Is New Jersey Ready for Another Tough Winter?

November 26, 2014 | Politics, Transportation, Weather
Wednesday's snowstorm offered the first test of NJ's snow removal efforts for the season.

By Christie Duffy

The salt crews are out. Roads are slush covered. And it’s still coming down. Not ideal for Thanksgiving travel.

Drivers heading out ahead of the storm reflected on what their luck has been on Thanksgivings past.

“I got stuck three times that I could count,” said driver Larry Speed.

“Driving in it the car went all over the place,” said driver Annette Henry.

Today’s no better. Crews have already coated the roads with thousands of tons of salt statewide. As many are hoping these storms don’t foreshadow another rocky winter.

“Potholes? I think I just climbed out of the last one last week! They were awful,” Speed said.

Last winter not only meant mega potholes but lots of money spent on road prep and repairs. And when it let up, they had to fill 275,000 potholes in all, sinking $3 million of patch and asphalt into state-run roadways.

“I tell you what, I feel for those guys and gals because you can’t predict it. You’re just gonna have to roll the dice and do the best you can. Just all you can do because god forbid we have another winter like we did last year because they don’t have enough money to pave all the potholes,” said Speed.

It’s no secret New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is running on empty. AAA says that stress may be showing.

“We’ve only been dealing with small patch works of repair because we don’t have the money in the Transportation Trust Fund to deal with the big issues. We’re not going in and doing significant repairs, we’re dong a lot of patch work,” said Cathleen Lewis of AAA New Jersey. “What that means is every time we patch a pothole, it snows on top of it, the water gets in, that pothole re-breaks and opens back up and we have to go in and re-repair it. So, when we don’t have the money to go in and do the big, long-term fixes it ends up costing us more in the long run.”

The Department of Transportation rebuts that they’ve got a separate trove from the Transportation Trust Fund that pays for all the pothole repair and snow response. And if they go over budget, a spokesman says, the Treasury typically covers it.

Last year, in all the DOT ended up spending over $100 million on snow removal. And it wasn’t just budgets that were stretched, so were salt supplies. The onslaught of storms caused a salt shortage in nearly every corner of the state. Essex County was no exception.

“With that in mind, we put other things in effect this year — having contracts with other contractors for salt so that we will be able to avail ourselves of multiple contractors,” said Essex County Public Works Director William J. Clark. When asked if he is diversifying who he gets his salt from, Clark said, “Yes and hopefully that will help out if we ever have that problem again.”

Essex County estimates it has about 2,200 tons of salt in one dome and this is not the only location. They say this should be enough to last them through the next storm or two, but they’re still going to reorder more salt right away so as not to run out and to get a cheaper price before the new year starts.