Road commission forced to do more with less

HOUGHTON — A year later and people in the Western U.P. are still talking about the historic winter that dumped hundreds of inches of snow on the Copper Country.  And an early start to the winter means an early start to planning for the removal of the snow.

The Houghton County Road Commission was one of the hardest hit in the U.P. in terms of their budget, a $500,000 deficit to be exact.

Houghton County Engineer Kevin Harju said even if the budget does fall in the red, it doesn’t change the game plan when snow is on the ground.  “It is our obligation to make the roads safe for the motoring public so if need be, we have to spend all our resources in the winter and then figure out what we can do in the summer with the remaining resources we have left,” he said.

He adds that the staff at the Road Commission has decreased by 20% since 2006 and many of the other road commissions across the U.P. are forced to do more with less.  A new maintenance facility that is currently being constructed is one of the long overdue upgrades the road commission is getting.

However, most of the money for that is coming from an insurance policy from the old facility.

Harju said the biggest issue is with the snow plows themselves.

“We have old equipment which when you have that heavy wet snow, we had a lot of break downs.  Our average one-way snow plow that people see driving down the road is either late 70’s, early 80’s so they’re old and tired plows and the revenues aren’t sufficient to replace them at this time,” he said.

The battle in Lansing continues over where funding for roads would come from, a debate that has dragged on for almost a year.  Many municipalities are hopeful a solution comes soon because they sure could use the help.

“If that new senate bill goes through, in four years time, it would increase our revenue by an additional two million which would enable us to repair and replace equipment and do some more work with the townships on paving local roads,” Harju said.

However, despite all the issues and difficulties, when snow needs to be plowed, you can rest assure that the plows will be out there to make it easier for everyone to get home safe.