Silver lining to scarce snow: More money for road work
MONTPELIER — Scarce snow this winter required fewer hours of snowplowing and less use of sand and salt leaving northern New England communities with extra money for road maintenance and other transportation projects this summer.
The Maine Department of Transportation said it's looking at a savings of millions of dollars.
But the head of the Vermont Agency of Transportation said it's too early to tell what the savings will be. The unusual winter also reduced tourist visits and resulting revenues from gas purchases, said Transportation Secretary Chris Cole. The state had a net savings of $900,000 at the end of February and is expecting more expense savings in March combined with the possibility of wintry weather, he said.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation is anticipating a savings of about $5 million and hopes to use half of that on municipal bridges, said department spokesman Bill Boynton. The majority of the remaining estimated savings would go toward replacing deficient and aged plow trucks and heavy equipment, he said.
As of Friday, Burlington, Vermont, recorded 30 inches this winter, which is about 44 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service. In Portland, Maine, the city has recorded about 48 inches of snow so far, with little snow in the forecast. Last year, the city recorded 94.5 inches last year.
The Maine Department of Transportation budgeted $34 million for snow and ice removal, but had spent only about $24 million, said spokesman Ted Talbot. Included is $2 million in savings on road salt.
The savings will be rolled right back into the maintenance budget, for culverts, road repairs and, most importantly, bridge repairs, he said.
The unusual winter also allowed road crews to get a jump on brush clearing and ditch clearing that they would normally have to wait to do other times of the year.
Springfield, Vermont, plans to use its extra money this summer for paving, culvert replacement, adding gravel to dirt roads, and road repair, said operations manager John Johnson.
The city of St. Albans, Vermont, budgeted $75,000 for sand and salt this winter, but isn't going to spend that amount. The real savings, however, are from the lack of extreme cold that caused water main breaks in the winter of 2015 that required costly repairs and less snow this year that resulted in fewer overtime hours for snowplowing.
"It's basically going to accelerate some of the work that we typically get done later in the year," said Tom Leitz, the city's director of administration.
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