Governments dig deep for snow removal

It buried cars and roads, shut down commuter rail services and left school children stuck at home.

Now, government agencies throughout Virginia are beginning to tally up the cost of the snowstorm that buried the East Coast early this week. And the price tag is sure to run into the millions.

Philip A. Shucet, Virginia’s highway commissioner, has already made a rough estimate of $30 million for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s clean-up of roads throughout the state. Local VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris believes a third of that was probably spent in Northern Virginia, though exact numbers for Prince William County will not be available until next week.

In Manassas, estimates for snow removal are in the $200,000 to $225,000 range. And Manassas Park is looking at a cost of about $70,000 to $80,000.

The fiscal impact of the storm may not be as bad as what was seen in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimated that every inch was costing the city $1 million. However, Virginia motorists will probably notice VDOT doing a little bit less this year as the agency cuts spending to make up for the cost of the storm.

“The grass along the highways might be a little longer because we’re not cutting it four times per year, only three,” said VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall. “The changes will be really basic. It won’t affect anything having to do with safety.”

Before the storm hit, VDOT was already $2 million over the $48 million it allocated for winter-weather work. The agency will have to shift money from other parts of its $1.13 billion maintenance budget to cover the extra costs.

“This was one of the top five storms we’ve ever seen,” Hall said. “You can’t really predict that.”

The state may be helped by the emergency declaration Gov. Mark R. Warner made while the storm was at its height over the weekend. Virginia might be able to receive reimbursements from the federal government. Localities that maintain their own roads — such as Manassas and Manassas Park — may get both federal and state funds.

Mike Moon, Manassas’ director of public works, is hoping such money will help offset the cost of storm clean-up, which may leave the city more than $250,000 over budget. Moon believes much of the cost will be covered from savings from various departments. In the public works department alone, position vacancies have left $100,000 budgeted for salaries no longer paid.

“We’ll come up with what we can in our budget,” Moon said. “We will try to take a good portion of this out of department savings at year’s end.”

In Manassas Park, the cutbacks caused by the storm may be more evident. The extra costs have left the city in a position of only being able to maintain its roads this year, said Wesley Wagner, the city’s public works director.

“We’re going to be spread thin,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to bring in contractors to pave roads.”

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