While severe winter weather is not entirely common in Arkansas compared to other states, the Arkansas Department of Transportation says it is well prepared for any winter weather that may come this season, even if no snow is in the immediate forecast.
When serious winter weather does impact Arkansas roads, there is no section of the department’s budget set aside for just winter weather. Instead, it comes out of the yearly maintenance budget.
Since weather is hard to predict, it is also hard to pinpoint exactly how much money and time will be devoted to road treatments during the winter.
According to the department, during fiscal year 2015, the most recent year data was available, just under $15 million dollars was spent on winter weather road maintenance. $6 million went towards materials like street salt. The rest of the expenses went for things like gas costs, man hours and equipment hours.
Danny Straessle, the public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation says that is money that could have gone to other maintenance projects.
“So if you consider 2015, that’s $15 million that was not spent on the highway system for other maintenance activities such as cleaning out ditches, patching potholes, maybe overlaying a rough area that might need it,” Straessle said.
The state has made significant advances to better prepare for wintery conditions on roads, Straessle says. Some ways they improved their practices was by looking to their neighboring states and taking notes. One example is what the department uses to treat the roads.
“We used to use a three-part mixture of sand, salt and calcium chloride. We went to Missouri and saw that they were just using salt and some of their salt is infused with beet juice. And so we adopted that practice of using salt, and today we use very little sand,” Straessle said.
The department also has about 70 “belly plow” trucks which are more advanced and better equipped to tackle snow.
According to Straessle, the recent Arkansas winters have not brought serious wintry weather, which is good news for the department in more ways than one.
“The last two winter cycles, we’ve not had much of a winter at all. In fact, it’s been great construction work. Our contractors that have been working across the state on a lot of our projects have made great, great advances on their schedules and getting projects done,” Straessle said. “Typically in the dead of winter when they’re unable to work, they’re out there [instead]. So that’s been great.”
However, Arkansas has already seen two significant winter weather systems this year so far. One was before Thanksgiving and the other in early December. Straessle says while those systems could indicate a rougher winter, ultimately the department will not know how much this winter will cost them until the season is over.