RALEIGH — The City of Oaks morphs into the City of Leaves this time of year, which means the giant sucking sound of the leaf-vacuum machines has returned.
But this year, that sound might have a slightly different rhythm in your neighborhood.
The city has purchased eight new leaf-collecting trucks, which could eventually reduce the size of each leaf crew from three members to one. Last year's leaf pickup cost slightly more than $1 million, said Chris McGee, Raleigh's street superintendent. In future years, that number could drop to $600,000.
For years, leaf-collecting crews have worked in teams of three, with a truck that tows a vacuum trailer. One person walks ahead of the truck and rakes leaves, one drives and one walks behind the truck, operating the vacuum that sucks in the leaves and shoots them into the back of a truck.
In the new trucks, the driver moves a joystick that operates the vacuum, which deposits the leaves directly into the truck. An additional worker can walk in front to rake leaves, but as drivers become more adept at controlling the vacuum, McGee thinks that rakers won't always be needed.
The new trucks have already made a big difference to their crews.
"I did it the other way for nine years," said driver Brian Denton, "and this way is 10 times better."
Denton likes the fact that no one is walking behind him, which can be unsafe on busy roads. The new trucks also make it quicker to get back to work after dumping a load of leaves. Under the old system, the trailer would have to be removed and then re-hitched to the truck. The new trucks can carry from four to six tons of leaves, about the same as the old ones.
Each of the new trucks cost about $125,000, McGee said. Three are operational, and a fourth has been delivered and will be on the road soon. Four more should arrive by mid-January. As the city transitions to the new system this year, traditional trucks and trailers will be used as well.
Next year, though, McGee envisions the eight new trucks handling the work of 25 truck-and-trailer combinations.
The city generally hires 20 or so temporary workers to help with leaf collecting, but that won't be necessary in the future. Leaf collecting typically pulls 60 to 65 permanent workers off their regular duties, which include graffiti removal, pothole repair and concrete work. Next year, including supervisors, that number could shrink to 15.
Leaf collectors, who have been toiling since Nov. 15, are scheduled to make a complete pass of the city by Dec. 23. A second go-round will begin Jan. 3.
Whether they meet those goals depends on Mother Nature. If we get snow, the leaf collectors become snowplow operators.
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