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Snow plow truck outposts are getting old, with little future money to renovate

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-14 06:00:49-04

Ohioans hopefully don’t have to worry about winter weather for another month or two, but when it comes, they might hit with an unexpected problem. 

The facilities that store snow plow trucks and salt to keep Ohio’s highways clear are getting old. And the Ohio Department of Transportation could save $3.5 million by collecting more data to repurpose old facilities into less-costly road salt storage yards, according to a report by Auditor of State Dave Yost.

“They don’t have consistent data in the state across all of their regions,” Yost said. “So it’s not possible to make a really informed decision because your data is incomparable. Some people have good data, some people have no data, some people have sloppy data.”

ODOT is moving in the right direction by starting to collect data and continuing to replace old facilities, but the department could do more to see how “outposts” and “full service garages,” which store plow trucks and refill trucks with road salt, could be moved to new locations, refurbished or completely replaced, Yost said.

Since 2011, ODOT replaced or will replace 38 outposts and full service garages with $200 million in funding from the Ohio legislature. But ODOT will need $121.7 million more between 2019 and 2029 to keep up with the demand for replacing facilities, according to the auditor’s report.

“That forces use to use data to create a priority list (to replace facilities), and we’ll address those needs as they become prudent,” ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning said. “So as we see those needs continuing, we’ll certainly have those conversations to find that funding.”

Seven full service garages and 49 outposts that will be at least 45 years or older across the state have no plan to be replaced as of 2016. The average age of ODOT facilities in Southwestern Ohio is about 31 years.

While $3.5 million isn’t enough to balance ODOT’s expected budget shortfall in replacing facilities, the department will have to find more alternative ways to replace aging facilities in the future, Yost said.

Liam Niemeyer is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at liamnmeyer@gmail.com.