With winter showing no signs of abating any time soon, Montana has already plowed through the money set aside by the state Department of Transportation's Maintenance Division to keep our roads passable. The challenge for officials is finding the money to keep the plows and sanding trucks operating until temperatures warm up.
Montana typically spends up to $21 million during the winter to sand, deice and plow the roads. The money comes from the state gas tax.
An army of 600 full time and 150 temporary snow plow operators are deployed to tend the 25-thousand miles of roads for which the state is responsible.
As of the second week of February, the money budgeted for winter maintenance is just about gone. But there since there's no indication snow and ice are a memory, Transportation Maintenance Director Jon Swartz must tap funding from other parts of the budget to keep the plows on the road.
“What we will end up doing is look at items in our budget that we can push off," he said. "The biggest things is road repair budget to after July 1 (the start of the next fiscal year)to offset the budget overruns in winter maintenance.”
During other parts of the year, the maintenance department is responsible for maintaining traffic signs, street lights, traffic signals, fixing guard rails, mowing, picking up road kill, and fixing pot holes.
One expenditure Montana DOT cannot defer is the cost of repairing snow plows. So far this winter, vehicles have hit 25 snow plows. Two occured over this past Presidential Holiday weekend.
“They are out there in dangerous road conditions trying to keep the road safe and giving them as much room as possible is the best thing for our folks and the traveling public,” Swartz said.
He reminds motorists to slow down and give plow operators room to work. There is still a lot of winter ahead.