Bill for Winter Cleanup - $1B

A new survey shows 23 states reported combined spending of more than $1 billion on winter maintenance operations and 8 million work hours plowing or treating state roads.

📅   Tue May 05, 2015 - National Edition
CEG



BOSTON (AP) - Winter’s full fury arrived late in much of the country, but once it did it was relentless, quickly exhausting snow removal budgets and pushing the resources of state transportation agencies to their limit as they fought to keep highways safe and passable, according to a first-of-its-kind survey.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said 23 states reported combined spending of more than $1 billion on winter maintenance operations and 8 million work hours plowing or treating state roads from October to March.

The states that responded to Monday’s survey, obtained in advance by The Associated Press, also went through 6 million tons of salt and other huge quantities of brine and liquid deicing chemicals. One state reported using 216,000 gallons of beet juice, which can help salt stick to road surfaces.

”This winter the storms just came one on top of the other and there wasn’t time in between to replenish your salt piles and give your folks some time off,’ said Rick Nelson, coordinator of the association’s Snow and Ice Cooperative Program.

A single season snowfall record was broken in Boston, with virtually all the 110 inches coming in a six-week stretch from late January to early March when temperatures rarely rose above freezing.

”In January, we were talking about what we were going to do with the surplus snow and ice funds,’ recalled Thomas Tinlin, Massachusetts’ highway administrator. The Department of Transportation wound up spending $154 million on winter maintenance, well above its $107 million annual budget. Additional money was appropriated to assure the state’s private snowplow contractors got paid.

Massachusetts used 600,000 tons of salt and 1.6 million gallons of liquid deicer. Crews removed 17.5 billion cubic feet of snow from state roadways, equivalent to 40 times the volume of dirt excavated during the massive Boston highway project known as the Big Dig, state officials noted.

Pennsylvania, which budgeted $203 million for winter maintenance based on a five-year average of previous expenditures, spent $272 million to keep traffic flowing on the state’s 40,000 miles of roadway, according to Erin Waters-Trasatt, a transportation spokeswoman.

Pennsylvania also was among several states that sent crews and equipment to help out in Massachusetts, she said.

It wasn’t just the typical northern snow belt states that felt winter’s wrath.

”Normally we don’t budget for ice and snow because we don’t get it that often,’ said Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. But recent winters have brought several dangerous ice storms to the south, and this year Mississippi spent $3.1 million, used 887 tons of salt and devoted 64,704 work hours to keep state roads safe.

An even larger and longer-term expense, McGrath said, are potholes. It’s a universal headache for motorists and highway officials as freezing and melting cycles cause pavement to expand, then crack. Maryland was among several other states reporting a large increase in potholes this spring.

The actual taxpayer cost of winter road maintenance was much higher than measured by the survey. Not all states responded and the expenses incurred by municipalities for plowing local roads were seen as comparable to state governments.

Unlike the previous winter, AASHTO said there were no serious shortages of salt this year.

When lawmakers and the general public consider transportation funding, winter maintenance needs can often be overlooked said Bud Wright, the group’s executive director.

”When we think about funding transportation, we need to consider the total amount needed to keep people and goods moving throughout the entire year,’ he said.

States are prohibited from using federal highway funds for snow and ice removal, but some sought federal disaster assistance to offset costs. President Barack Obama approved disaster declarations for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut for a January blizzard, making those states eligible for 75 percent reimbursement. But a broader request from Massachusetts to consider all the major storms a cumulative disaster was denied.

A look at approximate winter maintenance costs from October-March in some of the hardest hit U.S. states. Note some figures would likely increase due to additional late-season storms or as new totals are calculated. Twenty three states responded to a survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

___

STATE AMOUNT EXPENDED (millions) SALT (tons) PERSONNEL HOURS

Arkansas $14.9 44,000 Not provided

Colorado $36.8 50,000 435,000

Connecticut $44.6 212,000 483,000

Indiana $40.0 273,000 308,000

Kansas $14.6 69,000 150,000

Kentucky $40.9 288,000 Not available

Louisiana $1.2 150 22,000

Maryland $108.1 337,000 408,000

Massachusetts $154 600,000 296,000*

Michigan $80 400,000 320,000

Mississippi $3.1 887 64,700

Missouri $32 110,000 525,000

Montana $17 2,970 56,000

Nebraska $22.2 85,000 157,000

New Hampshire $46 190,000 Not available

New York Not provided 1,100,000 Not provided

Ohio $120.3 947,000 1,100,000

Pennsylvania $272 1,000,000 2,500,000

South Dakota $11 5,800 92,000

Utah $14 203,000 313,000

Vermont $26.7 118,000 231,000

Washington*** $13.8 129,000 287,000

Wyoming $18.4 180,000 221,000