A winter storm hit Haines last weekend, covering the town in about 15 inches of snow. Skiers and sledders rejoiced, but drivers did not. Many roads that normally would have been plowed in the past were left covered. That’s because the Department of Transportation has scaled back its snow plowing budget.
Haines DOT Maintenance Foreman Matt Boron says this first snow storm happened at the worst time possible – Friday night.
“Since the storm hit on the weekend, that’s really the worst case scenario,” Boron said. “Because we have Saturday and Sunday where we really don’t work.”
Boron says DOT is not allowing overtime plowing on most roads in Haines, aside from high-use thoroughfares like the highway and airport.
“In the past we’ve just been Johnny-on-the-spot and we like to take care of everybody and everything. But we mainly were able to concentrate on the Haines Highway and the airport and pretty much had to let everything else go.”
DOT ranks roads between level one and four based on the volume of traffic. Boron says this winter, they’re only allowed to work overtime to plow higher level roads, like the highway. But it was hard for him to stick to those marching orders.
“After we got done doing the highway, we did make a quick pass around the Small Tracts area. We did go around that one time just because it was so bad. But even that I really wasn’t supposed to do.”
Residents who live out Mud Bay say that road did not get much plowing over the weekend.
“[It was] really rutty and single lane. Whenever you did run into someone, you had to pull over into deeper snow and most of the cars are plowing,” said Renee Hoffman, who lives at about 6 Mile Mud Bay.
She is worried about what would happen if an ambulance or fire truck needed to respond to an emergency in her neighborhood. If the roads aren’t plowed, it could impact response times.
As for borough – owned roads, Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan says his crews did their usual amount of clearing over the weekend. He said the reduced plowing from DOT didn’t seem to impact borough plowing.
“It didn’t impact our routes really to speak of,” Ryan said. “We plowed Saturday morning, [we] just chose for efficiency’s sake for the storm to end.”
Ryan says he heard from people who were surprised at how much DOT did plow.
But Boron says there was definitely a difference. And he doesn’t see DOT being more flexible on the plowing limitations. The department’s budget was cut by more than $30 million this year. Boron says communities around the state are seeing more restrictions in snow response.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “I mean, it’s not the way that I’ve ever done business. And my wife drives on these roads, I drive on these roads. I actually live on a class four road that I’m not allowed to plow. So you could even say how am I supposed to get to work because I’m not allowed to plow my own street?”
He says if there are more weekend snowfalls, people will have to drive cautiously and, for some streets, wait until Monday for clear conditions.
The National Weather Service in Juneau forecasts scattered snow showers this week, rain on Friday, and snow Saturday and Sunday.