With snowstorms coming so close together these past few weeks, it may seem as if this is a winter for the record books, but that still remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it’s been a trial for all of us, but particularly for the highway departments.
Most are over budget by now and prepared to dig into emergency funds or other public works areas to pay for the almost around-the-clock plowing and sanding that’s been taking place. So what does that mean for the future?
None of us can predict what’s ahead, although our public works directors and road agents have been doing a good job at guessing what they will need based on past winters. But if we continue to have winters with large amounts of snow, regardless of whether it’s cyclical or due to climate change, those budgets will need to get a boost, or summer roadwork will bear an even larger burden than it already does. And that means something will have to give in another portion of the budget.
Do we want roads that can be used in winter, and are still in good enough repair to take us through the rest of the year? Most towns already don’t have the money available to do all the road repairs that are necessary each year. Now, with the possibility that winter plow budgets should get a boost, choices will have to be made so that public safety can remain paramount.
Choices always make things difficult, we know, but doing things the old way is unlikely to be the path that will get us the safe roads we need.
Towns have already had to deal with the rising cost of asphalt when they budget for paving projects. More money for snow removal may just become another of the “givens” in our budgets, in the same way as budgeting more money for heating fuel in our schools and town buildings will be, if the cold weather stays around the way it has this year.
And that leaves the question: where can reductions be made so that more money can be added into what is clearly a public safety issue – roads that are safe to drive on in winter.
We don’t have the answer, but it’s a question that can’t be avoided. The winters are getting harsher, and that translates into costing all of us – both personally and through our taxes – more money. Just as we do with our own budgets, we need to plan ahead.