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Winter weather costs piling up for Ga. DOT
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Talk about a budget buster.

This year’s unusually rough winter has taken a tremendous bite out of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s finances.

The department has spent some $5 million statewide on weather-related tasks, with just over $1 million going to Gainesville-based District 1, which comprises 21 Northeast Georgia counties.

And that was before Tuesday’s snowstorm that hammered the Hall County area.

So far, District 1 has spent about $1.1 million on emergency work, including 6,010 employee hours, 1,020 tons of salt, 2,283 tons of stone and 3,380 pounds of calcium chloride.

The total spent breaks down to $374,104 in labor costs, $431,590 in equipment costs and $301,590 in material costs.

“That is the most (expenses) of any complete winter season ... that I have numbers for,” Pope said.

In recent years, District 1 has spent as much as $555,174 in the 2007-08 winter and as little as $296,940 in 2005-06.

Commissioner Vance C. Smith Jr. is asking the state legislature for a “dedicated emergency fund,” Pope said.

The funds come out of those set aside for maintenance, which is $300 million statewide and $3 million for District 1, Pope said. The DOT’s overall annual budget is about $1.9 billion.

The department, which has struggled financially in recent years, no longer has a separate fund for emergency work, such as spreading salt and clearing state-maintained roads during snows.

The state already has fallen behind in maintenance projects.

Some $1.1 billion in resurfacing projects were identified in 2008-09 “that we have no funding for,” said Todd McDuffie, District 1 interim engineer, in a December interview.

Falling further behind on such work could mean more expense when the work is finally done.

“The longer these projects go, the more extensive work is going to be needed and the more expensive it’s going to cost,” Pope has said.

This winter alone, bad weather has punished area roads, particularly in terms of “freeze-thaw cycles.”

“That creates more wear and tear on the roadway,” Pope said. “... We will definitely have the cumulative effect of that, that we’ll start seeing.”

Plus, the weather needs to ease up for any kind of repairs.

“It’s too cold. You can’t do any patching or anything right now,” Pope said.

The $5 million spent so far on weather-related work across the state also includes the DOT’s response to widespread and massive flooding in September.

The amount doesn’t include $587,000 to repair a sinkhole that opened up in February off Interstate 85 about one mile south of the Georgia border.

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