Harsh winter means time, money to clear snow

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By Chris Gray
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

A plow clears snow in the center lane of Grand River Avenue in Meridian Township.

A plow clears snow in the center lane of Grand River Avenue in Meridian Township.

The Ingham County Road Department, responsible for clearing more than 1,200 miles of roads, has been hard at work this winter. In a season that included a heavy freezing rain event, bitterly cold temperatures as well as seemingly regular snowstorms, the department has had to spend more money on salt and overtime than in years past.

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, Lansing saw 23.5 inches of snowfall in January, making it the snowiest January in 10 years. After each snowstorm, the Ingham County Road Department dispatches its fleet of plows to ensure the roads are safe for driving, which can be an expensive and time-consuming project.

Susan Wagner, 33, said she is impressed with how the county has handled the snow. Wagner, a home healthcare nurse from Meridian Township, frequently drives on county roads.

“I cannot help but feel sorry for the people that have to clear the roads,” Wagner said. “After they clean up one snowstorm, another comes right in.”

Bill Conklin, managing director of the department, said the drivers can be out for up to 14 hours a day and work nearly every day – including nights, weekends and holidays. Those overtime hours, along with the cost of salt, make up most of the winter maintenance budget.

“Usually around this time we have used between 20 and 25 percent of our winter maintenance budget,” Conklin said. “This year, we have used around 50 percent of what we have budgeted.”

The winter maintenance budget began on Jan. 1 and runs until the end of the calendar year, including the start of the next winter season. In the event the county spends more on snow removal than anticipated, funding for spring and summer projects, such as surface paving and chip sealing, could be cut.

“We’ll have a better idea of the impact this winter had on the budget in March,” Conklin said.

Despite hardships at the Ingham County Road Department, not everyone has been fretting about the abundance of snow. Tsoshi Shank, an independent snow remover, said he has been thrilled by the amount of work available.

“It is not always easy clearing those huge snowstorms we have been getting, but this has been the most work I have ever gotten during the winter,” Shank said.

“At this rate, I will be able to afford a nice vacation by the time spring rolls around.”

With more than five weeks left of winter, there is still plenty of time for Mother Nature to unleash more snow. Until then, Shank said he plans to catch up on much needed sleep.

“And I’m going to plan that vacation,” Shank said. “Somewhere far, far away from snow.”

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