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Clearing county, state roads cost big $$ in Letcher

A winter season punctuated by a polar vortex, sub-zero temperatures, and nasty snow and crippling ice storms created more than a traveling nuisance for Kentucky residents. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) spent more than $68 million on snow and ice removal — about 1-1/2 times the cost of a typical Kentucky winter.

About eight percent of that, or $ 5,478,122, was spent in District 12, which covers Floyd, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Martin and Pike counties, according to Sara George, District 12 information offi cer.

Figures for individual counties weren’t available, George said, however $1,836,301 was spent in District 12 on state labor and $2,257,199 was spent on materials including rock salt, liquid calcium chloride and calcium chloride pellets. George said maintaining state equipment for District 12 cost $698,735 and contract equipment totaled $ 681,134. Miscellaneous expenses related to ice and snow removal amounted to $4,754.

The Letcher Fiscal Court spent $101,000 more than usual treating ice- and snow-covered county roads this winter, according to D.J. Frazier, the county finance officer.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said the extra expenses racked up during winter will have a big effect on spring maintenance.

“That’s $100,000 we can’t spend on new blacktop, culverts and bridges,” said Ward. “ That really hurts. We’ll do more pothole patching instead of repaving and will make do with what we can.”

Ward said roads must be maintained to withstand next winter.

“We’ll just have to adjust to make the budget to fit what we are doing,” he said.

Weed cutting will be reduced from 10 hours a day to eight hours a day, Ward said, and employees will work overtime in exceptional circumstances.

Costs associated with employee overtime and benefits this winter totaled $52,786.19, Frazier said. About $10,000 was spent on maintenance of equipment.

The county spread 65 tons of salt this winter, which cost $5,200. About 15 tons of salt was purchased each of the two previous winters.

The county purchased its salt from KYTC, which stores salt at a state garage in Ermine.

“It helps us because we don’t have to stockpile it,” said Ward. “It’s so convenient. We can go get us a truckload when we need it.”

Five hundred tons of number eight gravel, known as pea gravel, cost the county $6,250. More than $27,000 was spent on gas and diesel fuel for county trucks during snow and ice removal.

The Transportation Cabinet’s nearly 2,000 maintenance crew employees worked to keep more than 60,000 lane miles of roads open during the 31 snow and ice events this season. KYTC’s vehicle and equipment fleet includes 1,065 snowplows. In addition, the cabinet can call on 382 contracted snowplow trucks to assist with snow and ice removal.

To keep roads clear, KYTC spread more than 438,000 tons of salt — compared to 194,000 tons state crews put down on roads last year during a mild winter season. On average, crews spread between 200,000 and 250,000 tons of salt in a year and spend between $40 million and $45 million. Last year’s snow and ice removal costs were about $42.4 million.

“This was an extraordinary year — requiring extraordinary measures — in terms of the amount of salt used on state roadways and the challenges KYTC faced as the winter pressed on,” Nancy Albright, deputy state highway engineer for project delivery and preservation, said in a news release.

The past winter saw high demands for salt across the country and supplies low at times, which required KYTC to exhaust its reserve salt pile at the Mega Cavern in Louisville, introduce conservation efforts to preserve salt supplies for an emergency, and encourage the 12 Department of Highways districts to share salt supplies as stockpiles dwindled.

The amount of money used to combat snow and ice will result in fewer funds to do some spring maintenance work on state roadways.

— Compiled from Kentucky Press News Service and Mountain Eagle reports.

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