the system.

Those benefits include improving sidewalk access under certain conditions which would mean a potential reduction in slips and falls if melted snow could be removed from the sidewalk before the next freeze cycle. It would also mean no equipment on the sidewalk during business hours for snowfall events that don’t exceed the capacity of the system.

However, there are many challenges – one of the largest ones would be the upfront capital cost of the system, the annual energy costs to operate the system exceeds the existing contract to clear the sidewalks by 20 times – this doesn’t include maintenance costs. At the time of the report, electrical rates were unknown but could increase the operating costs. Current estimates for the annual operating costs of just one section of Water Street ( Ayre’s Cove to Clift’s-Baird’s Cove) is approximately $70,000.

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Other challenges include the amount of snow St. John’s receives. If the accumulation of snow on sidewalks exceeds the melt rate of the system, snow removal would still be required. Regular snow plowing/clearing operations would need to be carried out so that snow from the street isn’t placed on sidewalks. Melted snow or ice must be permitted to freely drain from the sidewalk. A build up of snow on the roadside of the curb and gutter could result in blocking the drainage of water from the sidewalk. Therefore, snow would need to be removed from the street immediately following a snow fall to ensure that water can freely drain from the sidewalks. A new drainage system for Water Street could be needed if the system was to be installed.

The recommendation is not to install heated sidewalks for Water Street. Council will discuss the matter at its Committee of the Whole meeting later this week.

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