After Snowplows Damage Highways, State Must Clean Up After Its Cleanup


ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 26, 2010) - First the state spent more than $100 million to clear its roadways after this winter's record-breaking snowstorms.

Now, as the Department of Transportation plans to cut into its spring maintenance to cover that cost, it is also uncovering infrastructure damage beneath its receding snow piles.

Snowplows that rushed to remove rapidly accumulating snow from state highways exacerbated pothole damage, toppled roadside signs and flattened guardrails, leaving the state with a further snow expense: cleaning up after its cleanup.

It's still too early to determine just how much damage was done or how much will actually be repaired soon, said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

"We're still in active cleanup" from the snow, Gischlar said, as some state roads—including the shoulders of some major highways—remain partially uncleared. Anything that isn't immediately essential for driver safety will be postponed until "after things calm down a bit," he said.

The transportation department's snow removal costs for the current fiscal year have already far exceeded the $60 million that had been budgeted for this winter, so the department will need to find at least another $50 million before it even looks at paying for repairs.

"The only place we will be able to go will be maintenance and capital projects in the spring," Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said earlier this month.

Among these maintenance projects are pothole patches—which averaged $71 per square yard last year—and guardrail replacement—approximately $7,000 per 300 feet, Gischlar said.

Highways develop deficiencies as moisture freezes and thaws within a crack in the roadway, and potholes form easily when snowplow blades scrape the weakened pavement, Gischlar said.

Some roadside guardrails and signs were pushed over as plows and, on some roads, heavy construction equipment pushed massive snowbanks into them, Gischlar said. Other guardrails corroded under the piles of road salt-saturated snow.

But even if there was some damage during snow removal, the state dealt admirably with its unprecedented snowfall, said Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"All in all, we think they did a tremendous job," Averella said. "This was a historical storm that no one has seen in this lifetime."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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