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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 2/16/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Winter costs are piling up for U.S. cities

Toledo among places hit by road upkeep expenses

BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

NEW YORK — The exceptionally cold and stormy winter battering the Midwest and Northeast has forced cities and states to put road crews on double shifts and to step up purchases of asphalt, trying to keep up with an epidemic of potholes.

They have bought and spread so much salt the mid-Atlantic states have reported a shortage, with more snow and ice expected.

Local and state governments still struggling to recover from the recession are under new financial strain as officials report increased spending on employee overtime, contractors, and supplies.

“Cities still do not have a lot of cash available, so this particular storm season is having a really severe impact on their budgets,” said James Brooks, a director of infrastructure at the National League of Cities.

Officials nationwide said the costs will be steep.

In Toledo, a spokesman for Mayor D. Michael Collins said the city has spent more than $2 million on snow-and-ice removal since the administration took office last month, on top of $1 million the Bell administration spent in December.

“There are no needed adjustments to the budget, at least not at this point. There may have to be once all the costs are in,” spokesman Lisa Ward said, noting that snow removal is paid for through special assessments in Toledo, not the general-fund budget.

Chicago budgeted $20 million for 2014 to plow snow and salt roads, but with more than a month of winter left, it has already spent $25 million.

City crews are filling potholes at double the rate of last year, which means buying twice as much patching material for that purpose.

So far, according to the National Weather Service, Chicago has had its third-snowiest and fourth-coldest winter since the service began keeping track in 1872.

Toledo has been plagued with potholes — particularly on older streets such as the Anthony Wayne Trail and the southern ends of Douglas and South Detroit that are due — if not overdue — for reconstruction.

The city and the Ohio Department of Transportation have arranged for an emergency opening of a hot-mix asphalt plant this week to help them cope with the worst potholes, ones that have become so large or chronic that normal cold-patch material is no longer effective for repairs.

Detroit — the largest U.S. municipality ever to enter bankruptcy — reported about 500 water main breaks in January, compared with about 300 a year earlier, forcing the city to hire outside crews to try to keep up.

Locally, the Anthony Wayne Trail’s inbound lanes were closed entirely for more than eight hours Thursday because of a water-main break that spilled an estimated 15 million gallons.

Officials consider the weather a likely factor in that break, one of many reported this winter in Toledo. They also are investigating whether a contractor working near the break site to replace a water main along Glendale Avenue may have been at least partially responsible.

“I’ve never seen one [a winter] like this, and I’ve been here since 1974,” Don Moline, the commissioner of customer service for Toledo’s Department of Public Utilities, said Thursday night.



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