State DOT’s winter weather bill approaches $82 million
Despite fewer snowstorms this winter and a 45% drop in the amount of rock salt and brine spread, the state Department of Transportation spent slightly more than a year earlier on clearing its roads of snow and ice.
Budget documents show that the revised supplemental appropriation in fiscal 2019 for winter weather costs will be $81.6 million. A year earlier, the supplemental cost was $78.5 million.
Both numbers come on top of the base budget appropriation for snow removal of $10.4 million.
“Well, I certainly hope it won’t be the new normal,” Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said of the supplemental spending at an Assembly Budget Committee hearing Monday.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti indicated that before the end of May, representatives from the state’s transportation agencies would meet for a “post snow season meeting” to assess what could change.
“We’re going to be sitting together, I believe it’s next week or the week after, to look at better ways, lessons learned, what we can make different so that all of our expenditures drop, not just the DOT’s,” she said.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, questioned what he called an “aggressive approach to storm preparation” after an initial surprise storm on Nov. 15.
“It seemed after one awkward response, there was almost overkill,” Burzichelli said.
“The thing that stood out to many people was plow trains standing by in above-freezing temperatures after the event clearly had presented itself. Staging that seemed to be not necessary,” he said.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the current contract with private snow plow operators guarantees they’ll be paid for an 8-hour shift. She said all the language in the contract will be assessed before they come up for extensions in a year.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the DOT this winter used around 6,464 tons of brine and salt, which she said was about 45 percent less than the season before.
“People will say, ‘Well, we didn’t have as much snow.’ And you’re right. We had my first few months here, we had three nor’easters that dropped a lot of snow. But this year what we had a lot of ice. And that’s an entirely different issue,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
The DOT’s annual budget includes $10.4 million in resources for winter operations. That includes $4.6 million for overtime, $3.5 million for winter snow materials such as rock salt and brine, and $2.3 million for snow plows and spreading contractors.
The state budget allocates $10.1 million for winter operations from the $1.50 per tire fee New Jersey charges on each new motor vehicle tire sold in the state.