Seattle's top transportation official Friday used her strongest language yet to describe missteps in the city's response to three December snowstorms. "We blew it," Grace Crunican said, by waiting too long to ask for private contractors to help plow frozen streets.

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Seattle’s top transportation official Friday used her strongest language yet to describe missteps in the city’s response to three December snowstorms.

“We blew it,” Grace Crunican said, by waiting too long to ask for private contractors to help plow frozen streets. And while the city felt it was meeting its goals to keep major streets “passable,” it failed to see the bigger picture: residents stranded by icy streets, bus service that was forced to a halt and stores and restaurants struggling because customers couldn’t reach them.

Crunican spoke to the Seattle City Council Friday about the mayor’s “after-action report,” released this week, which details what the city could have done differently.

The 60 recommendations are wide-ranging. Among them: salt roads, buy two more snowplows, communicate better with Metro Transit, make sure property owners know they’re responsible for shoveling their sidewalks, and be more cautious about promising garbage pickup the city can’t provide.

In all, the report says, the storm cost the city about $3.4 million to remove snow, restore power, repair damaged equipment, among other things. The council will discuss Monday how to pay the bill.

City Councilmember Tim Burgess said the city should learn from the storm to take a less “intimate” view of emergency response.

Crunican agreed, saying that she was driving the streets in her four-wheel-drive vehicle and felt they were passable, and by the time she realized many people couldn’t get around, it was too late to hire many private snowplows.

“I think it’s the insular nature of the evaluation that we were giving ourselves that kept us from asking for more help earlier on,” she said.

Councilmember Jan Drago said the $3.5 million figure didn’t give an accurate impact of the storm because it didn’t include impacts to private businesses.

“I look at it this way: maybe the city lost $3 million. The loss to the community, to the city at large, has got to be multi, multimillions,” she said.

The council will spend the next month reviewing Mayor Greg Nickels’ recommendations before taking a vote on them.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com