The Progressive Case for Plowing the Damn Roads in Helena


I only drive on the “emergency snow routes” in Helena to get to work.

Yesterday, despite a week’s warning about the coming snow, when I tried to drive on those identified snow routes, as always, they were unplowed messes and drivers with cars far better than my humble ride were sliding around dangerously.

And to be clear, because I had an appointment today, I was driving on those routes at 10:00 a.m.

The roads maintained by the state, however, were plowed and passable. As they always seem to be.

Even though the state, which I’ve heard is facing some financial difficulties, can manage to plow its roads and despite agreement that cuts across partisan lines about this issue over the past few winters, the City of Helena seems unwilling or unable to develop a snow removal plan that will make the major roads of our city safe for drivers and pedestrians.

The truth is that there is a progressive case for making snow removal a real city priority.
1. Those most affected by bad roads are those with low incomes. Not every person in Helena can afford to purchase snow tires and many get by on what they can. Those who can least afford to miss work are the ones most impacted by the failure of the city to keep its roads clear. Shouldn’t government work to protect the interest of those workers who simply want to safely get to their places of work?
2. It’s dangerous for young drivers. Hundreds of kids attend Helena High and Capital High during zero period, which starts before bus service begins and well before the city begins plowing the roads. When the emergency snow route behind Helena High was not plowed for WEEKS last year, it was dangerous for students simply trying to get to school.
3. It undermines faith in government at a time when conservatives are using perceived and real failures of government agencies to attack those institutions. When a city cannot manage to plow the streets it has designated as EMERGENCY snow routes, it strengthens the conservative argument that “government just doesn’t work.” 
I am disinterested in excuses why Helena cannot meet its basic obligations to its citizens and I am disinterested in hearing city officials tell the people of Helena untruths. No one who has lived in Helena the past five years believes that the emergency snow routes and major arterial routes (other than those maintained by the state) are plowed in an effective, safe, and timely manner. Please stop insulting our intelligence by repeating the lie that they are.

Given that I haven’t turned in my ballot for city commission yet, I’m inclined to vote for a more conservative candidate who might actually attempt to solve this problem. I’ve never found the “why is the city debating global issues instead of doing the central task of the city” argument to be very persuasive, but I might now.

These streets are dangerous. Downtown, they stifle economic activity. The center of our downtown, Last Chance Gulch, may never get plowed this winter if the past few are any indicator of what we should expect.

It’s time for a change. Unless someone can convince me that voting for the status quo will somehow improve this fundamental city service, despite years of the problem not being solved, I’m going to vote for that change and hope for the best.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Many of us are saying the same thing here in Missoula about the unplowed roads. The job’s just not getting done under the current administration. It’s why we voted for Lisa Triepke.

      • Which pronouns do we choose to use?

        I seems so inclusive, and like there’s only one. We seems like there’s a group, and that we mean something. You is a good one, because we speak directly to the reader. Us is another of those inclusive ones, which make us feel like we’re not alone. When we use ‘he’ or ‘she’ we’re in pointing finger mode and quite distant. When we use their name instead, it’s like we’re closer and offering insight instead of praise/criticism.

        I remember high school writing classes where they said the worst thing to do in an essay was say, “I think…”

        Just say it…but make sure you say it in a way that talks to certain groups, or my preference, directly to the reader.

      • Just as a quick follow-up, I’ve counted 11 instances of “I” or “I’m” or “I’ve” in this article. And that’s understandable – when you’re in complaint-mode on an issue that directly affected you that day, you want to report it in first person, firsthand.

        What’s interesting is that in this plea for support on an issue that affects us all, the pronoun that’s been chosen most often is “they” and “those.”

        These people are separate groups it seems, not fellow Helenans that have the same problems as “I” do.

        I dunno…something to think about. Maybe you don’t think it’s important, but many of us feel it is.

  • Back in the olden days, towns in New England used rollers to compact the snow for easier travel and it seemed to work, without the problem of removal or plowing in driveways. Might be worth a try just on an experimental basis.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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