Warm weather kindles MDOT hopes

The unseasonably temperate winter in most o fMichigan-- to date -- is being blamed for woes among ski resorts, motels that cater to snowmobilers and other businesses whose fate rests on the falling of the snowflakes.

As this recent Michigan Radio report notes, this could be a record year in northern Michigan for a lack of snow.

But there has to be some optimism -- nervous optimism -- in a big building just across the street from Bridge's Lansing offices. It's the Michigan Department of Transportation -- an agency usually in the news for having too few resources to deal with too many maintenance needs.

The mild winter, however, has put MDOT in a strange position: spending less money on snow removal and maintenance on highways than was expected.

MDOT's most recent numbers only carry through the end of December, but they are still telling:

* "FY 2012 winter expenditures through December = $12.8 million."

* "Last year, winter expenditures through December = $21.3 million (this means that winter expenditures through December 2011 are $8.5 million less than last year at the same time)."

* "The five-year winter average through December = $23.9 million (this means that winter expenditures through December 2011 are $11.1 million lower than the five-year average through December)."

So, MDOT's up nearly $9 million from last year -- and the numbers could get even better if the surprising warmth continues.

Not so fast, cautions MDOT:

"Although winter expenditures through December were significantly lower than last year, and lower than the five-year average through the same period, the following factors should be taken into consideration:

"1. Although many parts of the state have had warmer temperatures in January, there have been areas around the state that expect to have higher winter expenditures in January 2012 than January 2011. MDOT will not be able to confirm this for a couple weeks.

"2. Although winter expenditures through December are $8.5 million less than last year, MDOT’s overall maintenance budget was reduced by $7.6 million from FY 2011 to FY 2012 (i.e., the FY 2011 maintenance appropriation was $274.6 million, but the FY 2012 maintenance appropriation is $267 million).

"Additionally, any savings may be offset significantly by road repairs because of the exaggerated freeze-thaw cycle this season.

"Finally, we cannot emphasize enough that winter is only half over. Michigan could still get some significant weather, and even though things have been milder this winter, MDOT has had many minor weather events that have required crews to salt the roads to keep them safe."

MDOT, as befitting an agency familiar with the ire of the public, continues to prepare for bad winter weather:

"MDOT is projecting FY 2012 winter expenditures between $77.6 million and $99.5 million based on the following:

"$77.6 million = actual winter expenditures through December 2011 + the three-year average of winter expenditures (January through the end of winter).

"$99.5 million = actual winter expenditures through December 2011 + last year’s winter expenditures (January through the end of winter)."

In the end, the winter of 2012 may look all too familiar to both MDOT and taxpayers: Bad weather does damage to roadways; damage the agency lacks the wherewithal to fully repair; drivers grumble with vigor.

If so, recall that Gov. Rick Snyder suggested last fall that Michiganraise some money to deal with road maintenance. The Legislature pretty much ignored him and the public, apparently, thinks little of the concept, as well.

Has anyone ever heard of a road spontaneously fixing itself?

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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