Can We Avoid a Snowpocalypse Using P3?

By Ed Green
P3 Kentucky Editor

A lot of local leaders are thinking about snow this week, bracing for bad weather as we get deeper into winter. That made me start thinking. This is a significant problem nearly every state and community in our region deals with. How do we allocate the right amount of public resources to address a real issue that only comes once in awhile?

In some years, Kentucky gets only a few inches of snow during an entire winter month. In other years, we are hit with a blast that brings dozens of inches of powder during one downfall. It must be a nightmare for the Kentucky Department of Highways, county road crews, not to mention local officials to plan for such uncertainty.

I wondered if a public-private partnership model might work. I found this article in the American Institute for Economic Research. The author suggests that most snow-removal programs are a type of public-private partnership in which various public entities, organizations and tax structures are responsible for seeing to it that the roads are clear. He notes that where snow is substantial and common — picture the images below from this years Buffalo Bills/Indianapolis Colts game — governments have dedicated public employees to deal with snow. In those places it makes sense to have a large and dedicated force to address snow.

In other places, communities rely on private vendors such as paving contractors with large trucks and little work during heavy snows to clear the roads.

This AIER article does not express a preference for turning to private industry to help with snow removal but links to research that suggests using a P3 model could help a city reduce costs if it relies on snow-removal contracts.

An extreme example of this type of P3 is in Centennial, Colo., where community leaders have turned to private partners to manage all aspects of their public works. In the Denver suburb, a private provider not only took on the responsibility of plowing the streets, it brought a level of planning and expertise that otherwise would not have been available.

According to an article by the Denver South Economic Development Partnership,”Centennial is able to leverage the tech, experience, and research of (its P3 partner) CH2M’s global network. Using sophisticated algorithms and consumer-grade GPS units, CH2M streamlined Centennial’s snow plow routes, reducing the time needed to plow by 40%. For commuters braving the streets in winter, that’s huge.”

P3 Kentucky was created to educate, inspire and connect leaders with resources, so if you have a question about where to go next, please reach out: (502) 544-2917 or

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