Officials order more salt to battle icy roads, but demand this winter is far from a record

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 3, 2014 

A mix of snow and ice during the past month have given drivers fits, but officials say cleaning up Mother Nature's mess is not busting local governments' budgets.

Yet.

Even before Sunday night's storm, the state had spent slightly more than half the money budgeted this winter for snow removal, said Lisa Tolliver, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Cabinet officials announced Friday that the state had spent more than $27 million to clear the state's roads. That figure includes salt, manpower, equipment and contractors.

In Lexington, the Urban County Government increased its salt supply before this week's storm to ensure it had more than enough to get through the next several weeks.

The Urban County government has spent more than $630,000 on salt and has only $32 left in its salt budget. But it has more than 5,000 tons of salt on hand.

"We filled up our barns going into this storm," said Charlie Martin, interim commissioner for environment quality and public works, which oversees streets and roads. "We are in good shape."

During storms, the city runs salt trucks and plows at all hours, but the department has spent only about half of its overtime budget, Martin said.

Sally Hamilton, the city's chief administrative officer, said that if the remaining salt reserves are depleted, officials will look at other areas of the budget that might have savings before returning to the Urban County Council for additional money.

"We're watching it like a hawk, but we think we're going to be OK," she said.

Officials in surrounding counties said they have had to order additional salt but aren't in a financial pinch yet.

Scott County Judge-Executive George Lusby said the county got an additional salt shipment in the past week. Crews have had to treat or clear roads about 20 times this season. It costs about $14,000 each time crews go out. That's about $280,000 spent on snow removal this winter.

Lusby said there is enough salt for an additional 10 or 12 snowfalls. Scott County's budget has been able to absorb the costs.

"We are in the best financial shape we've ever been in," he said of the county's budget.

Franklin County also has been able to absorb the costs of snow removal, said Ted Collins, the judge-executive.

"We're well within our budget," Collins said. He said the county was getting another shipment of salt Tuesday, topping off its supplies. Collins said Franklin County also uses a mix of cinders, gravel and salt on some streets that are particularly treacherous to help drivers get traction on the roads. That mix helps stretch the salt supply.

Through the Kentucky Association of Counties, Franklin County has contracted with a vendor through a reverse bid process that helps lower costs, Collins said.

The state has spread 220,000 tons of salt this winter. That's more than last season, when the state used 85,000 tons, but it's not on pace to set a record for salt use, state transportation figures show.

During the winter of 2010-11, the state spread more than 450,000 tons of salt and spent more than $74 million cleaning up snow and ice.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @ HLCityhall.

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