Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

So how much of our snow-removal budgets have we burned through?

February 8, 2011 - 12:35 PM
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As the New York Times recently reported, this winter's heavy snows have decimated public-works budgets around the country. Some cash-strapped municipalities, particularly in the Midwest, have been scrambling to find more funds to clear their roads. So how are we faring budget-wise around Washington?

In fact, we're doing just fine -- certainly much better than our friends who've been dumped on up the I-95 corridor. According to officials in D.C. and some of the surrounding counties, we're pretty much pacing what we've set aside for snow treatment and removal this year. Not bad, considering at this point last year we had already burned through our funds and then some due to multiple blizzards.

Of course, there's still a few weeks of winter to go, and officials say anything can happen in the meantime.

"Just projecting out for rest of season, we anticipate we’ll be pretty close to our budget, when it’s all said and done," says John Lisle, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT). "So far it's been a pretty normal year."

The District devoted $6.2 million to its snow-and-ice efforts this year. So far, they've spent about $2.1 million of it. But Lisle says that low figure is a little misleading, since the city has contracts it will have to honor regardless, and the department will have to continue stocking up on salt. The city bases its budget on historical snowfall records and projections; in recent years it was boosted from $5.2 million.

In Arlington, the Department of Environmental Services has gone through about three-quarters of it's roughly $1 million snow-removal budget. (The county budgets are considerably smaller than D.C.'s since state highway administrations do much of the plowing and salting there.) According to county spokesperson Myllisa Kennedy, the agency has been "moving along at a pretty reasonable rate" and expects to end up somewhere near its target. The county has deployed for nine snow "events" this year -- one more than in all of last year -- but the storms have been considerably smaller overall. The storms of early 2010 were so costly in part because they required continuous overtime from plow and salt truck drivers.

"It's much more reasonable compared with last year," says Kennedy. "Then again, February could be quiet, or we could have several small events like we've had."

The budget works a bit differently in Montgomery County. In fact, there is no snow-removal budget at all. There's merely a "placeholder" of usually between $1 and $2 million devoted toward the snow basics; the county then does whatever it has to do to clear the roads and worries about the numbers later.

"We know we can't predict the future," says Esther Bowring, a county spokesperson, prompting On Foot to wonder why more jurisdictions don't do it this way. (We're still trying to get figures for Prince George's County's budget.) "Compared to last year it's a breeze."

Even so, there's plenty of time left for a budget-busting storm. Snowmaggedon, after all, arrived right around this time last year. And all it takes is one.

DDOT's rosy projections, Lisle notes, are all "barring a blizzard, in which case all bets are off."

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