Sunday, April 15, 2018

Brutal "Spring" weather will make road work even more costly

Here's what it looked like outside of my window today, April 15.

And we got off relatively light compared to many other parts of the state. Northeast Wisconsin got hit with nearly two feet of snow, leading to several roof collapses at homes and businesses, and the state's emergency management organization telling people to stay off the roads in much of Wisconsin.

We'll see what kind of effect this late-season snow and cold is going to have on jobs and other parts of the state's economy. It reminds me of April 2013, which was plagued with cold and rain, and delayed a lot of outdoors-related employment and projects. The result? A significant drop in seasonally-adjusted job growth for the month, reported as a drop of 24,000 at the time, and still ended up being a loss of nearly 11,000 after the "smoothing" effect of benchmarking. You can see that weather effect in the major, one-month decline in year-over-year job growth for April 2013 in this chart (depths we wouldn't see again until 2016), and the resulting bump up in year-over-year stats in the more-normal April of 2014.

With snow depths of 25-30 inches throughout most of the northern half of Wisconsin at this late point in the year, that means there will be a lot of melting and freeze-thaw potholes still to come, at a date far later than we are used to. This means that there will be even more road repair needs that have to be taken care of, with much less time in the year to take care of them. This makes an already-problematic lack of road funding an even bigger concern with Memorial Day and the traditional Summer driving season opening in 6 weeks.

At least some of the damage from prior major weather events is being mitigated, as Senator Tammy Baldwin's office announced late last week that $17 million in federal aid will be available to deal with damage resulting from severe floods in Wisconsin over the last 2 years.
The money comes from the Federal Highway Administration with most of it slated for federal road repairs in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and on the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Just more than $10 million will go to the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild roads that have been washed out since 2016.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest spokeswoman Hilary Markin said the money will be used to help fund permanent repairs.

"We actually have eight portions of roads that were closed where emergency repairs were not possible given the size and scope of damage," Markin said. "We do have a closure order in place for those roads."...

Nearly $5 million in federal highway funds will be spread among 22 counties.

Parts of northern and western Wisconsin were declared federal disaster areas after storms quickly dropped more than 10 inches of rain in both 2016 and 2017.
Of course, the Northland will need to have its roads thaw out before any work can get done with the $17 million in federal aid that just came through.

I did not see Governor Walker make a disaster declaration from this major snowstorm yet. But you would think something like this may be in line for some federal assistance to help, at least for the local governments that have to deal with all of the extra costs and overtime that'll result from having to clear the roads after such a heavy snow over a long period of time (Here is the information on how to get disaster assistance for snow).

Given that there could be serious flooding if all this snow melts at once, combined with regular April and May rains, it may not be the last weather-related complications to Wisconsin's infrastructure that we see in 2018. Which makes you wonder if this weekend's record snowstorm might cause a new emphasis on the needs to take care of our already-deteriorated roads.

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