The City of Chicago already has used about half its 2014 plowing budget trying to deal with the deep snow and intense cold that took hold this month.
The city has spent $11.2 million since Dec. 31 on snow removal, according to city spokesman Bill McCaffrey. That's $1 million from the 2013 plow budget and $10.2 million in 2014 funds.
That includes $7.2 million worth of salt, $2.5 million in labor costs, including overtime for plow drivers, and $1.5 million in equipment costs, according to numbers McCaffrey provided.
The city's total 2014 snow removal budget is about $20 million, but Chicago mayors always spend as much money as they need to in order to deal with snow, regardless of the cost. And this winter could be an expensive one.
Chicago already is just 1.8 inches shy of the normal full-season snow tally of 36.7 inches, according to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling. The current total is 34.9 inches, more than twice normal and the most snow that has accumulated up to Jan. 10 since the infamous 1978-79 snow season. That’s when nearly 90 inches of snow fell, making it Chicago’s snowiest season on record.
The winter is the 9th coldest on record, Skilling added.
"The City of Chicago is still coordinating efforts across multiple city departments to deal with the snow storms that dropped 23 inches of snow and the ensuing bitter temperatures," McCaffrey said in an email. "Throughout the storms, winds, and subzero temperature, (Department of Streets and Sanitation) crews kept the mains streets clear and the side streets passable, and crews continue their efforts to clear side streets today."
The extreme weather led Chicago Department of Transportation to move pothole crews onto weekend and overnights shifts a week earlier this year than last year, said agency spokesman Peter Scales.
Of the city’s 22 pothole crews, three are working weekends and one overnight, Scales said. There is no overtime involved because the changes are part of a contract with laborers from a few years ago, Scales said.
"It gives us a presence on the street around the clock to deal with emergency potholes that tend to appear at this time of year," Scales said. "We can have somebody respond immediately. And on the weekends, if traffic's a little lighter say on a Sunday, the crews can move faster and get more filled than they would be able to at rush hour during the week."
The change comes days after Inspector General Joseph Ferguson released a report saying the city isn't meeting its targets to quickly repair potholes and noting that a city website made it appear the city has been doing a better job filling potholes than it actually has.
Scales said the timing of new shifts for some of the pothole crews is not linked to Ferguson's report. "We do this every year," he said.
Scales said crews so far are keeping up with the requests for potholes to be filled that are now coming in to the city. "It's a normal volume of calls, and we're getting to them pretty quickly," he said.
The crews are focusing more on arterial streets than on side streets this week, because many side streets haven't been plowed yet. "If you call in a pothole on a residential street, that might take a couple days to get filled," Scales said.
The overnight and weekend crews will stay in place until the spring.
Meanwhile, state emergency officials said they are particularly concerned about potential flooding because it will be difficult to predict where problems may occur. Normally, officials can track rainfall and river swells to determine where flooding may happen and when. But it's a less exact science this time around because the amount of snow on the ground and temperatures vary widely across the state, said Jonathon Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
"It's a bad combination of circumstances," said Monken, who encouraged people to report flooding to local authorities in order to help spot problem areas.
Meanwhile, officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation said all major roads and highways have been cleared, but crews will be working through the weekend to clean up snow and ice build up on shoulders and interchanges. It won't be until after the clean up process that workers will be able to asses the condition of state roads, so officials warn drivers to remain cautious for potholes and black ice as snow melts and could re-freeze.
Tribune reporter Monique Garcia contributed.
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