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Snow clean up piles onto Maryland budget mess

Maryland's budget for highway snow removal is in the red after a round-the-clock effort to clean up following last weekend's blizzard, state officials said Tuesday.

The State Highway Administration has spent $27 million since last month for snow removal. It had budgeted $26 million for the entire winter.

The bulk of the budget -- $20 million -- was spent clearing highways in the 72 hours after snow began to fall Friday night, said Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan.

Cahalan said it was too early to break down how much of that expense was for running equipment and how much was spent on overtime and other labor costs for state employees.

Combined, all other Maryland transportation agencies spent an additional $7 million during the storm on snow removal from bridges, tunnels, train stations, toll plazas and airports, most notably Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

During the height of the storm Saturday, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) activated the Maryland National Guard and pledged that the state's response would not be hindered by recent budget cuts, or the nearly $2 billion shortfall his administration predicts in the coming budget year.

The $27 million in storm spending by Maryland transportation agencies does not include the cost of activating the National Guard, or replenishing supplies of salt and other equipment to get ready for the next storm.

Cahalan said the state used 74,000 tons of salt, or just under a quarter of its supply, and has placed orders for more. He said each state transportation agency would be responsible for figuring out how to pay for the costs of snow removal for the remainder of the winter.

"The reality is, you can't not plow the snow," he said.

By Aaron C. Davis  |  December 22, 2009; 6:32 PM ET
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How can you reconcile the fact that the state has used only 1/4 of its rock salt supply but all its snow removal budget? Either the state bought way too much salt or the removal budget has been eaten up by way too much high-priced overtime.

Posted by: robinficker | December 22, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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