Plow Budgets Dwindling

Posted: January 24, 2014

Snow falls on downtown Harrisonburg on Tuesday, as seen from the Public Safety Building at 101 N. Main St. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)

HARRISONBURG — Money set aside to clear roads in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County is going faster than expected.

Representatives of the city and Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows county roads, say Mother Nature has kept their crews busier than usual, putting them on track to exceed their respective snow budgets this winter.

Schools throughout the central Valley were closed Tuesday and Wednesday thanks to a winter wallop that dumped 4 inches or more Tuesday, followed by frigid temperatures that have hindered melting and caused refreezing to occur.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools has canceled classes on five days this academic year because of inclement weather, while Rockingham County Schools has closed seven days.

“We’ve had a rather interesting winter so far this year, and we’re not through it yet,” said Don Komara, administrator for VDOT’s Harrisonburg residency.

The Harrisonburg residency, a division of the agency’s Staunton district, includes the counties of Rockingham, Page and Augusta.

VDOT budgeted about $4 million for snow clearing in those three counties, Komara said, and the agency has used about 75 percent to 80 percent so far.

Harrisonburg Streets Superintendent Ken Knight said the city has spent about 80 percent of the $250,000 city officials budgeted for snow removal.

VDOT and Harrisonburg budgeters base their allocations for snow removal on historical data.

“[There’s] no way to get a really true, accurate [estimate] of what expenses you’re going to incur,” Knight said. “Some years it’s leaner than others, and some it just bites you in the rear.”

Both the city and VDOT supplement their staffs with private contractors for snow removal.

Knight and Komara pointed out that costs are incurred even when snow doesn’t fall, as they must deploy crews ahead of a weather event, even if there’s no certainty severe weather will come.

“We can’t just sit at home and wait for it to start snowing to call people in. The time frame between it’s snowing and getting people out there is critical,” Komara said. “On some of those storms, we deployed people, and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t.”

Running over budget doesn’t mean snow-removal operations will suffer, Knight and Komara say.

And it’s possible that enough funding has been set aside to get through the next several weeks without going in the red, Knight said.

“Hopefully, we won’t have too many more instances,” he said, “but I imagine there’s a few more on the way.”

Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com



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