- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) - Tracy Engstrom wheeled into the Janesville City Services Center in her street sweeper Wednesday afternoon after another shift cleaning local curbsides.

She was pushing 19 mph, the vehicle’s top speed, but whether she’s flooring it or crawling at the machine’s working speed of 4 mph, she hears about it from motorists.

“I get yelled at a lot,” Engstrom said. “People honk at ya.”

Last week marked one of the half-dozen times a year the city breaks out its fleet of large, awkwardly shaped and lumbering street sweepers, The Janesville Gazette (http://bit.ly/1QadCoU ) reported.

They can draw the rancor of hurried drivers, and people sometimes shout that they don’t want sweepers cleaning their neighborhood streets. But to think the slow pace makes it an easy job or that all the sweepers do is a cosmetic touch-up would be wrong.

They play an important role in keeping local bodies of water clean and sewers functional, so much so that that Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requires more 200 municipalities to do sweeping, said Tim Whittaker, stormwater engineer for the city.

“If street sweeping is not done, the first place we see problems is in clogging of catch basins and storm sewers within our infrastructure, and that’s costly in terms of maintenance,” Whittaker said. “And then if the material … gets into the river, for example, what you see is a lot of nutrients—phosphorous, nitrogen, suspended solids, dirt—that washes through the system that can have an impact on the water habitat for aquatic species.”

Municipalities with certain characteristics, such as a population of 10,000 or more or being located within a federally-designated urbanized area, are required by the DNR to sweep their streets. It’s up to the municipalities to determine how often, Whittaker said.

Janesville keeps a fleet of four sweepers handy and usually deploys two at a time during six cycles every year between April and November.

One of those drivers is Engstrom, who has been handling the sweepers, snowplows and other equipment for the city for more than six years.

The machines have plenty of instruments to keep track of and can be difficult to control.

First there’s the rear steering of the vehicles, giving them the appearance of tail-spinning whenever they change direction. It takes days for new drivers to get the hang of it.

“It’s quite hilarious actually,” said Engstrom, who does the training.

Then there’s the brushes on each side of the vehicle and the broom underneath, which spin constantly and work together to kick the debris up onto a conveyer belt, which delivers the debris to a container.

The height of the brushes and broom are adjustable; too close to the ground and they won’t spin, too far away and they won’t sweep up anything.

Meanwhile, the only signal the trash container gives when it’s full is a trail of garbage, so there’s a lot of doubling back.

An eight-hour shift on the streets will usually involve covering about 25 miles at 4 mph, Engstrom said. Yeah, some people complain, she said, but mostly she and her co-workers get compliments.

“I like it,” Engstrom said with a laugh. “It doesn’t bother me.”

___

Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com

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