Winter snow storms aren’t just an inconvenience—they cost the nation nearly $4 billion for yearly snow and ice removal.
- When a snowstorm hits, it can shut down public transportation and schools, block roadways, and cause power outages—but it also costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year.
- The Federal Highway Administration recently found that snow can cost the U.S. nearly $4 billion a year to remove snow and ice.
- States have to plan each year for the potential cost of snow removal. It’s a guessing game since snow accumulation can vary from year to year.
- The costs add up when officials factor in pay for snow plow drivers, equipment costs, and road treatment methods.
- Keeping the roads clear might be an expense, but it’s a vital necessity. However, low wages for snow plow drivers are resulting in labor shortages.
Why it’s important
Ensuring drivers have safe access to roads is necessary for states, but it’s also a significant expense. Weather is unpredictable, leading to difficulty in nailing down a budget. Just a few more winter storms than the average can cost a state millions. Wyoming, for example, went $10 million over its transportation budget in the 2019-2020 winter.
Costs add up quickly when storms come rolling through. The state has to pay overtime to plow drivers and law enforcement who monitor the roadways. Extra salt and sand can be challenging to find in the middle of winter when shortages are common. In addition to the immediate costs, ice and salt on the roads leads to greater wear and tear on a state’s infrastructure.
Some states choose to redirect funds for summer infrastructure projects to cover the cost of winter snow removal. But this method may be pointless if snow plow operator shortages continue. Last year, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that around 84% of city and state agencies had more vacancies than usual.
States have difficulty hiring drivers because of relatively low wages for challenging work. The shortage has particularly affected rural areas as more heavily populated areas are serviced first. Some states, like Wyoming, have even considered offering plow drivers a housing stipend to incentivize more drivers.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the expenses it takes to keep the roads clear in the winter. . .
- Snow plows cost around $200,000 each. Most states have their own fleet of plows available and contract with private companies on an as-needed basis.
- Salt and sand seem relatively inexpensive at first—just around $0.10 per gallon, but when you consider how much salt and sand a state needs, that starts to add up. Utah used more than 2 million gallons of brine and 202,000 tons of salt in 2015. This cost the state more than $4 million, The Hustle reports.
- If a state were to choose not to clear the roads, it wouldn’t be saving any money. An IHS Global Insight study from 2014 found that states lose $70 million to $700 million per day when shut down for winter weather. That doesn’t take into consideration the danger residents are in if emergency vehicles can’t access the roads.