Maine DOT spending $10 million more than average to keep roads clear this winter

Ben Springer, a driver with the Maine DOT, sprays lubricant on the wing-plow tower of one of the plow trucks at the Hogan Road Maintenance Lot in Bangor in this February 2011 file photo.
Ben Springer, a driver with the Maine DOT, sprays lubricant on the wing-plow tower of one of the plow trucks at the Hogan Road Maintenance Lot in Bangor in this February 2011 file photo. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 23, 2014, at 2:14 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — With March and April still to come, the Maine Department of Transportation already has spent $10 million more to keep the roads clear than it does in an average winter.

With five weeks left in what the Maine Department of Transportation considers its winter season, the state has spent $25.4 million clearing snow and treating roads. In an average full winter, the Maine Department of Transportation spends just $15.7 million, according to spokesman Ted Talbot.

The biggest factor has been the number of storms that have dropped ice and freezing rain on state roads and highways, some of which need to be treated before, during and after the storm. Several of those storms have happened on weekends, drawing out crews and drivers who need to be paid overtime.

The high cost of this winter will mean cutting back plans for spring and summer, according to Talbot. The Maine Department of Transportation will still move forward with all projects laid out in its latest work plan, but smaller tasks, such as tree trimming, mowing and culvert replacements, may be curtailed.

The Maine Department of Transportation doesn’t have the option of tailing back on plowing or road treatments, so other savings need to be figured out later in the year after winter seasons like this most recent one.

“We’re always going to do exactly what we need to do to keep the roads clear for the public,” Talbot said.

On a local scale, winters can wreak havoc on municipal public works budgets.

Dana Wardwell, director of public works for Bangor, said Friday that keeping the roads clear in an average winter costs the city about $1.25 million. He expects the city to exceed that this year, but hopefully not by much.

“March is going to be the telling month for us,” he said.

Like the state, Bangor has exceeded what it hoped to pay in overtime expenses for its plow drivers and snow removal crews.

“Getting these little two- and three-inch storms costs almost as much as a foot sometimes,” Wardwell said.

This season has been rough on southern parts of the state, where ice and snow events have been testing public works crews.

Portland’s public services director didn’t return messages requesting comment Friday, but the city told the Portland Press Herald in early February that it had nearly depleted the $1 million it budgeted for plowing and snow removal this year. And the storms have kept coming.

Last year, southern Maine communities received federal aid — a total of $3.5 million to Cumberland, Androscoggin, Knox and York counties — to help pad plowing budgets after an early February blizzard put a strain on public works budgets.

“All the best planning in the world can go right out the window in winters like this,” Talbot said.

 

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