State says winter costs are eating into summer maintenance budgets

MDOT has used more than 440,000 tons of salt on state highways through end of January


DETROIT – The Michigan Department of Transportation says the worse-than-average winter is already squeezing into its summer maintenance budgets.

"MDOT, county road commissions, and municipal public works departments will work together to make sure we get salt to wherever it's needed throughout Michigan, and potholes are patched as quickly as possible," said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. "But the higher than expected costs of this winter will make for some difficult choices when it comes to non-winter maintenance activities the rest of this year."

Overall, MDOT's winter maintenance budget for this winter is $88 million, based on the five-year winter average. At this point, MDOT said it expects to exceed its winter budget by $40 million, which will mean a reduction in non-winter maintenance activities through October 2014. Safety-related maintenance activities get top priority, but non-safety activities such as aesthetic mowing, brush and tree cutting, and garbage clean-up may be deferred.

So far, MDOT has used more than 440,000 tons of salt on state highways through the end of January. That's about 80 percent more than was used at the same point last winter (238,472 tons), and 95 percent more than the same point during the winter of 2011-2012 (223,568 tons).

Based on the five-year average salt usage for February, March, and April, MDOT is expecting to use more than 600,000 tons of salt for the season. That would be the most used in a season since the winter of 2007-2008, when 760,000 tons were used.

MDOT orders salt based on a five-year average for usage. If needed during an unusually severe winter like this one, MDOT has provisions in their contracts with each of four approved salt vendors to purchase up to 30 percent more salt than what was ordered at each location for the season at the contract price.

"Our vendors have assured us that they can cover this year's contract amount of salt, including the 30 percent contingency, but likely won't be able to provide more," Steudle said. "However, our staff is cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to get through this winter with the salt remaining in our contract."

MDOT is in contact with county road commissions and cities to determine what areas in the state are low on salt, and is working to identify where salt can be redirected to meet those needs. In past years, salt has been moved to areas that have run out, but the overall supply has not been completely exhausted.

In recent winters, MDOT has used:

  • 400,615 tons in 2010 at $57.19/ton
  • 526,449 tons in 2011 at $57.62/ton
  • 343,157 tons in 2012 at $59.07/ton
  • 507,086 tons in 2013 at $53.61/ton