Friday, February 12, 2010

VDOT Snow-Removal Costs are Climbing

RICHMOND, Va. - A record-setting winter has drained Virginia's snow-removal budget and the state is now dipping into its maintenance fund, which could mean fewer grass trimmings and other maintenance cuts this summer.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has spent its $79 million snow-removal budget and an additional $25 million in a reserve maintenance fund to keep thousands of state trucks and contractors on the road. Those accounts were depleted this month after storms dumped up to 3 feet of snow in some locations.

VDOT spokesman Jeffrey Caldwell said Thursday the department is now tapping its $1.6 billion maintenance fund to continue snow-removal efforts unabated.

"We're not cutting back our operations at all or trying to save money," Caldwell said. "We're just continuing to move forward with full forces."

The department has been focusing on storm-battered northern Virginia and the northern Shenandoah Valley, the hardest hit locations in the latest round of storms. More state trucks and contractors were deployed to the region on Thursday.

With VDOT tapping its maintenance fund, cuts not related to safety issues such as grass cutting and fence repairing could be made in the months ahead, Caldwell said. Safety-related maintenance such as pothole repairs would not be affected.

Virginia has already applied for $50 million in emergency federal assistance to cover storm costs in December. It is just now compiling costs associated with the latest round of storms, and that sum could exceed the $50 million already sought, said Bob Spieldenner of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

"The reality is, we'll get less than that," he added.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance would primarily go to VDOT, which has contracted nearly 4,000 pieces of equipment to help battle the winter storms.

Gov. Bob McDonnell said he spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week about the status of the $50 million and was told the request was "moving along favorably."

Spieldenner said the latest storms' costs include overtime for Virginia State Police, National Guard troops and forestry crews that cleared down trees.

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