Snow clearing

The municipality’s extensive Winter Operations program uses in-house and contracted operators as well as equipment. With each weather event, crews are responsible for approximately 3,844 lane kilometres of streets. Stretched end to end, that’s the same distance as driving from Halifax to Winnipeg. Crews also clear about 1,000 kilometres of sidewalks, 6 kilometers of protected bike lanes/local street bikeways, 11 kilometers of multi-use pathways  and approximately 2,300 bus across the Halifax region.

This requires a coordinated, strategic approach. Streets and sidewalks are prioritized based on several criteria, including:

  • Frequency of use by commuters
  • Access to important infrastructure, like hospitals and schools
  • Whether they’re on major bus and transportation routes.

The municipal service standards identify priority levels and timelines for clearing streets and sidewalks. Before bad weather hits, municipal and contracted crews are out preparing the streets and sidewalks to help people travel safely. Crews clear and remove snow in line with best practices across the country, adapted to the Halifax region's unique climate and conditions.

Most streets and roads in the Halifax region are the municipality's responsibility and are cleared by in-house or contracted crews. However, the clearing of provincial highways and some private roads are the responsibility of the province. Use our Street Maintenance Directory to find out which level of government is responsible for your street.

Service standards

The municipality is committed to keeping our streets and sidewalks clear and safe from snow and ice. However, given the Halifax region’s expansive geography, it takes time for crews to get to all areas. Crews work as fast as they safely can in difficult conditions and plan their routes according to the priority levels and timelines approved by Regional Council.

Before contacting 311 to report snow and ice clearing issues, please check the service timelines for streets, protected bike lanes and sidewalks to confirm when clearing should be completed. If clearing efforts are still within the timelines, residents should not contact 311 as the agent will be unable to dispatch any crew. Please wait until the service timeline has expired before contacting 311. This will ensure those trying to contact 311 with urgent issues are able to reach an agent.

Note: In snowfalls greater than 30 centimetres, or in blizzard conditions, more time is needed to complete clearing. The same exception may apply when there are rapidly changing weather conditions, such as sudden freezing after rain, wet snow packed to ice and freezing rain. Crews will continue working until all streets and sidewalks are clear and safe.

Streets

To find out the priority level of your street click here.

Priority 1 streets:

  • Main arterials
  • Major bus routes
  • Roads with steep inclines
  • Emergency routes to hospitals and streets leading to schools and public buildings.

Goal: To have a plow or salt truck pass through these areas at a minimum of once every three hours and have them clear of snow and ice within 12 hours of the end of a weather event.

Priority 2 streets:

  • Residential and rural routes with medium to low volume traffic
  • Gravel roads
  • Private lanes that fall under the municipality’s responsibility

Goal: To start cut-throughs on these streets once accumulations have reached 10 cm and repeated a minimum of every eight (8) hours during extended periods of snow. This allows initial access for emergency vehicles and residents needing to get out of their homes. Crews will return to finish clearing Priority 2 streets, to a snow-covered and passable state, within 24 hours from the end of a weather event.

Sidewalks and Protected Bike Lanes/Local Street Bikeways

Priority 1 includes those along main arterials and within the downtown core. Crews aim to clear these areas within 12 hours from the end of a weather event.

Priority 2 includes those along transit routes. Crews aim to clear these areas within 18 hours from the end of a weather event.

Priority 3 includes those along residential streets and municipal walkways. Crews aim to clear these areas within 36 hours from the end of a weather event.

Intersections & bus stops

The municipality aims to clear bus stops, starting with the highest volume stops, within 24 hours from the end of a weather event. Bus stops along Priority 1 and 2 sidewalk routes are opened up as much as possible during street clearing; however, most aren’t fully cleared until all streets are complete. Much of this work is done after hours, when lighter traffic conditions enable work to be carried out more safely.

Equipment

The municipality owns approximately 46 pieces of street-clearing equipment, including loaders, snow blowers, tandems, 5-tonne and 3-tonne trucks. The fleet is supplemented by hourly contractors including salt trucks, plows and loaders - bringing the total count to approximately 250 pieces of equipment engaged during a winter event, depending on weather conditions.

In addition to the street equipment, the municipality owns 10 skid steers and mini-loaders, which are used to plow approximately 100 kilometres of sidewalks. The other approximately 900 kilometres of sidewalks in the region are cleared by contractors. As with the street equipment, the municipal sidewalk fleet is supplemented by hourly contractors and equipment on retainer, including an additional four to eight sidewalk machines that can be brought in for heavier snow.

Salt

As part of the municipality’s salt management strategy, a proactive approach is taken to help prevent the buildup of snow and ice during a weather event. This is done by preparing the streets in advance with rock salt, brine or a mixture of the two. There are three municipal salt domes in the region.

The amount of salt and sand applied on the roads varies year to year, depending on the weather. An average of $1.7 million a year is spent on salt, with another $120,000 spent on sand. The municipal salt supply is regularly renewed throughout the season with loads from Canadian Salt Co. Ltd., in Pugwash.

Brine

Less snow and ice on the roads means safer conditions for residents and it enables snow-clearing crews to do their work faster and more efficiently when a storm hits.

Direct liquid application (DLA) is one of several tools in the municipality’s overall salt management strategy that involves spraying the streets with a salt water solution, also known as brine. This minimizes the bond that forms between the surface of the road and snow or ice, similar to using cooking spray to prevent food from sticking to the pan. This practice also enhances public safety while reducing the environmental impact due to less sodium chloride being required to create liquid brine. It also stays on the road surface instead of bouncing or blowing off into the ditches and/ or curbs, which is what typically occurs when only applying dry rock salt.

These preventative methods only work in certain conditions. For example, rock salt won’t melt ice in extremely cold temperatures. Crews evaluate the weather forecast and choose the best method to prepare streets for snow and ice to maintain clear, safe roadways throughout a weather event.