How Much Did States Spend Battling This Winter?

A new survey tries to quantify for the first time how much it costs state transportation agencies to cope with snow and ice.
by | May 5, 2015

Transportation departments spent more than $1 billion since last October plowing highways, salting roads and coping with winter weather, according to a new survey.

The tally of 23 states, conducted by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), put the total cost at more than $1.13 billion. The full costs are higher, as several snowy states did not provide figures for the survey.

This the first year that AASHTO conducted the survey. The most recent winter was milder in much of the United States than the one before, but the impact varied by region.

Pennsylvania spent the most of any state in the survey, with expenses of $272 million. The state transportation department estimates it took 2.5 million man hours to respond to the storms.

It was the frequency of the storms, as much as the size of them, that led to the high costs, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania transportation department.

“The storms kept coming back to back. You don’t need to have a blizzard to have an exhausting winter with long-term impacts,” she said. “You get to the point when you’re running those people constantly, because of the weather. It becomes long and trying.”

Pennsylvania also sent crews to help Massachusetts recover from the 31 winter storms the Bay State experienced this year.

Pennsylvania’s winter bills eclipsed last year’s, when costs totaled $259 million, as the most expensive for the state in recent history. The transportation agency may delay some maintenance work, such as minor paving projects or work on drainage ditches, because of the high winter costs. But the costs won't delay major projects, Waters-Trasatt said.

The AASHTO survey results help quantify an unpredictable budget expense for many state transportation agencies.

New Hampshire estimated it plowed 2.5 million miles of road -- the equivalent of more than five round trips between the Earth and the Moon -- between October 2014 and April 2015. That’s an increase over the 2.4 million miles that New Hampshire cleared the year before, another unusually busy season.

New York state applied 1.1 million tons of salt to roads this winter, along with at least 750,000 gallons of brine.

Even Louisiana and Mississippi tallied seven-figure winter clean up bills. Louisiana spent $1.2 million; Mississippi paid $3.1 million.

Bud Wright, AASHTO’s executive director, said the results showed that the price of roads goes beyond the cost of building them. “When we think about funding transportation, we need to consider the total amount needed to keep people and goods moving throughout the entire year,” he said.