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Costs mounting for snow removal

January 11, 2011

Roads in Catawba County were covered in ice Tuesday after freezing
rain blanketed snow already fallen across the region.

This layer of ice not only creates hazardous driving conditions, but
it also complicates cleanup procedures for area public works crews and creates additional costs for already-strained budgets.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation budgeted $30 million for snow and ice removal this fiscal year and spent $26.2 million so far. According to the NCDOT, any extra money required for winter-weather cleanup will be drawn from the general maintenance budget.

NCDOT crews work 12-hour shifts daily when necessary during a winter storm event. The department announced Monday it is in the first stages of cleanup, which means crews focus on interstates and primary roads.

Most secondary roads haven't been plowed, and the NCDOT will clear secondary roads once primary roads are cleared.

Adverse weather and driving conditions aren't finished in the Carolinas, increasing the likelihood of additional cleanup costs throughout the state.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory Tuesday, warning motorists in most North Carolina states about dangerous travel conditions. The NWS said drivers should expect "widespread black ice," refreezing roads and slippery conditions. The advisory remains in effect until noon Wednesday.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, ice and freezing snow form a tighter bond with road surfaces than powdery snow, making it harder for plows to remove the accumulation.

Newton Public Works crews were out in the city Monday working to remove snow and ice from roadways.

Public Works Director Wilce Martin said the city and its workers were fortunate throughout the snow removal process, which went smoothly during the last several days.

City workers started spreading salt and sands on the roads prior to the storm. This preparation, Martin said, prevented the ice/snow mixture from turning into a solid sheet of ice.

This preparation and removal, however, isn't free. It costs money to pay employees for their work, as well as costs for supplies and wear-and-tear on equipment. Martin said the city is on track this winter for its snow removal-related expenses, but that could change if more major winter weather continues.

"If we get a few more (storms), we could have a problem," he said.

Billy Price, Maiden Public Works director, said the town doesn't anticipate any problems paying for snow cleanup for the remainder of the winter.

"We're good for this year," he said.

Snow removal continued Tuesday in Conover, with most of the city's primary roads, including N.C. 16 and U.S. 70, cleared. Public Works Director Jimmy Clark said crews are expected to start snow removal from secondary roads Tuesday afternoon as the temperatures increased.

"Right now, we're doing OK," Clark said. "We've been pretty fortunate in that the equipment held up pretty well."

The city, however, is using more materials for snow removal this year.

If the pattern of winter storms continues, Clark said the city could exceed its funding allotted for snow cleanup.

Officials continue to urge residents to stay off roadways, unless travel is necessary. This protects motorists from ice-related crashes, but it also aids in snow removal.

According to the NCDOT, increased traffic makes it more difficult for crews to clear roadways. Vehicles also pack down snow and ice into the roadway, making accumulation harder to remove.

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