Small snows can put big dent in local road budgets

Springfield salt supply still sufficient.

“I’ll probably get a few hours today,” said Greg Delong, a plow truck driver and street crew worker for the city of Springfield for the past 15 years, during his shift Thursday. “These small snows, over several hours, those seem to burn up the most salt.”

Plow drivers work year-round as part of the city’s road crew, which has a salary budget of $411,000 this year. That doesn’t include overtime, which is set at $47,000. While not all of that money will be used plowing snow, city service director Chris Moore said that job does take up the majority of the budget. And it’s small snow events, like the one hitting the Clark County area through Saturday, that eat into those dollars the most since road crews have to be out salting and plowing nearly around the clock.

“These guys are snow fighters. That’s what they signed up for,” Moore said.

Moore said he’s not concerned about overtime yet.

Any cost savings from last year’s mild winter went directly into this year’s salt supplies. Springfield’s used 2,700 tons of salt so far this winter season, more than twice as much as the same point in 2013. There’s another 2,500 tons in the barn, and Moore said he can order about 1,000 tons more as needed. While it’s been far from an average winter, he said salt totals would have to top 6,000 tons to get him concerned.

While Delong isn’t stingy with the salt, he said years of practice have taught him how to use just the right amount to prevent ice and not waste supplies.

“It’s a lot of feel. You get to know your route,” he said. “At first it’s just trial and error because there are a lot of variables.”

Up to two inches of snow was expected by this morning, and there will be a break through today before another few inches of snow fall through Saturday, said News Center 7 meteorologist Rich Wirdzek. However, it only takes a few inches of snow to cause roads to be slick.

The Clark County Engineer’s Office has used 4,000 tons of salt this year, 1,600 tons more than the same point last year. Just an inch of snow can make for messy roadways, said Johnathan Burr, Clark County engineer.

“Fluffy snow, with the wind, you might be out there for three days fighting it,” Burr said. “People ask me when we’re going to start plowing, and I say when it starts snowing. They ask when are we going to quit, and I say when it’s cleaned up.”

“When you get little snows like this you use as much material as the big snows,” he added.

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