Portland work crews attacked the Great Wall of Snow on Wednesday night, starting to dismantle a barrier that stretched more than a half-mile down the center of Commercial Street and stood 4 feet high and 12 feet wide in spots.

To remove it, and the steep snowbanks along streets in the downtown commercial district, city workers will load large dump trucks about 500 times.

“The challenge is not necessarily during the snow (plowing) operation, it’s removal of the snow,” said Eric Labelle, assistant director of Portland Public Services.

On Wednesday night, 25 large dump trucks, three giant snowblowers and sundry other equipment were sent out to start hauling chunks of the Great Wall to Franklin Street, where it would be blown over the esplanade between the inbound and outbound lanes.

Tuesday’s blizzard dumped close to 2 feet of snow on Portland as it covered much of coastal New England in the deepest drifts of the year. Plow drivers had worked through Tuesday night, and some returned Wednesday morning to push aside the light, windblown snow so drivers could navigate roads and pedestrians could find sidewalks.

Cleaning up all that snow started in earnest on Wednesday, a job that Labelle expected would take more than one night.

Many of downtown Portland’s residential streets were valleys of white. Drivers took turns negotiating narrow spots, while pedestrians scaled mounds of snow to cross streets. Portland officials urged people to park at the Eastern Prom, the Western Prom and Deering Oaks because the snowy streets offered little on-street parking and any clear space was needed to make sure fire trucks could get through.

Portland declared a yellow zone parking ban for the downtown from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday so crews could remove the snowbanks and make it easier for people to park and get out of their cars. Residential streets will be cleared on nights when no parking is allowed on certain sides of the street, Labelle said.

City crews wait until nighttime to do snow removal to minimize the impact on businesses and traffic, he said.

“On Commercial Street, we have the benefit of having a central (turning) lane there,” he said. “What we do that’s really unique on Commercial is we plow to the center, which allows the parking lanes to remain open.” But that’s a short-term fix, in part because there’s poor visibility for drivers and pedestrians.

So two huge snowblowers will blow the snow into a parade of dump trucks and some 30-yard roll-off containers that usually hold trash. The snow will be driven the short distance to Franklin Street, where sections of the inbound lanes will be shut down, then dumped and spread on the median by another snowblower.

KEEPING RUNWAYS CLEAR

The Portland International Jetport is using a similar method to dispose of snow from the main runway, said airport Director Paul Bradbury. The airport is not allowed to pile snow in the safety zone around the runway, but can spread it out on the area that would be grass in the summer. Because the jetport has to be prepared to keep pace with the storm, its snowblowers are capable of shooting 900 tons an hour, he said.

The jetport crew kept the main runway clear through the storm, even though all airlines had canceled their flights.

“It’s hard to get back and resume operations if you actually let it go, especially with this. You’d be moving mounds of drifted snow if you didn’t stay on top of it,” Bradbury said.

The first flight in was a FedEx arrival at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Through the day, crews continued to clean snow from a secondary runway and the small taxiways that aren’t always needed, he said.

DEALERSHIP HAS GREAT DEAL OF WORK

While many residents struggled to clear snow from just one car, the inventory on display at the Prime Motor Cars Mercedes-Benz dealership on Route 1 in Scarborough was immaculate. Brian Jeffers said it starts with preparation.

All of the cars were taken out of the display area and crammed into the showroom, service bays – anywhere they could be covered, he said.

“We put cars up on the lift and park underneath them,” he said.

All 25 employees, managers included, were pressed into service Wednesday morning, the first ones arriving at 5 a.m., he said. Snow was pushed off the display lot into large piles along the edge. Cars that had been left outside were cleared off with snow brooms and shoveled out, then repositioned facing the road.

“It’s no fun working in a car dealership in the snow, with a couple hundred cars to clean off,” Jeffers said.

RAIL OPERATORS HAD MILES TO CLEAR

Because the snow was relatively dry and light, PanAm Railways was able to keep its rails clear just by running engines over them, though crews had to clear many of the 270 at-grade crossings on hundreds of miles of track in Maine, said Cynthia Scarano, the executive vice president for PanAm.

The road plows “create basically an ice dam. We have to make sure that gets knocked down so it doesn’t get built up with ice,” she said.

For heavier snow, the locomotives can be equipped with plows. When the snow builds to deep drifts on either side, the railroad uses a “Jacob Spreader,” a huge plow that runs on the rails and pushes back the snow. It uses the plows to clear snow in the rail yards as well, she said.

The railroad also uses jets – like giant leaf blowers – to blow snow clear of track and switches, many of which are equipped with heaters, Scarano said.

The Amtrak Downeaster, which canceled runs Tuesday, operated on a reduced schedule Wednesday, running one train from Brunswick to Boston and another coming back. All stations were serviced.

LEWISTON SNOW REMOVAL WILL WAIT

Public works crews in Lewiston don’t plan to start on snow removal until Monday, said Megan Bates, Lewiston’s deputy director for highway and open spaces.

“We’re still working on (Tuesday’s storm). … We had a lot of areas that had no coverage,” she said.

The city got 27 inches of new snow, she said. The Public Works Department had 26 workers driving plow trucks and sanders for the first 16 hours of the storm, but the second crew had just 13 people because budget cuts have left the department short-staffed.

“This was a storm we warned (city councilors) about,” she said, adding that cleanup couldn’t begin in earnest because workers were sleeping or plowing areas that were difficult to access. After pushing any new snow out of the roads this weekend, the city will run 10-hour shifts over four nights to haul the snow from streets to the city’s snow dump.

“If we hear anything from fire or police, we’ll take action. For the most part, we’re not going to begin anything any time sooner,” she said.

In any community, when plows go out to scrape off the remaining snow, widen the travel lanes or clear on-street parking, they leave fresh berms of snow in front of driveways.

Even working some 50 pieces of equipment nonstop through Wednesday night, Labelle expected to be back on Commercial Street on Thursday night – cleaning it up just in time for more snow.

A winter storm watch is in effect for Thursday night into early Saturday morning.