- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Frequent winter storms have drained the snow-removal and road-treatment funds for regional jurisdictions, forcing them to hunt for money to cover bad weather despite tight budgets.
After a series of mild winters, all regions of Maryland have seen several snow and ice storms, with the first coming early in December. Overtime pay for road crews has spiked, and many counties have spread a winter's supply of salt on their roads.
"It came early and it came harder than normal," said John W. Thompson, head of Montgomery County's roads division. "This is not an ordinary year."
Meanwhile, more than half of Virginia's $48 million budget for snow removal has been used, said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties have consumed a third of the $27 million VDOT has spent on snow removal this winter.
"We've had a lot more snow, six storms of different magnitudes," Ms. Morris said. "At that rate, we will probably go over budget, and we will have to go to other maintenance budgets. But that's not going to stop us from clearing the roads."
The District has spent $1.7 million this winter, more than half of the $3.2 million budgeted for snow removal, said Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.
If more snowstorms occur, the city will access additional funds from the mayor's reserve fund, she said.
"There's always that danger. However, snow removal is a vital municipal service, and we worry about removing the snow first, and everything after that is second priority," Ms. Myers said. "It can't not happen. It won't go undone."
The Maryland State Highway Administration has spent $25.6 million, more than the $22 million it budgeted for snow removal. The agency will have to get more money from the state's transportation trust fund, when the winter ends, to cover the overrun.
Prince George's County is $150,000 shy of the $1.2 million set aside for the winter, and Frederick County's roads division has already asked county commissioners for an additional $290,000, more than half its snow-removal budget.
State and county governments have little choice but to pay the extra money to ensure the roads are safe, despite budget shortfalls. Road crews can't cut corners to save money, said Valerie Burnett Edgar of the State Highway Administration.
"You can't do that; it's a lawsuit in the making," she said. "You really have to put the budget to one side and focus on keeping the roads safe."
Winter road money is tracked by the number of storms each year. At the end of the season, planners summarize each storm and outline the cost. On average, the Baltimore and Washington regions have 13 storms each year, the Eastern Shore has five, and Western Maryland has 41.
Even a forecast of snow can lead to the mobilization of snow-removal teams. About 2,400 Maryland highway workers and contractors with 2,000 trucks and other pieces of equipment are available to clear 16,300 miles of roads. They spread an average of 196,500 tons of salt on highways each year.
That effort is mirrored on the county level, where crews are responsible for clearing side streets and neighborhood roads.
Staff writer H.J. Brier contributed to this report.

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