TRAVERSE CITY — Keeping roads in the Grand Traverse region clear of snow and ice isn't cheap, but some financial relief might be on the way, courtesy of state lawmakers.
The possible funding boost came as a surprise to Leelanau County Road Commission Chair Lee Bowen as he drove a road commission truck to visit the ice caves dotting Lake Michigan's coast. The road commission's overtime and diesel fuel costs indicate this year's winter is one of the most brutal in recent memory, he said.
"We’re appreciative of any help we can get from the legislature,” Bowen said over the squawking of the truck's radio.
Michigan's Senate Appropriations Committee amended legislation today to set aside an extra $100 million in road maintenance funding for state and local governments.
"It’s basically in recognition of the severe winter we've had and, I guess you can call it, the looming pothole season that is about to draw near here with the warming weather," said state Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, a member of the appropriations committee.
The pending legislation, if approved, would provide welcome assistance to local road agencies like the Antrim County Road Commission. Antrim County roads officials plan to put some purchases on hold because of high winter maintenance.
The commission spent more than $900,000 clearing ice and snow from the roads this winter through January. Costs over the past four years for the same period of time ranged between roughly $400,000 and $600,000, said Burt Thompson, the commission's engineer-manager.
“We still could have a lot of winter here yet,” Thompson said. “Until we know what winter’s going to end up costing, we felt we had to on hold on to major purchases until we get a better handle on costs.”