This winter’s series of heavy snowfalls put a $9.2 million hurt on the state’s annual snow removal budget and led to a raid on the fund that pays for road and bridge repair and maintenance, according to figures compiled by the Department of Transportation.
Data updated at the end of last week shows the state spent $48.3 million to clear roads this season. It had budgeted $39.1 million and needed a transfer from the State Highway Fund to cover the shortfall.
A surprisingly heavy storm that knocked out power to thousands on the day before Thanksgiving got things started. Then, after a relatively quiet December and most of January, the region got pounded by storm after storm.
The Jan. 27 blizzard alone – when some parts of the state saw more than 30 inches of snow – cost $3.3 million. Two storms in rapid succession on Feb. 2 and Feb. 10 continued to pile on the costs. Constant cold temperatures meant road crews didn’t get help from a late winter thaw.
The federal government in March approved a request for disaster aid that will help the state and municipalities defray some of the costs from the January blizzard.
“It was a very challenging winter for NHDOT personnel and equipment that began before Thanksgiving and continued with events last week,” said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the department, referring to the one to four inches of snow that fell on the state on April 9.
To cover the spending, the state raided its highway fund, which is designed to pay for road and bridge projects and maintenance. DOT officials have raised concerns that the pool of money, mostly supported by the gas tax and car registration fees, is already underfunded and that rural roads already aren’t getting the maintenance they need.
The state wasn’t alone in bearing heavy costs. The City of Nashua, which got almost three feet of snow during the January blizzard, spent 99.1 percent of its $1.4 million snow and ice removal budget, though the percentage may fall a bit when $35,000 is transferred from a special snow trust fund, according to Justin Kates, Nashua’s emergency management director.
Some of the costs are still playing out. In Henniker, a fire that broke out in a town garage after plows had returned from clearing streets a few days after the Jan. 27 storm destroyed the town’s snow-fighting fleet. The state, private businesses and other towns pitched in to help the town clear snow for the rest of the season.
Henniker has already approved borrowing $1.2 million to help rebuild the garage and replace the fleet. Some of the costs will be borne by taxpayers and some by insurance. Town Administrator Christine Trovato said the town will look at a combination of used and new equipment to hold down costs. She expects the fleet to be up and running before the snow flies again.
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