TRAVERSE CITY — A thus-far mild winter helped Grand Traverse County Road Commission officials save money that could turn up the heat on summer road construction projects.
Road commission Manager Jim Cook said trucks plowed less snow and spread less salt and sand in the relatively snow-free month of December, putting the commission's total 2014 winter road maintenance costs under budget and helping save $481,000.
That cash, with other leftover maintenance money, could come in handy as road commission officials anticipate road project costs this year to fall between $9 and $10 million, about double last year's cost.
"My whole goal is any money that we save in the winter we use to fix roads in summer," Cook said.
The road commission's total budget this year is $16 million, with project money receiving a big boost thanks to increased revenue from the commission's voter-approved tax millage and an influx of state and federal money.
Major projects include a reconstruction and hill reduction on Lafranier Road and a chip seal surface treatment and profile correction on a stretch of County Road 633. Team Elmer's bid $3.1 million and Rieth-Riley Construction Company bid $1.9 million for the respective Lafranier and County Road 633 projects, among others.
But some project bids came in higher than anticipated, leaving the commission about $1 million short of what they budgeted for projects.
Road Commissioner Marc McKellar said that shortfall forced officials to put a planned River Road reconstruction on the back burner so Lafranier and other projects can proceed. He said commission officials depend on state engineering estimates that can turn out to be wrong.
"You never really know what your material costs will be and labor costs will be from contractors," he said.
Enter the mild winter. Cook said $481,000 saved in winter maintenance costs, about $500,000 from the shelved River Road project and other funds helped reinvigorate the project budget.
"When we had those changes, we went from almost a million in the hole to having $200,000 left over," he said.
Cook said road commissioners will make adjustments to the total budget in April, and that could include other road maintenance savings. He hopes that will help put the River Road project back on the project list this year.