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.”
Dave Green, director of Traverse City's Department of Public Services, said his department's fuel costs totaled about $33,000 in January, well above normal.
Green said Tuesday his crews already hauled more than 900 — and maybe as many as 1,000 — 30-cubic-yard truck loads of snow away from downtown Traverse City alone.
"It has been a brutal winter, there's no doubt," Green said.
Grand Traverse County Road Commission officials said their winter budget is in good shape so far, but that could change depending on how long winter lasts.
Commissioner John Nelson said any over-budget winter costs will eat into funding set aside for summer road projects.
"As far as the state helping out local road commissions, I think that’s wonderful news," Nelson said. "That certainly will help."
The ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.