BOSTON (State House News Service) – Winters in Massachusetts are changing and that means the Department of Transportation has to rethink how it talks about its wintertime snow and ice removal operations, which are also becoming more expensive because of the changes.
MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver told lawmakers at a budget hearing in Dartmouth on Monday that while the just-ended winter “has been a lighter year than even last year was and last year was lighter still than the year prior,” MassDOT is considering changing the way that it reports on “how big the snow and ice season is … because with climate change and with the types of storms we’ve been getting, it is not like what it used to be.”
“It’s very hard now to measure year to year and say, ‘we got X many inches of snow this year in Worcester,’ for example, versus what we had last year. What we are seeing now is a major increase in the number of events that we respond to, but they’re typically icing events. They happen frequently overnight, and it does take a lot of resources,” Gulliver told members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
He added, “The snowstorms that we see are now often much more intense than what we had. So we have fewer of them, but much bigger and more intense storms.”
Responding to those intense storms puts serious wear and tear on plows, trucks and other equipment used by MassDOT and its contractors. Gulliver said Monday that “more and more” contractors are dropping out of MassDOT’s snow and ice program and telling the state “it’s just not worth it for them to continue to do any more.”
“Their equipment takes such a beating those few storms that they do and then they’re not sustaining their program throughout the rest of the year. That means that our costs have gone up,” Gulliver said. “The cost for every community in Massachusetts has gone up, we’re keeping pace with cities and towns at this point. But on average, it’s somewhere between a 15 and 20 percent increase this past year, and we’re expecting that it’s going to have a little bit more of a steady increase in years to come.”
Gov. Maura Healey’s $55.5 billion fiscal 2024 budget recommends $529 million for MassDOT operations, including $95 million specifically for snow removal and de-icing operations.