Digging out of the winter snow has become a costly affair for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Preliminary estimates released Monday show that, between employee hours and materials used, such as salt, gravel and brine, the DOT spent $681,408 on last week’s winter storm in District 1 — or Northeast Georgia — alone.
That’s more than the $624,850 in fiscal 2012-13 and 2011-12 combined, according to data compiled by Teri Pope, the DOT’s district spokeswoman.
The total so far for this fiscal year, which began July 1, 2013, and ends June 30, is $1.75 million, or the second-highest amount since 2004-05. The record belongs to 2010-11, when the DOT racked up $2.6 million in costs.
A snowstorm that struck in late January — one that crippled traffic in and around Atlanta — cost District 1 $581,071.
Last week’s storm arrived early Tuesday, dumping as much as 5«inches on parts of Hall County, paralyzing traffic and closing governments, schools and businesses. Conditions began to improve by noon Thursday as temperatures rose and the sun shone.
Snow removal efforts, orchestrated from DOT offices at 2505 Athens Highway in East Hall, involved 11,412 employee hours and the application of 93 tons of salt and gravel per hour throughout the 84-hour ordeal.
“We got literally thousands of calls about icy patches here and there,” District Engineer Bayne Smith said.
The roads were treacherous even for DOT workers. At one point, a dump truck slid off the roadway at Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road near Price Road in North Hall.
The driver wasn’t injured, and employees “repaired it and got it back on the road in the same shift,” Pope said.
DOT veterans Toby Hammonds, a construction project engineer, and Jerry Allen, maintenance foreman, were on the front lines during the storm.
Allen drove a dump truck spreading materials and clearing snow from pavement. Hammonds drove a “follow vehicle” behind a dump truck, providing a buffer to other motorists who might be on the road.
“He tries to keep people from getting too close to the dump truck because ... salt and gravel can damage your vehicle if you get too close (to the vehicle),” Pope said.
Allen said one of the key objectives in snow clearing “is to get it completely off the roadway, so it doesn’t go back across the surface and refreeze.”
“We try to get it to a dirt surface or to some place where it can drain.”
For the most part, drivers gave the DOT crews room to work, Hammonds and Allen said.
In some cases, motorists would try to pass a plow and, getting caught in more snow than they had expected, would slow to get back behind the DOT vehicles.
Planning for winter weather work begins months before, including readying equipment and making sure workers know their routes, Hammonds said.
“When it’s here, it’s go time,” he said. “But even now, it’s still go time. (Workers are) fixing their plows and getting materials back in (for the next storm).”
The DOT was abuzz with activity on Monday, with tractor-trailers hauling in salt and workers washing salt off spreaders.
And while the storm had a real cost in terms of dollars, it also means sacrifice for DOT workers.
While others were building snowmen or staying warm inside by a fire, crews were battling the elements.
“I do this because I got the heart for it, because I want to help the state, the citizens,” Allen said. “You want to be (at home) to protect (family), but you’ve got a job to do.”