Charlevoix County winter roads outlook

winter roads webBenjamin Gohs

News Editor

It will cost considerably more to keep Charlevoix County’s roads clear this year thanks to a jump in salt prices.

But, while the weather outlook for this winter may be colder than usual, there is expected to be a below average amount of snowfall.

“Our salt took a 26 percent increase from last year,” said Charlevoix County Road Commission Manager Pat Harmon. “It’s going to cost us $60,000 more than the year before.”
He added, “It’s always a concern when your costs go up.”

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), last year’s average cost of a ton of road salt was $44.99. That average price has jumped to $65.81—an increase of more than 46 percent.

On average, the Charlevoix County Road Commission orders 6,000 tons of salt annually.

According to MDOT, last winter, MDOT and its contract agencies used 653,500 tons of salt on Michigan state highways at a total cost of more than $32.4 million. Since 2007, salt use on state highways has ranged from a low of 343,200 tons in 2012 to a high of 759,248 tons in 2008.

“It’s impossible to predict how much salt we’ll need to use for our highways this winter, but the higher prices make it more likely that salt will eat up a larger portion of our budget,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “If we use the same amount as last year, the total bill for salt could top $40 million.”

Harmon said his sources tell him this winter will be colder than usual but without the surplus of snow seen last year.

“The National Weather Service is telling us it’s going to be cold but the snow is supposed to be more average—last year it was way over average by 50 inches,” he said.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s annual weather summary for winter 2014-2015 in Northern Michigan shows winter temperatures and snowfall expected to be below normal.

“The coldest periods will be in late-December, early- to mid-January, late-January, and early- to mid-February,” it states in the Almanac. “The snowiest periods will occur in late November, mid- to late-December, early- to mid-January, and mid- to late-February.”

NOAA’s winter weather outlook also expects a repeat of last year’s above average snowfall to be unlikely. NOAA also predicts temperatures could be colder than normal.

Harmon said the road commission won’t need to seek extra funding from the county’s general fund but it will likely have to take the unforeseen expense from somewhere else in the road commission’s coffers.

“It all depends on how this winter goes,” Harmon said. “But we’ll get through it.”

The road commission’s protocol on weekend plowing will remain the same as last year.

All state trunklines and primary roads will be cleared seven days a week.

Other roads will be plowed on the weekends, but only if there is at least six inches of snow.