Cold weather cleanup creates budget woes

News-DemocratJanuary 9, 2014 

Metro-east road crews are finally catching up in cleaning the foot of snow that was dumped on the region followed by an inch or two more snow and ice Thursday.

But it will take a lot longer to recover from the damage done to local government's budgets by the nastiest snow storm the area has seen since 1982.

"Everything is reasonably clear," Illinois Department of Transportation district engineer Joseph Monroe said of road conditions. And things should get better quickly over the weekend. Temperatures from Friday through Sunday are expected to be in the 40s. But the clear roadways won't come without a significant price tag.

The local IDOT district, before the first third of January was over, has already spent more money cleaning roads than it did all last year. Monroe said. And he expects a lot more work will have to be done before the winter is over.

Monroe said the weather conditions IDOT has had to deal with this winter -- 16.5 inches of snow in some places and temperatures as low as 16 degrees below zero -- are among the toughest he's seen in 16 winters on the job.

"We have had bitter cold but not that much snow along with the bitter cold," Monroe said. "Plus, we had a long duration storm. We put chemicals down and kept the road wet. But, unfortunately, we had places where a bond formed with the pavement. At 14 below, there is nothing in our arsenal that is effective long term in melting the snow and ice."

Monroe said on Thursday night around the clock plow work, which included extra resources called in from Springfield and from districts to the south where there was less snow than here, ended for the first time since Saturday.

Even as the temperature rises and the storm loses its grip, the damage done to roads -- and budgets -- is far from over, Monroe said.

"Unfortunately, if you look at the forecast, we have what amounts to the perfect recipe for potholes," Monroe said. "We have had copious amounts of moisture in the ground and in the pavement structure. As it gets warm it's going to try to bring that moisture out and the potholes will follow close behind."

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said city leaders are still trying to tally up the damage. But he expects to take a hit to the city's budget thanks to all the overtime required by the snow cleanup.

"There is no doubt that, unless the weather turns to spring by the end of this week, we're going to have a significantly higher cost of plowing and treating the roads than we have had in several years," Eckert said. "We're working on the budget now and we might have to do without something next year because of this. But we're doing the best we can."

Belleville has had to order more road salt to replace a supply that was expected to last all winter, according to the mayor.

Eckert said, in addition to dealing with the snow removal process, the city has been trying to handle all the calls it has received about broken pipes. Earlier this week he said pipes burst at two senior citizens homes, the Westfield Manor on the west end of town near Illinois 15 and the St. Clair County senior citizens apartments at the corner of Washington and Church streets downtown.

For a while, city leaders were concerned that they would have to move large groups of seniors to temporary quarters. But repairs were able to be made without shutting off power to the entire buildings so the residents were able to stay.

Also impacting the bottom line for local agencies was damage to equipment done during the storm.

Monroe said IDOT had three trucks hit by motorists while they were trying to plow. Eckert said three of the city's 10 plows were out of commission at one point, one stuck in a ditch and the other two suffering from frozen or leaky hydraulics.

Eckert said, if there is a bright side to the problems caused by the massive snowfall, it's seeing people help each other out. He said he's had calls both from people who need helping digging out and from people who are willing to volunteer their time.

Unfortunately, some people are using the storm as a way to try to take advantage of others.

Police in Granite City are warning resident of scammers who are offering to shovel driveways and walks for people and then making an excuse such as having to use the bathroom or the phone to get into homes to try to find stuff to steal. According to police, purses, cash and blank checks are typical targets of the thieves who tend to prey on senior citizens.

A little break in the cold weather arrives as the weekend begins.

The forecast calls for a high temperature of 48 Friday which, along with a 90 percent chance of rain, should do a great deal to melt the snow on local roads. The low temperature Friday night will remain above freezing at 35.

On Saturday it will be partly sunny with a high of 45 and a low of 28. On Sunday a high of 49 is expected under sunny skies.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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