By The Associated Press/
Minneapolis Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS Midway through winter, snowplowing costs
are piling up and road-clearing times on the rise in Minnesota,
new state figures show.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has spent about
$18 million clearing ice and snow so far this winter, compared
with about $9 million this time last year. Expenses were about
$20 million through the end of January.
"We're on track for an expensive winter,'' said MnDOT
spokesman Bob McFarlin. "And we have a lot of snow days
The extra winter costs may mean MnDOT will have to limit
summer maintenance projects such as repairing shoulders, fixing
potholes or buying new equipment, McFarlin said.
As for plowing times, MnDOT needed an average of 2.2 hours
to clear snow from major roads in the seven-county metro area
during the period of Oct. 15 through Jan. 31, according to
data released Wednesday.
It's up from last winter's average of 1.5 hours but
better than the 3.8 hours it took during the winter of 2001-02,
and the 3.4 hours required in 2000-01.
Statewide, the only category of roads worrying MnDOT officials
are "urban commuter'' highways, such as Interstate 94
beyond St. Cloud. The roads are taking an average of 5.5 hours
Mark Wikelius, director of MnDOT's maintenance office, said
he was not sure why the roads took longer, but he intends
to find out this month.
In northern Minnesota, a three-day blizzard in the Duluth
area and unusually cold weather helped drive snow removal
times in that region up to an average of 17.5 hours in January,
up from 11.2 hours in December. And overall plowing in the
region is running slower than expected.
The increase in plowing times has renewed criticism from
DFL lawmakers and the snowplow drivers' union, who contend
that MnDOT is not putting enough plows on the road during
"When you look at where it snowed in January, their
numbers aren't good,'' said AFSCME Council 6 spokesman Pete
Benner. "Duluth and Brainerd were overwhelmed.''
Benner said he understands that intense storms will overwhelm
the system, but chronic delays in snow removal needlessly
endanger lives and snarl commutes.
"We are doing less with less,'' he said. "Our goal
is not to embarrass the department. Our goal is to get additional
resources for snow removal.''
MnDOT's Wikelius said the agency has become far more efficient
in recent years, which allows them to clear snow quickly with
fewer trucks. For example, he said widespread use of brine
sprayed on roads before snowfalls makes clearing snow easier.
"People are not seeing as much compacted snow,'' Wikelius
said. "They're seeing slush, which doesn't stick and
Benner and House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul
have criticized MnDOT's push to curb overtime, which Entenza
said has prevented metro-area plowers from clearing roads
in the predawn hours before the daily commute.
But Entenza did say the agency has been more liberal with
overtime in recent storms. ``Frankly, they're only doing better
when they go back to the old system,'' he said.
McFarlin defended the system, saying plowers have been putting
in more overtime lately during harsher storms and with better
communication between management.
"These numbers reflect what we've been saying all winter
long,'' McFarlin said. "We have been consistent."