TRI-CITY AREA — Just when we thought the worst might be over, Old Man Winter paid yet another visit to the area.
Depending on location, an estimated 10-12 inches of snow fell in the region over an eight-hour span last Wednesday.
The snow fell so quickly Wednesday afternoon (about two inches per hour) that municipal and county road crews were hard-pressed to keep the roads clear for motorists returning home from work.
With the accumulative costs associated with man hours, fuel and road salt consumption, the snowstorm took another big bite out of the Lapeer County Road Commission's winter budget.
Near whiteout conditions made travel difficult for motorists along Almont Road last Wednesday. Heavy snow forced the cancellation of most schools. photo by Tom Wearing.
Wednesday's storm was the second major snowfall to blanket the area this winter. The first came on New Year's Eve, when an estimated 16 inches fell locally.
LCRC road engineer Rick Pearson said nearly 12,000 tons of road salt were budgeted for the 2008 winter months. That supply has dwindled to about 1,000 tons still remaining in the county's salt barns.
"It's not a crisis yet, but our salt stock is low," Pearson said Thursday morning. "We have material on order from Detroit Salt, but they have to get it to us. Other road commissions are in the same situation."
The road commission budgets about $1 million annually, said Pearson. About half of that amount goes toward fuel costs, most of which are incurred during the winter months.
"We're already at $1.3 million for this season," said Pearson, "and that doesn't include this most recent storm."
Pearson said recent budget constraints and the loss of personnel through attrition have placed an added burden on existing crews.
"Our guys do a great job," he said. "They care about what they are doing. Their families drive on the same roads we all do.
"Man hours are probably our biggest problem," said Pearson. "We've had to scale back because of budget shortfalls. It's difficult to replace bodies."
On the plus side, Pearson said the county has altered its budget cycle from September through October, rather than going by the "calendar year" as it had in the past.
"It helps because we can get our winter maintenance costs at the front end of the budget," said Pearson.
The Lapeer County Road Commission is responsible for about 1,500 miles of roadway. The winter maintenance fleet includes nine graders and 17 trucks.