Snow shortage saves road salt and money but not potholes

Governments, drivers catch a break
Posted at 12:00 PM, Apr 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-26 12:00:52-04

CINCINNATI -- Aside from a few random flurries, Greater Cincinnati experienced very little snowfall this past winter. Most motorists would call that a win, and so would government agencies watching their bottom line.

The city of Cincinnati says it saved $170,000 this winter season -- money that will be returned to the city’s general fund as long as the mild weather continues through this fiscal year.

And the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said it used only about one-fourth as much road salt as usual.

There is more good news for motorists.

Cincinnati officials report that potholes are getting up filled up faster than ever. However, they warn that the mild winter won’t necessarily translate to fewer potholes now that spring has arrived.

It also doesn’t mean the major road projects on State Route 9 in Newport will get done any sooner, but that’s not because of weather.

Thank Mother Nature for taking it easy on us. The area got only 10 inches of snow – less than half as much as the normal 21.7 inches November through April – according to figures provided by WCPO Meteorologist Jennifer Ketchmark.

And what we got came in light doses. The heaviest snowfall was 2.5 inches on Jan. 5. There were only three other days when snowfall was 1 inch or more – 1.4 on Feb. 8, 1.2 on Jan. 27 and 1 inch on Dec. 13.

There were 14 days of “measurable snows” – defined as one tenth of an inch or more. Most people call it a "dusting."

Local governments say they were prepared for more and grateful for less. 

“When preparing for winter operations, the city of Cincinnati always plans for the worst and hopes for the best,” said  Public Services Director Marakeshia Smith.

The city says it is coming in under budget for road salt and other annual snow-management expenses in fiscal year 2017 even though it is contractually required to purchase a minimum amount of salt upfront. The city spent about $610,000 on keeping the roads passable last winter, Smith said

Smith said the city has enough salt for the remainder of the calendar year, though more can be purchased if necessary when cold weather returns in six or seven months.

City motorists will like this: Reported potholes are getting filled 12 times faster than five years ago, Smith said.

Through the use of advanced data analytics and enhanced customer service efforts, including a revamped customer service app, the city has improved its roadway-repair response system, filling more than 1,537 potholes since Jan. 1.

The average repair took 1.6 days.

"The city prides itself on fixing and filling potholes in a timely manner," Smith said. "This is drastically better than the 19-day average the city held in 2012. Last year, DPS filled 4,235 potholes in an average of just 2.5 days."

But the number of potholes filled should not be used to indicate the overall condition of Cincinnati roads, she added.

Smith urged residents to serve as “pothole spotters” and report them using the Fix it Cincy! mobile app or by calling 513-591-6000.

Across the river, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which oversees highways and interstates, said it used 64,000 tons of salt (10,413 tons in Northern Kentucky District 6 alone) when it typically uses approximately 250,000 tons. Usage spiked to 450,000 tons during the harsh winter of 2014-15.

It wasn’t snow but a lack of funding that delayed the  relocation and expansion on State Route 9 in Newport, which started in 2014. The project is mostly finished and slated to culminate in roundabouts at the Taylor-Southgate Bridge and the Fourth Street bridge to Covington.

Despite months of favorable weather conditions, road crews there have been unable to work because the project was put on "Pause 50" by the state in June when KYTC came up against a shortage of funds.

Now, the project is just $4 million -- and five city blocks -- from completion and Southbank Partners President Jack Moreland said construction should resume on that portion any day now. It will hopefully be completed by July.

"Regardless what the temperature was over the winter, the construction company had already made their own plans to work on other projects in the meantime” while funding was delayed, said Moreland. "From what I’m told, there were other factors like sanitation and maybe even weather that have been holding things up, but the bottom line is, it's going to get done very soon."

KYTC said it is still adding up last winter operations costs, but the outlook is good.

"Due to several factors, including contractor payments, guaranteed salt purchases and equipment upgrades, the cabinet cannot provide an accurate landscape of total costs until the final numbers are available," said Nancy Wood, public information officer for District 6. "However, a mild winter season has lessened the strain on the cabinet's labor forces, material supplies and the overall wear-and-tear to Kentucky's roads."

SEE road construction reports and traffic updates.