Snow plows costing taxpayers, drivers?

December 28, 2010 8:24:43 PM PST
The North Carolina Department of Transportation has worked around the clock to get state roads clear of snow and ice recently.By Tuesday, most roads were running smoothly thanks to the plow drivers who worked 24 hours straight to free the primary and secondary roads of snow.

However, it begs the question of how alert were they at the end of their shift.

The state's own DMV handbook says being up for 24 hours could have qualified some as legally intoxicated, while out plowing roads in extreme conditions.

ABC11 Eyewitness News' I-Team looked into the state's policies and found considerable differences.

"We don't actually have a shift change," County Maintenance Engineer Jason Holmes said. "We'll go with our guys as long as we can and then of course at some point, they're going to have to come in and take a rest."

Other states have laws to ensure plow drivers aren't dangerously tired. Most work in 12-hour shifts and they all pull their drivers off the road well before 24 hours have gone by.

North Carolina is the one state ABC11 couldn't get an answer from when it comes to how long plow drivers can go before a mandatory rest.

Officials repeatedly cited an executive law that states whatever laws there are, weren't in effect because the governor had declared a State of Emergency.

The DOT's Wally Bowman has stressed the good work of plow drivers and said their overall fatigue was monitored by managers. He couldn't say whether any were actually sent home during the storm.

Meanwhile, some are wondering what the snow plowing is costing taxpayers.

So far this year, the DOT has plowed through its budget for snow and ice removal.

Christmas was the fourth time this season the DOT had to gear up for a snow storm. Because of that, before the first flake even fell, the state had already spent $14 million --almost half of its annual budget for snow and ice removal.

Bowman says its money that has to be spent.

"We're going to keep doing our work," Bowman said. "Whether it's ice or snow, we're going to keep working as hard as we can and as quickly as we can and that money, if we go over the $30 million mark, it comes off next year's maintenance allocation."

Last year, snow and ice removal cost taxpayers $65 million, which is basically the Department of Agriculture's entire budget.

But Bowman says that didn't cost taxpayers more. It just meant less money in the total maintenance pot for this year.

"I mean yes, it's an impact on some kind of maintenance activity, but it's not like one division is taking the whole hit," Bowman said.

The numbers for this past weekend's storm aren't in yet, but Bowman says when they are, he expects some areas will be double or triple the spending so far this year.

If that's true across the state, they'll have gone well past their annual budget not even a week into winter.

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