Here’s how much Utah spent to plow state roads during last winter’s record snow storms
Lawmakers set to shift $20 million during upcoming special session to cover extra costs
Thanks to this winter’s record-breaking snowfall, the Utah Department of Transportation ended up spending about 70% more than the $24 million set aside for keeping the state’s roads plowed.
And now that temperatures have finally warmed, it’s runoff from the melting snow that’s causing problems on state roads, sweeping away a sizable chunk of State Route 39 in Ogden Canyon as well as triggering mudslides in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
So Utah lawmakers are looking at boosting UDOT’s maintenance budget by $20 million when they meet in special session Thursday, money that would be shifted from the department’s highway construction fund.
UDOT’s current maintenance budget is $182 million, department spokesman John Gleason said, including $24 million to clear snow from state roads, a number based on estimating an average cost of $1 million per storm to send out snowplows.
During the winter of 2021-22, the department spent about $21.5 million on snow removal and even less the previous winter, he said.
But this year, it cost UDOT just under $41 million to deal with storms that dumped hundreds of inches of snow in the mountains as well as 87 inches on Salt Lake City, the first time since 1996 the state Capital has seen more than 80 inches of the white stuff.
Gleason said snowplow crews drove more than 6 million miles to clear state roads and highways over the past season, compared to less than 2.2 million miles during the previous winter.
Road salt costs were also much higher, he said. For the winter of 2021-22, UDOT spent about $6.2 million on the tons of salt spread during storms. This winter, however, it took nearly $18.7 million in salt to do the job.
House Budget Chairman Val Peterson, R-Orem, said there’s a chance more money will have to be shifted to handle the aftermath of the heavy snowfall.
“So far, you know, Mother Nature’s been cooperating and the temperatures have been fairly low so the runoff hasn’t been too drastic,” Peterson said, adding the extensive damage in Ogden Canyon suggests that’s about to change.
“We think right now that’s going to be enough money, the $20 million,” he said. “But it depends on how the runoff comes off. And if there’s other big projects that get damaged, then obviously we’d have to come back and re-look at it.”
That likely would not happen until the 2024 Legislature meets, since the new budget year begins July 1. Peterson said the $45 million for wildfire suppression in the upcoming budget, up from the usual $10 million to $25 million, could be tapped if necessary.
“We were anticipating we would probably need some money for emergency management,” he said. “That money is all targeted towards emergency management. If we need to move some of those monies between (budget) lines, that’s not a big issue.”
The budget shift is revenue neutral but spending more on maintenance and less on construction shouldn’t have a noticeable impact on any UDOT projects, the House budget chairman said.
“I don’t anticipate any major changes because of that,” he said.
Gleason said the department “will just make adjustments as needed,” such as pushing off some routine maintenance and isn’t expecting moving the funds to result in “any delays with any major construction this summer.”
The extent of the spring snowmelt’s impact remains to be seen, he said.
“Over the course of the next several weeks, we’re going to see a lot of the snowpack in the mountains begin to melt and we’ll have a better idea of the type of the flooding issues we’re going to see,” Gleason said.
The effect of a record snow season, he said, “doesn’t just end with the avalanches and our plowing efforts. Now we’re dealing with the aftereffects, with mudslides and flooding that we have to address to make sure that our roads are safe.”
Also on the agenda for Thursday’s special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Spencer Cox is extending the emergency order he issued to deal with flooding in the state, likely through mid-August.
Lawmakers will also consider removing a provision in a gun bill passed last session that prohibits anyone in the state on a nonimmigrant work visa from possessing or owning a firearm.