This weekend’s winter weather raised questions about what level of road maintenance residents can expect this season. Plows cleared away slushy snow Saturday morning. But icy conditions persisted because state workers wanted to avoid using too much overtime. Budget cuts to the Alaska Department of Transportation will affect drivers for another winter.
In Haines, DOT staff works Monday through Friday. So when winter weather hits over the weekend, or on a Friday evening, they need to work overtime to get the roads cleared right away. But it’s not that easy on a limited budget. Here’s DOT Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.
“The Department still saw some budget reductions this last legislative session which is last year, which then effects the departments 2017 fiscal budget which is the current fiscal year that we’re in right now,” says Woodrow. “There were some reductions made. We try to spread those reductions out as much as possible across the entire department state-wide.”
One way that affects Haines is by limiting overtime hours.
“We’re really not authorized to work overtime at all on the town routes,” says Haines DOT Maintenance Foreman Matt Boron. “But if there are extreme conditions then I can get permission from my boss to go, which is what we did on Saturday,” says Boron. “We had four inches of slush and I knew it was going to get cold and freeze and if we didn’t get that off then everything would have been completely impassible.”
Woodrow says there are circumstances where weekend work is warranted, and that’s determined by a number of people.
“It’s a combination of working with the local foreman, talking to his supervisors at the regional level of – is this the right opportunity to use this overtime or would it be better to wait until tomorrow,” says Woodrow. “It’s a tough call to make. In years past we’ve had a larger budget and we were able to pay quite a bit of overtime to our maintenance folks.”
Woodrow says winter road maintenance this season will be similar to last year, with roads attended to in order of priority. The highest priority road in Haines is the highway, followed by Lutak and Mud Bay Roads, and a few streets downtown.
“There will be times when we will be either a little slower responding to different weather events, depending on what windows weather events happen,” says Woodrow. “Then the side roads, lower priority roads, will also see less attention during winter events such as large snowstorms or mixed conditions when you have ice and snow on the roads.”
For Boron, the highway and the airport are the top priorities. He says if there’s extra time after those are cleared during overtime hours, staff may head to other areas.
“And if I do go out to do those two routes, we have a rule that if we go out we go out for at least four hours,” says Boron. “So some of the town routes might be a beneficiary of that. If I go out to do the highway and have an hour left, then I’ll go around Small Tracts or Mud Bay or maybe go out past the ferry.”
Woodrow says looking back on last year, the DOT did the best they could with the resources they had.
“Our maintenance folks are professionals,” says Woodrow. “They take pride in their work. It’s important to point out that they live in the communities they work in so they want to make sure their roads are safe for their families, their friends and their coworkers just the same as anyone else would.”
Now that the weekend is over, Boron says his crew is sanding and scraping the icy highway, during regular operating hours.