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Winter road maintenance costs unknown

ESCANABA — When winter storms hit the area, county road crews are out trying to keep conditions reasonable for motorists.

The Delta County Road Commission maintains 1,250 miles of state, primary and local roads with 22 plow routes and around 27 spare trucks.

“That is what we are here for, that is what is our job — to keep the roads in a reasonable state in the winter,” Jody Norman, the Delta County Road Commission manager, said. “And some people don’t agree with the manner we maintain them but we have to — because we don’t know what winter is going to bring us all five months — we have to refrain a little bit from just going all out and having bare pavement all the time.”

With the unpredictable nature of the winter months, Norman said there is no way to budget for winter.

“Honestly, we don’t budget,” he said. “(Because) you don’t know — there are just too many unknowns.”

According to Norman, the road commission does not even begin to budget for its fiscal year of October to September until after winter every year.

“On the average, end of March beginning of April, we’re starting to look at how much money we’ve spent on winter maintenance. And then at that point we start putting together our schedule of what we’re going to do as far as road repairs for that summer,” he said.

The majority of costs associated with winter are fuel, man hours/labor with overtime, equipment repairs, salt and sand.

The costs of winter maintenance fluctuate, according to Norman. He said winter costs can add up to $500,000 one year and over a million dollars the next.

Once the audit for last fiscal year is completed the road commission will get a better look at how much was spent on keeping up with the winter elements last year.

The total expenses for winter maintenance over the last 10 years were $927,394 in 2018; $729,391 in 2017; $585,424 in 2016; $911,010 in 2015; $1,185,141 in 2014; $1,009,023 in 2013; $617,504 in 2012; $583,045 in 2011; $556,574 in 2010; and $1,083,997 in 2009.

Just like it is hard to budget winter maintenance, Norman explained there is no way to pinpoint the average cost of a snowstorm because no two snowstorms are alike.

Thursday, there was a winter weather advisory in the area for snow and rain.

Norman said, with about an inch of snow accumulation and the rain, he estimated about $50,000 for maintenance for that storm.

Despite calling the storm a “little event,” Norman said it caused some workers in both the day shift and night shift to work overtime. The commission even brought someone who had the day off in to keep roads clear.

At the end of November and beginning of December, it seemed the local area was continuously in a winter weather advisory.

A storm in early December dumped around two feet of snow. Norman said it cost a little more than $230,000 to maintain the roads for that storm alone.

There are still a few more months of winter left and if the area were to be hit with two more storms similar in magnitude, the costs for winter maintenance would be well over the average, according to Norman.

It takes about two days to clean up a snowstorm — one day to plow everything and one day to clean everything up and widen roads.

Norman noted there are roads in the Rock area that are still having to be widened after the huge storm in December.

“December was beyond typical,” he said.

He added the road commission takes it as it comes and tries to keep costs to a minimum, as it’s hard to gauge the weather of winter well in advance.

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