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Snow and Ice Removal Policies

This page provides a brief overview of snow and ice removal policies and procedures for cities, towns, and counties in Washington State, including examples of emergency parking restrictions and sidewalk clearance requirements.

Removing Snow and Ice from Streets

Cities and counties often prioritize their road networks for snow and ice removal, focusing first on high-volume arterials. Less-traveled roads receive a lower priority and, especially in low-density residential areas, some roads may not be plowed at all.

RCW 47.24.020(6) requires cities and towns to clear snow from state highways within city limits, except that the state shall plow those roads “when necessary.” The 2013 City Streets as Part of State Highways Conformed Agreement clarifies the meaning of “when necessary,” establishing that the state will plow snow, with city concurrence, on the traveled lane of a state highway on the way through cities without adequate snow plowing equipment. (See Section D - Snow and Ice Removal.)

Several court decisions have established that a public agency cannot be held liable for damage or injuries caused by snow and ice if it has not had a reasonable opportunity to clear the streets. See Leroy v. State (2004), Wright v. Kennewick (1962), and Bird v. Walton (1993). For more details about potential liability, see Dealing with Snow and Ice on Streets and Sidewalks.

Environmental Impacts

Some anti-icing and de-icing products may have negative impacts on the surrounding environment, particularly through stormwater pollution. For more information, see:

City/Town Examples

County Examples

  • King County Code Ch. 14.48 - County must identify and clear snow emergency routes and alert the public in event of a snow emergency. See county’s Snow and Ice page for an explanation of property tax shortfalls that have forced a significant reduction in the number of snow routes.
  • Mason County Resolution 55-13 (2013) - Establishes snow and ice control as the highest public works priority during winter months, listing types and priority of roadway treatment.
  • Pierce County Snow and Ice Plan (2010) - Provides inventory of snow plowing equipment, four-phase response plan for snow and ice events, and guidelines for snow plowing and chemical application.
  • Stevens County Winter Maintenance Policy - Primary roads, including all paved roads and high traffic gravel roads, receive priority winter maintenance. Secondary roads receive service within 2-3 days and other gravel roads do not receive winter maintenance.

Emergency Declarations

Parking Restrictions to Facilitate Snow Removal

Municipalities in Washington have adopted a variety of parking restrictions to help facilitate the snow and ice removal process, including temporary parking prohibitions. Some of these laws take effect upon a certain level of snow accumulation, while others only take effect if the jurisdiction has declared a snow emergency.

These provisions typically allow local law enforcement to tow noncompliant vehicles and issue citations.

Examples

  • Cheney Municipal Code Sec. 11.48.070 and Sec. 11.48.080 - If two or more inches of snow have accumulated, vehicles are prohibited from parking or standing on any street or city right-of-way between midnight and 6 am (3 am to 6 am in central business district). Vehicles may be impounded.
  • East Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec. 10.08.030 - During December, January, and February, vehicles must be parked on the even numbered side of the street on even numbered days and the odd numbered side on odd numbered days, to facilitate snow removal.
  • Moses Lake Municipal Code Ch. 10.14 - Whenever snow plowing is necessary or anticipated based on weather forecasts, municipal services director may prohibit parking on parts of or all streets as necessary. City may remove and/or ticket vehicles.
  • Pullman Resolution No. R-92-08 (2008) - Authorizes public works director to declare snow emergencies, impose parking restrictions, and educate the public.
  • Puyallup Municipal Code Sec. 11.08.100 - Provides authority to remove vehicles for emergency snow removal, without prior notice to owner.
  • Walla Walla Municipal Code Ch. 10.23 - Public works director may prohibit parking on parts of or all streets as necessary (similar to Moses Lake). Prohibits drivers from abandoning stalled or stranded vehicles and authorizes removal of such vehicles.
  • Wenatchee City Code Sec. 6B.06.130 - When snow is present on the roadway, vehicles must be parked on the even numbered side of the street on even numbered days and the odd numbered side of the street on odd numbered days. Fines are established by Sec. 6B.08.010, but vehicle removal is not specifically authorized.
  • Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 8.88.060 - Prohibits parking on designated snow routes during snow alerts.

Removing Snow from Sidewalks

Many jurisdictions assign responsibility for sidewalk maintenance - including snow and ice removal - to the owner or occupant of the abutting property. However, the specifics can vary significantly.

Some jurisdictions require snow and ice to be removed by a certain time - either a set time of day (typically no later than noon), a certain number of hours after the snow has stopped falling, or a combination of the two. Others use more vague language, requiring removal as soon as practical.

Some ordinances clearly prohibit property owners/occupants from dumping snow and ice onto public rights-of-way or anywhere that would obstruct fire hydrants or traffic signs. One of the examples below (Wilbur) declares snow, slush, or ice on sidewalks to be a nuisance, while another (Cheney) exempts snow blowers from the city’s normal noise nuisance ordinances.

In most instances, municipalities are not liable for injuries suffered as a result of snowy or icy sidewalks. For more details about potential liability, see MRSC’s blog post on Dealing with Snow and Ice on Streets and Sidewalks.

Assisting Elderly or Disabled Residents

Shoveling snow is a physically strenuous task. The combination of the physical strain and cold temperatures can increase the risk of heart attacks, particularly in older individuals - not to mention the risk of injury from slips and falls. Elderly or disabled individuals may be physically unable to shovel snow, in which case some jurisdictions maintain lists of volunteers who can assist them. (See Walla Walla’s webpage Who is responsible for shoveling snow from sidewalks?)

Examples

Recommended Resources


Last Modified: September 18, 2017