Friday, December 21
BOSTON — A flurry of heavy storms has decimated the state's snow- and ice-removal budget, leaving MassHighway coffers empty before the first day of winter.

It's not unusual for MassHighway to run out of funding before the end of the fiscal year, said chief engineer Frank Tramontozzi. The past few winters have been mild, however, so the shortage came sooner than expected.

"We're in for a good year of spending money on snow and ice," said Tramontozzi. "This is a worse-than-normal year, but we're prepared to fight it."

The department maintains highways in the state, but not the Massachusetts Turnpike or locally maintained roads.

The state used its $24 million budget during the fall snowstorms. Tomorrow marks the first day of winter, but 26.3 inches of snow already have accumulated this fall in Pittsfield, according to the National Weather Service. MassHighway spent a total of $41 million on snow removal last year.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven C. Panagiotakos, D-Lowell, said depleted funds indicate a tight budget ahead.

"We're over our budget already, and it's a real problem," he said.

Leslie Kirwan, chief of Administration and Finance, forecasts a $1.5 billion deficit for next year's budget.

MassHighway used 220,000 tons of salt on the roads last year and 155,000 tons so far this year, Tramontozzi said. It also has used 9,320 tons of sand, 4,127 tons of a salt and sand mix, and 302,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride, which is used to pre-treat the roadways.

Despite the empty budget, nearly 400 people and 1,600 pieces of equipment were on the road yesterday to deal with a storm in the eastern part of the state, Tramontozzi said.

"This isn't any problem for us. We're out there whether or not we're out of money," he said.

The Turnpike has remained under its $2.4 million budget, so far using only $640,000 to treat the 138 miles of road.

MassHighway officials will request the needed funding in a supplemental budget as needed, Tramontozzi said.